Chances are, when you think of Thanksgiving, you picture being with loved ones, gathered around a table, a bounty of homemade delights just waiting to be devoured. This type of fellowship over food is what Thanksgiving is all about.
The last thing you want to do is mar the occasion with food poisoning, choking, kitchen accidents, or a kitchen fire – some of the biggest safety risks associated with the holiday. The following Thanksgiving safety tips are intended to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable holiday with friends and family this Thanksgiving.
Food Safety Tips on Thanksgiving
Food poisoning is no fun for anyone. Even with the best of intentions, it’s incredibly easy to create an environment in which foodborne bacteria is allowed to flourish.
One of the biggest causes of foodborne illness on Thanksgiving has to do with how you thaw your main dish. Allowing frozen turkey, duck, ham, roast beef, or other meat to thaw at room temperature is not safe. The outer portions of the meat will reach temperatures in which bacteria can rapidly multiply – between 40F and 140F – much faster than the center, which will likely remain partially frozen.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, there are only three ways to safely thaw food:
- In the refrigerator – allow 1 day in the fridge for each 4-5 lbs. of turkey.
- Submerged in cold water – allow 30 minutes per pound, changing the water every half hour. Be sure the turkey is wrapped in plastic so it doesn’t absorb water.
- In the microwave – defrost the turkey according to your microwave manufacturer’s instructions.
Thawing a turkey in the refrigerator – the gold standard – is the only method in which you don’t have to cook it immediately after it’s thawed.
Other ways to avoid foodborne illness for added Thanksgiving safety include:
- Wash your hands before and after handling food
- Use different cutting boards and knives for meat vs. other foods
- Don’t wash the turkey – it often leaves germs in your sink and the potential for cross-contamination
- Avoid stuffing the turkey; it’s safer to cook stuffing on the stovetop or in the oven
- Make sure cooked meat reaches the appropriate temperature, usually 165F
- Don’t leave perishables out for more than 2 hours
- Refrigerate leftovers promptly
- Use a refrigerator thermometer to ensure it remains below 40F
- Don’t eat raw foods, such as raw eggs or flour
- Thoroughly reheat leftovers
Prevent Cooking Fires and Other Kitchen Mishaps
Cooking is the leading cause of house fires – and the risk of fire is highest on Thanksgiving and Christmas. If you’re cooking, try to remain alert in the midst of all the holiday hustle and bustle, and ensure someone is in the kitchen at all times while the stovetop is in use. Don’t leave the house while the turkey is in the oven. It’s also important to ensure all smoke detectors in the home are functional.
To avoid burns, cuts, or lacerations, keep children away from the stove as well as from hot foods; steam alone can cause serious burns. Turn pot handles inward, and don’t let electric cords dangle from the countertop.
To prevent choking, encourage everyone to eat food in small bites and to chew slowly and thoroughly. This includes young children, teens, as well as adults, especially if they wear dentures. Don’t talk while chewing or swallowing – it’s one of the most common causes of an airway obstruction. If someone appears to be choking, try the five-and-five approach recommended by the American Red Cross:
- Using the heel of your hand, give them 5 sharp blows on the back, in the area between the shoulder blades.
- If the object isn’t dislodged, give them 5 abdominal thrusts, aka the Heimlich maneuver.
- Keep alternating between these two methods until the item is dislodged.
How to Deep Fry a Turkey, Safely
Many people enjoy fried turkey for Thanksgiving. Deep fryers cook the bird from the outside in. The result? A quick cook time, crispy skin, and moist, flavorful meat inside. However, deep frying a turkey on Thanksgiving can be risky. Watch this video about how to fry a Thanksgiving turkey without burning your house down. In addition, below are some do’s and don’ts when using a deep fryer:
- Only deep fry a turkey after it has completed thawed. A partially thawed turkey can cause oil in the deep fryer to splatter, overflow, and may cause a fire.
- Pat down the turkey with paper towels to remove excess moisture.
- Set the deep fryer on a stable and level surface at least 10’ from the house.
- Don’t overfill the fryer with oil.
- Use a thermometer to monitor oil temperature – and don’t let it reach the smoke point* for the type of oil you’re using.
- Use extra long, sturdy tongs.
- Keep flammable items (towels, oven mitts, wooden utensils) away from the deep fryer.
- Don’t wear long sleeves or flowing garments when working with the fryer.
- Keep a multipurpose (ABC-rated) fire extinguisher nearby.
- Never use water to put out a grease/oil fire – it will just spread the flames.
* It’s important to know an oil’s smoke point because once the oil reaches this temperature, it can impart a burnt, bitter, and rancid flavor to the food you’re frying. It can also make the food smell bad. Most importantly, it increases the risk the oil will catch fire. The smoke point of various oils considered safe for deep frying are:
You should know the National Fire Protection Association urges extreme caution if using a deep fryer. In fact, the organization would rather you purchase an already-fried turkey rather than taking on the task yourself. The risk of fire and devastating burns is just too great.
Protect Loved Ones & Your Home Using Thanksgiving Safety
At Florida Peninsula Insurance Company, we’re in the business of helping to protect lives and homes. It’s why we offer practical guidance for homeowners throughout the year, such as these Thanksgiving safety tips.