Be Safe! Simulated Turkey Frying Fires Show the Risks
Simulation can provide instruction on how to perform skills that can be pivotal in avoiding medical emergencies. During the holiday season and specifically on Thanksgiving Day, meal preparation can pose a serious risk if mistakes or errors in judgment are made. Cooking is the cause of more than half of all reported home fires, but fire occurrences spike on Thanksgiving Day. According to the NFPA, there were 1,160 home cooking fires reported to fire departments across the U.S. on Thanksgiving Day in 2021. That accounts for a 297% increase compared to the daily average. Between 2017-2019 fires reportedly caused an estimated annual average of five deaths, 25 injuries, and $26 million in property loss. To help avoid these outcomes, this HealthySimulation.com article serves as a public service announcement and shares tips and resources to mitigate risk – and HAPPY THANKSGIVING!
According to NFPA, each year, anywhere from 3 to 4 times as many home cooking fires occur on Thanksgiving Day as on a typical day, making this day by far the leading day of the year for home cooking fires. This annual spike can largely be attributed to people cooking multiple dishes at once, along with other distractions that can easily cause one to lose sight of what is cooking on the stove and in the oven. Year-round, cooking is the leading cause (49%) of U.S. home fires, with unattended cooking serving as the leading cause.
First and foremost, those who plan to cook this holiday season must be aware that oil and water DO NOT MIX! Further, everyone must understand that they cannot put out an oil-based fire with water, as this ultimately distributes the oil and flames even more. Additionally, simulated turkey fire demonstrations are often conducted by fire departments and emergency personnel to demonstrate just how dangerous cooking with oil can be. This simulation methodology can be utilized to demonstrate potential dangers associated with fires and to train both firefighters and civilians on how to address these emergencies.
By fully understanding the risks involves and methods to mitigate them, those cooking this holiday season can better ensure a safe outcome for themselves and all of their guests. From all of us at HealthySimulation.com, we hope all simulationists and their families enjoy Thanksgiving responsibly, and that they will consider sharing this important Public Service Announcement (PSA).
NFPA Cooking Safety Tips
The NFPA issues several recommendations that help keep people safe while they prepare to cook this holiday season. For example, the organization emphasizes that anyone cooking, especially on the stovetop, should remain in the kitchen so that they can keep an eye on the food. The organization also recommends that those preparing meals should stay at home when cooking the turkey, and check on the process frequently. They should be sure that smoke alarms are working, and test them by pushing the test button.
Here are additional NFPA tips and recommendations for safe cooking:
- Never leave the kitchen while cooking on the stovetop. Some types of cooking, especially those that involve frying or sautéing with oil, need continuous attention.
- When cooking a turkey, stay in your home and check regularly.
- Make use of timers to keep track of cooking times, particularly for foods that require longer cook times.
- Keep things that can catch fire like oven mitts, wooden utensils, food wrappers, and towels at least three feet away from the cooking area.
- Avoid long sleeves and hanging fabrics that could come in contact with a heat source.
- Always cook with a lid beside your pan. If you have a fire, slide the lid over the pan and turn off the burner. Do not remove the cover because the fire could start again. Let the pan cool for a long time. Never throw water or use a fire extinguisher on the fire.
- For an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed. Only open the door once you’re confident the fire is completely out, standing to the side as you do. If you have any doubts or concerns, contact the fire department for assistance.
- Keep children at least three feet away from the stove. Kids should also stay away from hot foods and liquids, as steam or splash from these items could cause severe burns.
Additional Cooking Tips
If children are nearby when the meal is being prepared, people should make sure electric cords from an electric knife, coffee maker, plate warmer or mixer are not dangling off the counter within easy reach. Other best practices include keeping matches, utility lighters, knives, hot foods, and liquids out of children’s reach. The steam or splash from vegetables, gravy, or coffee can cause serious burns as well. Ultimately, children should be kept three feet away from the stove and away from any lit candles.
