Thanksgiving means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For some, it's a hectic day of travel and family reunion; for others, it's all about the big game and the even bigger turkey; but nearly everyone can agree that Thanksgiving is an absolutely excellent excuse to eat good food with good people.
Unfortunately, Thanksgiving is also a time when insurance claims spike. Due to just a few dangers associated with the holiday, that final Thursday in November can expect to see claimants file for house fires, road accidents, and personal injury. These issues are to be expected, what with hubbub and hassle in the kitchen, along with long car journeys and unexpected bouts of wintery weather. However, you may be surprised to learn what many firefighters as well as other health and safety workers deem Danger Number One on Thanksgiving - deep fat turkey fryers.
Gaining in popularity in recent years, the do-it-yourself turkey fryer consists of a large aluminum or stainless steel pot mounted atop a burner and placed onto a lifter so that the entire contraption stands about a foot off the ground. It's a novel holiday device, but public health and safety officials are less than thrilled. The U.S. National Fire Protection Association reports that there are around 1,000 Thanksgiving fires per year due to deep fried turkeys, costing $15 million in property damage. Leading safety certification organization Underwriters Laboratories has vehemently not approved the turkey fryer for use, calling it "dangerous to use" and "not worth the risk."
Home fire is already one of the biggest dangers associated with Thanksgiving, and there are many aspects of the turkey fryer which make users susceptible to an unintentional blaze. To begin, the fryer is upright and supported by a slim base, meaning that it can easily tip and spill gallons of hot oil onto property or a person. In years past, there have also been problems with people putting a turkey into the fryer before the turkey is completely thawed; due to the high water content of the half-frozen bird, vaporization will occur and cause grease to splatter and even combust. Similarly, if too much oil is put into the fryer or the turkey is added too quickly, grease can be spilled and quickly catch fire on the burner below.
Other health and safety dangers of the turkey fryer relate to personal injury. Because the handles and lids of most fryers are not heat-protective, there is a high potential for burns. Unexpected splashes of oil or incorrectly used over mitts can be responsible for skin injury as well. In 2010, the actor William Shatner even released a safety video of himself warning other turkey fryer users to exercise caution in order to avoid a burn such as the one he received while deep frying his own Thanksgiving bird.
Luckily for holiday-makers set on having a home-fried turkey, there are plenty of precautions to limit potential damage or injury from a fryer. Newer models come equipped with heat sensors that don't allow oil temperature to rise above a certain point, reducing the risk of fires and burns. Whatever model you use, remembering to not over-fill the fryer and to keep it away from wooden decks, low roofs and other flammable areas. Finally, as in any cooking endeavor, keeping alert and not leaving anything unattended is of the utmost importance.
Of course, even those households that choose to cook their bird the old-fashioned way should still make an effort to be aware of health and safety risks on Thanksgiving. Insurance companies in the U.S. report that more cooking fires occur on Thanksgiving than on any other day of the year; therefore, cooks should be well versed in how to handle a blaze in the kitchen - do not put water onto a grease fire, but rather smother the fire as much as possible; never try and move a flaming pan or the fire may oxygenate and grow; keep an extinguisher handy and don't be afraid to call the fire department when a situation gets out of hand. It's a good idea to keep small children away from the kitchen when moving heavy dishes or working over open flames, and a good pair of oven mitts is a simple yet essential element of safe cooking.
Getting to and from the Thanksgiving gathering presents another set of Turkey Day safety issues. In the current economic climate, more and more people are choosing to drive to their Thanksgiving destination; this surge of cars on the road coupled with poor weather conditions leads to an unfortunate rise in car accidents over the holiday weekend. What's more, the National Highway Safety Administration reports that Thanksgiving is second only to New Year's Eve in terms of drunk driving violations, with an average 54% increase of intoxicated drivers on the road. To protect themselves, travelers ought to be aware of weather and road conditions, never drive while fatigued or under the influence of alcohol, and remember to travel with an emergency auto kit that includes tools and a flashlight. Most importantly, seat belts save lives, and should always be worn.
Whether you plan to spend this Thanksgiving traveling to relatives across the country, or deep frying a turkey in your own backyard, or simply roasting a sweet potato or two in the toaster oven, do keep in mind that just a few precautions can keep your celebration safe, festive and fun.