When you think about Thanksgiving, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s gathering with friends and family. Perhaps it’s mountains of mouth-watering food.
One thing that’s probably not on your mind is preventing burns and fires. But here’s a reason it should be: There are more than twice the number of fires in homes on Thanksgiving compared to any other day of the year.
So, what’s to blame? In three out of four cases, the cause of a Thanksgiving fire is related to cooking. So it’s no wonder that the doctors at Regions Hospital’s Burn Center are hoping Thanksgiving chefs take extra caution in the kitchen this year.
“No one wants to spend Thanksgiving in the Burn Center,” said Mark Johnston, RN and program coordinator at Regions Hospital’s Burn Center. “With more people and activity in the kitchen, there is a greater risk for burns and fires.”
Understanding why Thanksgiving burns happen and how to avoid them
What is it about cooking on Thanksgiving that makes it more dangerous? Top reasons include more food, more people and cooking things that aren’t in your normal menu rotation.
When else do you have each burner working double-time and every inch of counter space covered in food prep or cooling dishes? When else might you attempt something like deep frying a turkey?
Read on as we explore some of the top causes of kitchen fires and burns, and what you can do about them.
The dangers of deep frying a turkey
Deep-fried turkey is delicious, but it can also be dangerous. Each year, deep fryer accidents lead to devasting fires, burn accidents and deaths.
Turkey fryers can cause fires when hot oil spills onto the burner, causing flames. Most often, this happens when someone puts a frozen turkey into the deep fryer, causing large amounts of hot oil to overflow from the pot. If the turkey fryer is on something flammable, like a wooden deck, the fire can quickly spread.
When you place a frozen turkey into hot oil, the frozen water in the turkey immediately changes to steam, greatly increasing how much space it needs – steam has 1,700 times the volume of ice. As a result, all that steam pushes the hot oil out of the pot and onto the ground. If there’s anything flammable nearby, it can lead to fires, deep-fried turkey explosions and burns.
Video showing grease fire from deep frying a turkey
While grease or oil fires are the most severe example, there are other ways that deep frying turkey can result in burns, including:
- Touching the hot metal of the deep fryer or its lid without proper hand protection.
- Cool snow or rain on the hot pot producing scalding steam, which can cause burns and blisters.
- Lowering or raising the turkey into the oil too quickly, leading to hot oil splattering on skin, and to burns and blisters.
Keep you and your family safe with these turkey fryer safety tips
The safest option is to bake your Thanksgiving turkey. But if you choose to deep fry your turkey, you can increase Thanksgiving fire safety by following these turkey fryer tips:
- Never fry a frozen or a partially frozen turkey. You’ll need to defrost your turkey in the fridge 24 hours for every four pounds that your turkey weighs. For example, if your turkey weighs 12 pounds, you’ll need at least three days of thawing time in the fridge to get the bird fully thawed and ready to cook.
- Make sure you have a good fit. Most turkey fryers are designed for a bird that’s about 12 pounds, but some can fit up to 18 pounds. If a turkey is too big, there may not be enough room to keep the oil inside the fryer from spilling over the top.
- Don’t use too much oil as it can overflow and cause fires and injury. To determine the right amount of oil, place your turkey into the pot and add water until there’s one to two inches of water above the turkey. After removing the turkey, note the location of the water line. Then pour out the water, carefully dry your pot to remove any remaining water droplets (this helps avoid spattering) and add oil to the line you just noted.
- Keep the fryer outside on a level surface away from anything flammable. Make sure your fryer is far away from your house and anything that could burn or melt – so not on a wooden deck or near anything plastic. And look for a level surface so the fryer is not tilted.
- Keep an eye on oil temperature. In most cases, you’ll want to keep oil under 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Don’t leave the deep fryer unattended. Keep kids and pets away from the fryer when it’s going.
- Keep the right type of fire extinguisher nearby. You’ll need a wet chemical extinguisher to put out a grease fire if things go wrong with your turkey fryer. These are sometimes called Class K extinguishers.
- Be ready to use the safety button. Know where the safety button is on your deep fryer and how to use it. Watch the fryer, and if you start to see black smoke or the grease starts to boil, turn off the fryer immediately.
Common causes of kitchen burns on Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving kitchen burns are often the result of trying to do too much at once, being distracted or having a crowded cooking area.
You might have too many pots on the stove and multiple dishes in the oven – each of which needs to cook for a different amount of time. With the timer always beeping and people constantly interrupting, it’s easy to forget to grab a potholder before you pull out the oven rack to see if the turkey is done.
And since counter space is limited, you might set foods on an unsafe surface such as a heater or leave them dangerously close to the counter’s edge. A bump to the counter from someone hovering in the kitchen trying to snatch the first piece of turkey can send a casserole tumbling to the floor. Then you’ll not only have a mess to clean up, you’ll also have a potential burn hazard.
If you have a gas stovetop, you also need to take care to make sure things don’t catch on fire. Potholders left too close to the open flame and long sleeves can pose a risk.
How to prevent burns in the kitchen on Thanksgiving
Here are a few kitchen safety tips to reduce the chance of burns and accidents when preparing your Thanksgiving feast:
- Limit those who gather in the kitchen. The more cooks in the kitchen, the greater the risk for an accident. Reduce the number of people congregating in the kitchen by placing appetizers and beverages in a different room. Enforcing a “kid-free” kitchen is a great way to improve kitchen safety for kids during the holiday.
- Have a fire extinguisher nearby. The kitchen is the most common room in the house to catch fire – and those fires are usually caused by cooking. Keep an extinguisher nearby to put out fires quickly and effectively.
- Move items that can easily catch fire away from the stove. Things like paper towels, paper packaging and hot pads can easily catch fire, especially around gas stoves. Your loose sleeves should also be rolled up.
- Watch for smoke. If you start to see smoke when frying food on a stovetop, remove the pan from the burner.
Types of burns and how to treat them
What should you do if you get a cooking or kitchen burn? It depends on the location and the severity of the burn. There are three levels of burns, depending on how deep the burn goes.
- First-degree burns: These burns only affect the outer layer of the skin. If you have a first-degree burn, your skin will likely look red, and you may have pain.
- Second-degree burns: These burns affect the top two layers of skin. You may have blisters, splotchy skin and pain.
- Third-degree burns: The burns go all the way to the fat layer under skin. The burned area can look black, brown or white. The skin may also look leathery.
When you can treat burns at home
First-degree burns and second-degree burns that are smaller than 3 inches in diameter can be treated at home. But if you have second-degree burns that are larger, you should see a doctor.
How to treat a burn at home
You can treat small burns at home by putting them under cool (not cold) water. Wrap the burn with gauze and take an over-the-counter pain killer, if necessary.
How not to treat a burn
Do not pop a blister from a burn. Also, do not use butter, egg whites, ice cubes and ointments on them. These “home remedies” can cause an infection or damage your skin even more.
When to see a doctor about your burn
You should seek emergency medical care if you have any of the following:
- Third-degree burns
- Significant burns on your hands, feet, head, groin or buttocks
- Burns covering a large area of your body
- Burns that are located over a major joint such as an elbow or a knee
- Burns on your neck or throat, especially if you are having difficulty breathing
You should also talk to a doctor if you have a burn wound that isn’t healing, looks infected or continues to be inflamed even after a couple weeks.
Help for even the most severe burns
The team at the Regions Hospital Burn Center are experts in specialized burn care for adults and children. If a burn has caused serious damage or won’t heal, we can help. Our team of burn-trained surgeons, nurses, rehabilitation therapists, dietitians and psychotherapists will treat wounds, manage the pain and support all of a patient’s needs throughout treatment and recovery.