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Turkey Talk: Thanksgiving Safety Tips

November 24, 2020

As COVID-19 surges across the United States, public health officials are urging people not to travel for Thanksgiving this year. Instead, people are urged to celebrate at home with members of their own household. While some people are planning to order their Thanksgiving dinner, others will be cooking at home. Whether it’s your first time preparing Thanksgiving dinner, or you’re an old pro, here are some Thanksgiving safety tips to keep in mind.

Handle Your Turkey Properly

Nothing ruins a good meal like food poisoning. Proper handling of the bird from start to finish can keep food-borne illnesses at bay.

Thawing: According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are only three ways to safely defrost a turkey: in the fridge, in a sink filled with cold water (changing the water every half hour), or in the microwave. Remember, a 20 pound turkey could take four full days to defrost in the refrigerator, so plan ahead. Do not leave the turkey on the counter because bacteria can start to grow in just two hours.

Handling:  Raw poultry can contaminate anything it touches with bacteria. Never wash a raw turkey because this could spread bacteria around the kitchen. Immediately wash items that come in contact with the raw turkey (i.e. cutting boards, knives, countertops and hands) in warm, soapy water.

Cooking: Once completely thawed, a turkey should be roasted in an oven set at no lower than 325 degrees and cooked until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Use a food thermometer to check the temperature because it is more accurate than the pop-up timer that often comes in the turkey. Cooking times vary depending on the size of the turkey. Let the turkey sit 20 minutes once out of the oven -- this will allow the juices to set so the turkey carves more easily.

           Leftovers: Refrigerate all leftovers as soon as possible to prevent food poisoning. Once cooked, food should not be left out at room temperature for more than two hours. Reheat food to 165 degrees before enjoying your leftovers.

Prevent Turkey Fryer Fires

Deep frying a turkey may sound like fun, but if you don’t follow safety guidelines, you could get badly burned or start a fire.  The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), a division of FEMA, says common mistakes people make are using too much oil, putting a frozen turkey in the fryer, and letting the oil overheat. Any of these things can spark a fire which can become out of control in a matter of seconds (as shown by this 2019 U.S. CPSC demonstration). It’s a good idea to do a test run before Thanksgiving. Fill the fryer with water and put in the turkey. If it overflows, there is too much water in the fryer, but it’s better to spill water than hot oil. Also, be sure the turkey is completely thawed and dry to prevent hot oil from splattering, and use a cooking thermometer to monitor the temperature of the oil.

Other important turkey-frying safety tips from fire prevention experts:

  • Only use the fryer outdoors.
  • Make sure to set it on a sturdy, level surface.
  • Keep the fryer at least ten feet away from your home or anything that burns.
  • Always keep children and pets away.
  • Have a multi-purpose, dry-powder fire extinguisher ready at all times.
  • Wear long cooking gloves to protect your arms and hands before you touch any part of the fryer because the pot, handles and lid all get dangerously hot.
  • Keep a phone handy so you can call 911 if things get out of control.
  • Never leave the fryer unattended.

Kitchen Safety

Cuts, burns, and other kitchen accidents lead to unwanted Emergency Room visits on Thanksgiving. Hot stoves, sharp knives, and dangling cords are just some of the dangers lurking in the kitchen. Many accidents can be prevented with a little extra care.

Proper Knife Skills - Whether you’re carving a turkey or slicing a loaf of bread, a slip of the knife can be catastrophic. Always cut away from yourself and place your free hand on the opposite side you are cutting. To avoid accidental slips, keep knife handles and cutting areas dry and use sharp knives which require less force when cutting.

Burn Prevention - The kitchen is a place for cooking, not playing, so make it a kid-free zone. For added safety, turn pot handles inwards so they don’t get knocked over and cook on the back burners whenever possible. An adult should be in the kitchen at all times when cooking food on the stove.

So this Thanksgiving, keep safety top of mind as you prepare your feast for the people closest to you. Taking a little extra time to follow the safety guidelines can help to ensure the holiday is safe and enjoyable for everyone.

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