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Thanksgiving Dangers

Four ways your feast could go foul

With visions of pie and mashed potatoes dancing in their heads, Thanksgiving is cited as a favorite holiday by many food aficionados.

This goes double if you like to cook. Statistically speaking, though, if you're hosting a big Thanksgiving get together, you're playing with fire in several ways. A quick internet search for "most dangerous holiday" will bring up turkey day pretty quickly, especially regarding home accidents and insurance claims. Combine a large group of people of all ages cooking and eating in a confined space and mix in some wine, and what could go wrong?

Thanksgiving Day has the dubious honor of being ranked the No. 1 day for kitchen fires and cooking related insurance claims, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Much of the reason is unattended cooking. A turkey takes forever in the oven. Numerous dishes are being created at once. All four burners and the oven are working overtime. Throw in a few small children and a 25-pound bird with searing hot gravy, and the odds of a disaster climb quickly.

Aside from the possibility of injuries or worse, an average home fire claim is just north of $34,000 according to the Insurance Information Institute.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, an estimated 2,000 residential fires cause an average of five deaths, 25 injuries and $21 million in property damage each Thanksgiving Day.

“Cooking is such a routine activity that it is easy to forget that the high temperatures used can start a fire,” states Marty Ahrens, National Fire Protection Association research manager for fire analysis. Ahrens’ 2018 research on home cooking fires recommends increased awareness about oil and grease fires, and the NFPA along with many fire safety experts frown on the use of turkey fryers by the general public.

Fear the fryer

The National Fire Protection Association advises against gas-fueled turkey fryers on grounds they may pose a danger for burns from hot oil as well as being a fire hazard. In addition, Underwriters Laboratories also warns of the potential dangers, and does not certify any turkey fryers.

Fire safety experts tend to agree.

“There are grocery stores and restaurants that will actually deep fry a turkey for you,” says Virginia Beach Fire Department spokesman Art Kohn. “Let them do the cooking; all you have to do is eat it.”

According to State Farm, Thanksgiving day has more cooking related insurance claims than any other day of the year, and frying a turkey is a major cause. Several factors can cause a dangerous turkey frying situation, but the top culprits are overfilling the fryer with too much oil, dropping a frozen turkey into hot oil or putting the fryer too close to buildings.

If you insist on frying it yourself, here are a few safety tips:

  1. Fully thaw the turkey. Even a partially frozen bird can create a fire or even an explosion. Before putting it in the fryer, pat the turkey down with paper towel to cut down on splatter.
  2. Keep a fire extinguisher handy and make everyone involved aware that you cannot extinguish a grease fire with water. Keep children and pets away.
  3. Position your fryer on a level surface at least 15 feet from structures and keep anything flammable -- paper products, etc. -- out of the immediate frying area.
  4. Before lowering in your turkey, turn the burner or flame to the "off" position to prevent igniting the oil. Once it is fully submerged, you can turn the flame back on.
  5. Never leave the fryer unattended.

Accidental injuries don't take holidays

Accidental injuries are more common during Thanksgiving for a number of reasons — competing in a beer-fueled football game with normally sedentary uncles and cousins, or competing with an eager-to-shop crowd for an early Black Friday sale, to name a couple.

Falls are the top cause of fatal injuries in homes, claiming 6,600 lives per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When you mix icy conditions outdoors, excited children and pets plus getting out the ladder for early holiday decorating, the risk of falling injuries increases. Children and the elderly are the most vulnerable to this type of accident, though it can happen to anyone.

For those over 65, bad falls are the leading cause of injuries and death, according to CDC.

“Falls threaten older Americans’ independence and safety and generate enormous economic and personal costs that affect everyone,” says Grant Baldwin, director of CDC’s Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention.

A few tips to prevent accidental falls:

  1. Loose throw rugs and area rugs with curled edges or folds are among common causes of tripping and falling. Floor mats in hallways and bathmats can also increase risk, studies show.
  2. Put away toys, extension cords and other items that could be a trip hazard and keep children and pets out of the kitchen while preparing food.
  3. Install nightlights throughout your house for overnight guests who may not be familiar with the landscape.
  4. Sand or salt steps if they are icy and shovel snow from walkways.

This mishap can be tough to swallow

Thanksgiving for most people means a whole lot of talking, eating, laughing and a few glasses of wine.

The bad news: Talking while eating or laughing is among the most common causes of choking — and alcohol increases this risk.

"You can really choke on anything," says Joan Salge Blake, , clinical associate professor of nutrition at Boston University and media spokesperson for the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "You have to be sure you chew properly and not swallow in big gulps."

The Red Cross offers an easy-to-remember "Five and Five" method to assist choking victims:

Step 1 is to give him or her five sharp blows on the back using the heel of your hand. If this doesn't work, Step 2 is five, quick, upward abdominal thrusts.

Be aware that some people may run from the table when choking, but it's important to stay with others who can render aid.

Will young children be attending your feast? If so, put away anything that could become a choking hazard. Children can also choke on some holiday foods such as nuts, candy and popcorn.

If your fowl becomes foul

Turkey preparation is a science. Get it wrong, and you’ve got a fertile breeding ground for bacteria and a lot of sick guests.

Raw poultry can be particularly dangerous for children and pregnant women, who are at higher risk for health consequences such as kidney failure.

Symptoms of food poisoning are vomiting, nausea and digestive problems that usually show up within 12 to 36 hours after a contaminated meal.

A few food safety tips:

Wash hands frequently when handling food and keep raw meats away from produce.

Use separate cutting boards and dishes for uncooked and cooked meats to avoid cross-contamination.

Always thaw the turkey in the refrigerator to make sure it stays at the proper temperature and cook any raw meats to the recommended internal temperature to ensure any bacteria have been killed.

Another danger zone is guests grazing on leftovers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends a 2-hour rule: Don’t leave meat or perishables out at room temperature more than 2 hours. Slice leftover turkey and store in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Freeze for longer storage.

Are you covered?

Should the unthinkable happen and your guests get sick or injured and sue you, your homeowners insurance probably has you covered, says Loretta Worters, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute.

“Your insurer will pay for your legal expenses for a resulting lawsuit, even if the suit is groundless," she says.

Generally, most homeowner's policies provide a minimum of $100,000 in liability insurance — but higher amounts are available. Some homeowners are opting for at least $300,000 to $500,000 in coverage of liability protection, Worters says. 

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