Seven tips for a safer Thanksgiving

Consumer Reports News: November 19, 2010 01:01 PM

Some 4,300 cooking fires will break out this Thanksgiving Day, resulting in 15 deaths. Poison control centers will receive hundreds of calls about food and alcohol poisoning. And on the roads, more than 1,000 people will likely be killed during the two-week Thanksgiving holiday season (from now until December 1). Many of these tragedies are preventable. With less than a week to go before the big day, Consumer Reports gives you seven ways to make it a safe, happy Thanksgiving.

Keep an eye on the kitchen. The range accounts for nearly 60 percent of all cooking-related home fires. Never leave food that’s frying, grilling, or broiling unattended. When boiling or baking, don't walk away from the kitchen for long. Use back burners when young children are present, turn pot handles in, and enforce a kids-free-zone of at least 3 feet from any hot stove.

Want to trot out a deep-fried turkey? We have concerns over propane-fired turkey fryers, which can heat oil to the point of combustion. In Consumer Reports tests, the Masterbuilt Butterball Professional Series Indoor Electric Turkey Fryer turned out a nicely-browned, juicy bird with less risk of fire.

Check fire-prevention equipment. There should be a smoke alarm on every level of your home. Consumer Reports recommends you place an interconnecting photoelectric alarm about 10 feet from the kitchen (installing it right in the kitchen can lead to nuisance alarms, which could result in the device being disarmed). We also suggest you keep one multipurpose fire extinguisher on each level of the home, plus a smaller supplemental unit in the kitchen.

Follow food safety rules. Fresh turkey should sit in the refrigerator for no more than two days, so plan your purchase accordingly. Thaw frozen birds over a catch tray to prevent cross-contamination from juices. When cooking, use a meat thermometer to make sure the birds internal temperature reaches 165°F. Refrigerate leftovers within two hours of cooking.

As for what goes onto your plate, don’t overdo it, especially if you have a heart condition. An unusually large meal can quadruple the chance of having a heart attack within the next two hours. Read “Heart attack on a platter” for more details.

Prevent tip-overs. Each year, tip-overs of TVs, furniture, and appliances results in thousands of emergency-room visits, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 134 tip-over related deaths between 2000 and 2006. So if your holiday guest list includes lots of little ones, make sure TVs are placed on a sturdy base, check that furnishings are stable on their own, and install anti-tip brackets on freestanding ranges and any furniture more than 30 inches tall.

Keep your wits behind the wheel. A car full of kids can be a major distraction on the way to Grandma’s. Never divert your attention from the road to the back seat, even if it means putting up with an extended tantrum. Make snacks, drinks, and toys accessible to occupy young children. Using a cell phone or texting is another major source of distracted driving. If you need to do either, pull over to a safe place first. And don’t drive home if you’re feeling sleepy. Turkey’s soporific effects may be overblown, but a full stomach can definitely make you tired. Drinking water helps prevent drowsiness. If you’re eyelids are growing heavy, pull off the road and nap for 15 to 20 minutes.

Buckle up for safety. You may need to undo your top button after the big meal, but don’t even think about unbuckling the seat belt. Roughly two thirds of the 231 people killed during the 2008 Thanksgiving travel season were unrestrained. And 45 million Americans still are not in the habit of buckling up.

Use extreme caution at dusk. With the early Thanksgiving mealtime, postprandial strolls often happen at dusk, just when it’s hardest for drivers to see pedestrians. If you do go for a walk at gloaming, be sure to wear light-colored clothes, shoes with reflectors, or even a reflective vest. And if you’re driving home, remember that more pedestrians are killed between 6pm and 9pm than at any other time.

—Daniel DiClerico

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