Heads up before you stock up on flag-themed merchandise for your Fourth of July cookout!

Our National Symbol is nothing to mess around with, and there is a code of etiquette that comes along with flying the colors. The American flag should never be allowed to touch the ground, and if flown at night, must be illuminated.

If you must dispose of a flag it should be properly destroyed, preferably by burning. The Flag Code also prohibits using the flag for advertising.

Click here to read the “Flag Code of the United States of America.”

The flag "should not be embroidered, printed, or impressed on things like cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything intended to be discarded after temporary use."

NewsChannel 5 talked to retired U.S. Marine Damon Mitchell, a local flag expert who works at the Lowes in Kirkwood.

"Basically any product that is temporary is not supposed to have a flag in any fashion. Imprinted like a picture of, or whatever, on there without disposing of it properly because it is a U.S. flag. So anything you put the American flag on is supposed to be treated like a US flag," Mitchell explained.

So your Fourth of July paper plates and napkins are simply a no-no. And that goes for stars and stripes bikinis and speedos!

The flag should never be used as apparel, bedding, drapery, or as part of an athletic uniform or costume. While the Flag Code is U.S. Federal law, there is no penalty for violating it.

After all, that would conflict with the very reason it exists, the First Amendment and our right to free speech.