As cooks begin preparations for Thanksgiving meals, there's one ingredient Dr. Steven Goodfriend hopes they won't forget: Creating a three-foot safe zone in the kitchen.
"While that will not prevent every burn, it will certainly help keep little ones away from hot surfaces, scalding foods and other dangerous items," said Dr. Goodfriend, Medical Director of Orange Park Medical Center's Emergency Room. "Like seasonings, a little bit of preparation and prevention can go a long way."
Statistics from the National Fire Protection Association show that a house fire is three times more likely to occur on Thanksgiving Day. For cooks in the kitchen, there are several simple steps to make sure the holidays remain festive:
- Turn off all appliances if you leave the kitchen, even if you are leaving for just a few minutes.
- Make sure all appliances are being used appropriately.
- Use timers to track cooking times.
- Keep items like potholders and food containers away from stove eyes and other hot surfaces.
- If you do have a grease fire, smother or cover it. DO NOT use water to try to put it out!
- Never try to carry or walk with a burning pot or pan.
- Cook on back burners and make sure all pot handles are turned toward the inside of the stove.
With the popularity of deep-fried turkeys, the risk of getting burned extends beyond the kitchen. While Dr. Goodfriend recommends leaving turkey frying to the professionals, he said there are ways to ensure homegrown attempts do not go awry.
"Most importantly," he said, "is ensuring the pot does not overflow, creating a large fire or explosion." Start by placing the turkey in an empty pot. Then slowly fill the pot with water. When the water level reaches 2 inches above the turkey, pull the bird out and then measure the water level. Pour out the water, dry the pot and then fill to the measured level with oil.
"It seems like a simple process, but I have seen too many people try to 'eyeball' the level and end up spending their holiday in the ER," said Dr. Goodfriend.
If cooks still insist on deep-frying their own turkey, there are several precautions that can help make the process much safer:
- Turkeys should be less than 12 lbs., and 8-10 lbs. turkeys are often the most appropriate size.
- Check the turkey to make sure it is not partially frozen and does not have any excess water on them. The water can cause hot oil to splatter. It also helps to pat down the bird with a paper towel to remove excess moisture.
- The fryer should be used on a well-ventilated, level, outdoor surface.
- Make sure the pot is never left unattended, and children and pets are kept at a safe distance.
- Use only peanut or canola oils in the fryer.
- Use care when touching the handles of the pot.
- Make sure the deep fryer has a thermostat to regulate the temperature of the oil.
- Slowly lower the turkey into the pot to avoid spillage.
- Make sure a fire extinguisher that can put out a grease fire is nearby, just in case an accident occurs. Water should never be used to try to extinguish a grease or oil fire.
- Always call 911 in the event of a fire.
- Remember that it may take several hours for the oil in a deep fryer to cool.
- Avoid excessive drinking when using a deep-fryer.