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Keeping Food and Family Safe for Thanksgiving


Thanksgiving Day is a time when many will bring together family and friends for a day of food and festivities, but there are many ways the day could be ruined. For example, Thanksgiving is the leading day of the year for home fires involving cooking equipment, according to the National Fire Prevention Association. There are many trips to the emergency room due to stomach trouble from food poisoning. And of course, with all of those travelers out there, road safety is an issue as well. Keep your family and food safe this year while giving thanks.

“We see a significant increase in burn patients between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” said Jeff Guy, M.D., director of the Vanderbilt (University) Regional Burn Center. “Your holiday, which should be full of joy and celebration, can quickly turn tragic.”

Cooking Hazards

There are more than 141 serious fires and hot-oil burns reported each year in the United States from the use of turkey fryers, as it is becoming a more popular method for creating a flavorful, juicy turkey without a huge kitchen mess. Deep fryer fires also cause $15 million in annual US property damage. Use these tips when frying your turkey to keep everyone safe and sound:

• Look for the newer fryers with sealed lids to prevent oil spills.
• Keep the fryer in full view while the burner is on.
• Keep children and pets away from the cooking area.
• Place the fryer in an open area away from all walls, fences or other structures. Never use the fryer in, on, or under a garage, breezeway, carport, porch, deck or any other structure that can catch fire.
• Slowly raise and lower the turkey to reduce hot-oil splatter and to avoid burns.
• Never cook in short sleeves, shorts or bare feet. Cover all bare skin when dunking or removing bird. Protect your eyes with goggles or glasses.
• Immediately turn off the fryer if the oil begins to smoke.
• Make sure the turkey is completely thawed and be careful with marinades. Oil and water don’t mix and water can cause oil to spill over, creating a fire or even an explosion.
• Don’t overfill fryer with oil. Turkey fryers can ignite in seconds after oil hits the burner.
• Keep a fire extinguisher appropriate for oil fires close at hand and be familiar with how to operate it. Do not use a hose in an attempt to douse a turkey fryer fire.
• If you do burn yourself, or someone else is burned, seek immediate medical attention particularly if the burn covers a large area, or occurs to the face, eyes, hands or feet, or if blistering occurs.

But cooking accidents don’t only happen with fryers. During Thanksgiving Day, there are three times as many fires as on any other average day, says the NFPA.

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• Stay in the kitchen when cooking on the stovetop so you can keep an eye on the food. Keep pot handles inwards toward the back burners to reduce the risk of knocking them over.
• Avoid wearing loose-fitting clothing while cooking – a dangling sleeve can easily catch on fire. Remember also to keep more flammable items such as potholders and wooden utensils away from the stovetop.
• Keep children at least 3 feet away from the stove at all times. Ensure they stay clear when you are carrying hot food and liquids to the table, as steam or a splash can cause a serious burn.
• Keep the floor clear so you don’t trip over any obstacle.
• Keep knives out of reach of children.
• Be sure electrical cords are not dangling off the counter within easy reach of a child.
• Make sure your smoke alarms are working.

Food Safety

Roughly half of all meat in the United States is contaminated with some sort of bacteria. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one out of every six of us gets sick each year from foodborne diseases. Keep your food safe with these tips from Food Safety News:

• Do not thaw a frozen turkey on the counter; it must be kept at 40 degrees at all times. Defrosting it at room temperature will cause the outside to get warmer and become susceptible to bacteria. Thaw in the fridge or in cold water, allowing approximately 30 minutes per pound. Remember to keep a tray or pan underneath to prevent juices from contaminating other food stored in the fridge.
• Do not rinse the turkey or any poultry product as it can cause bacteria to aerosolize and spread around the kitchen up to three feet. And from a cook’s perspective, dry skin on the turkey is really the best taste anyway.
• Avoid cross contamination between the meat and other foods, especially those that will not be cooked, such as raw vegetables. Use a separate cutting board and knife.
• Wash hands thoroughly and often to keep the bacteria from making it’s way around the kitchen. And remember to wash and sanitize countertops between dish preparation.
• Cook the food to a safe temperature – all poultry products should be cooked to at least 165 degrees, which is about 4 hours for a 14-pound bird. Don’t rely on sight or color - use a meat thermometer to be sure.

Not everyone relies on turkey alone for their meal protein options. Despite the higher prices due to last year’s Gulf oil spill, many will also use oysters for soup and dressing. Oysters can carry bacteria known as Vibrio vulnificus which can cause gastroenteritis (nausea, vomiting, stomach pain and/or diarrhea). The CDC notes that there are approximately 90 cases of V. vulnificus infection each year in the US. Thorough cooking kills this bacteria.

Travel Safely

The Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year’s holidays are among the busiest time for travel in the US. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics notes that, during the 6-day Thanksgiving travel period, the number of long-distance trips (50 miles or more) increases by 54%, with the vast majority (91%) being by car. Keep everyone safe on the road this year, with these CDC tips:

• Always buckle up as wearing a seatbelt can reduce the risk of dying in a car accident by about half. Ensure your young passengers are appropriately restrained, in a safety seat if necessary.
• Avoid drinking and driving. Designate a non-drinking driver for your party. If you are hosting a celebration, take the keys from any guest who appears impaired.
• Keep teen drivers safe by making sure they always wear a seatbelt and limit their amount of nighttime driving. Make sure they know that there is to be no cellphone talking or texting while driving.