Frying a Turkey
According to the National Fire Protection Association: deep fryer fires cause an average of 5 deaths, 60 injuries and more than $15 million in property damage each year. Deep-frying turkeys has become increasingly popular, but the new tradition is a recipe for holiday tragedy. The use of turkey fryers is considered a serious injury and fire risk as the turkey is placed in the hot oil, oil may spill from the fryer onto the burner, causing a fire. Turkey fryers can easily tip over, spilling the hot oil onto anyone nearby. Most turkey fryers do not have an automatic control. Because of this, the oil can overheat to the point of combustion and cause a fire. Turkey fryers, including the lid and handles, get extremely hot and can easily cause burns. Partially frozen turkeys placed into the fryer can cause a spillover effect. Underwriter Laboratories, one of the country’s top safety consulting companies, has decided not to safety certify any turkey fryers because of the increasing number of fires and burn injuries related to their use.
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The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) discourages the use of outdoor, gas-fueled turkey fryers, which can lead to devastating burns, destruction of property, and other injuries. Additionally, Underwriters Laboratories (UL), the organization that certifies safe products, does not certify these types of fryers with its UL label. Both organizations discourage the use of open-flame fryers due to the following:
- Turkey fryers tip easily, spilling their contents, and causing oil to ignite.
- Overfilling the fryer is common. The oil spills out of the pot when the turkey is placed in the fryer, engulfing the whole unit in flames.
- With no thermostat controls, the oil is prone to overheating to the combustion point.
- The handles and lid get extremely hot, which can cause severe burns.
- Since the unit is designed for outdoor use, rain or snow can fall on the unit, splattering the oil and converting the water to scalding steam.
Despite these hazards, if you still plan on using a turkey fryer, please follow these safety guidelines:
- Always use the fryer outdoors on a flat surface, safely away from structures, wooden decks, and covered patios. No matter what, DO NOT be tempted to use the fryer in a garage.
- Have the correct kind of fire extinguisher nearby and ready to use.
- To ensure you are using the right amount of oil, place a thawed turkey in the fry pot and add enough water to cover the bird by ½”. Remove the turkey and mark the water level. Dump the water and thoroughly dry the pot and turkey. Fill the pot with oil to the marked level.
- Do not leave the fryer unattended. Monitor the temperature of the oil with a thermometer to prevent the oil from overheating and catching fire. If the oil begins to smoke, immediately turn the gas off.
- Ensure the turkey is COMPLETELY THAWED to prevent a fire or explosion hazard.
- Raise and lower the turkey slowly to prevent oil splatter, burns, and fire. Use metal/stainless steel tools to lower and raise the turkey. Wear protective clothing, such as tight-fitting long sleeves, fire and heat retardant gloves, apron and safety googles to prevent burning yourself.
- Keep children and pets away from the fryer to prevent tipping, even after the turkey is done. The oil is dangerously hot for hours.
- Stand upwind of the propane tank and fryer so heat blows away from you.
Never deep-fry a frozen turkey, experts warn. The result? A dangerous eruption of flames: According to USA Today, Meredith Carothers, a food safety expert with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, called deep-frying a turkey a “cool way” of preparing a Thanksgiving classic that “has gained a lot of popularity over the years.” But she warned that, if your family wants to deep-fry a turkey, there are some important safety tips you should know to avoid a holiday disaster.
Enjoy this time of the year with family and friends. Remember to stay safe this holiday season!
Teresa Gore, PhD, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC, CHSE-A, FSSH, FAAN – Dr. Gore has experience in educating future nurses in the undergraduate and graduate nursing programs. Dr. Gore has a PhD in Adult Education, a DNP as a family nurse practitioner, and a certificate in Simulation Education. Dr. Gore is an innovative, compassionate educator and an expert in the field of healthcare simulation. In 2007l Teresa started her journey in healthcare simulation. She is involved in INACSL and SSH. She is a Past-President of INACSL and is a Certified Healthcare Simulation Educator Advanced (CHSE-A). In 2018, she was inducted as a Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing (FAAN). In 2021, she was inducted as a Fellow in the Society of Simulation in Healthcare Academy (FSSH) and selected as a Visionary Leader University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing Alumni. During her career, Dr. Gore has led in the development and integration of simulation into all undergraduate clinical courses and started an OSCE program for APRN students. Her research interests and scholarly work focus on simulation, online course development and faculty development. She has numerous invited presentations nationally and internationally on simulation topics.