Take care when cooking this Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is almost upon us. When making the annual feast, be careful that turkey doesn’t find some posthumous revenge.

This holiday leads all others for home cooking fires, Michigan State Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer advised. The popularity of portable deep fryers is a major reason why.

While these portable, propane-fueled turkey fryers offer a faster cooking method, they pose a considerable fire risk if not used correctly — and it’s not easy to know the right way, Sehlmeyer said.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, portable deep fryers that use oil, as currently designed, are not suitable for acceptably safe use by even well-informed and careful consumers.

“Deep frying a turkey in several gallons of hot oil over 350 degrees is as flammable as gasoline if the cooking oil vapors ignite,” said Sehlmeyer. “Never use a portable deep fryer in a garage, on or under a deck, breezeway, porch or inside any structure.”

Care also must be taken to not overfill the cooking oil to avoid a splash-back or boil-over when immersing the turkey. Grease fires commonly start with cooking oil spilling over the sides of the fryer onto the flames below. If rain or snow hits the hot cooking oil, the cooking oil may splatter or turn to steam that can lead to burns.

Sehlmeyer said oil-less electric or infrared models are much safer methods of cooking Thanksgiving turkey, provided instructions are followed carefully.

Those who insist on sticking with the portable propane deep fryer should:

— Read and follow the manufacturer’s user guide;

— Always use the appliance on a flat surface, well away from houses, garages, decks, trees, bushes and other outdoor hazards;

— Use a unit with a gas valve controller;

— Make sure the turkey is completely thawed and dry the turkey before putting in the fryer, so that it has no extra water to cause the cooking oil to bubble and spill over;

— Do not leave the fryer unattended;

— Keep children and pets away;

— Allow at least 2 feet of space between the liquid propane tank and the fryer burner;

— ONLY use cooking oil recommended by the fryer manufacturer. Do not use cheaper or different types because the cooking oils have different ignition temperatures when heated;

— Do not overfill, as that can result in the overflow of the cooking oil when the turkey is dunked, possibly sparking a flash fire;

— Use well-insulated potholders or oven mitts with the deep fryer lid and handle, plus wear safety goggles to protect eyes;

— Be careful with marinades. Cooking oil and water do not mix and water causes the cooking oil to spill over, causing a fire or even an explosion hazard;

— If the cooking oil begins to smoke, immediately turn the propane tank off by closing the propane tank valve;

— Keep a dry powder fire extinguisher ready at all times. Never use water to extinguish a cooking oil or grease fire.

Though generally safer, oven or stovetop cooking for Thanksgiving has risks as well. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, the number of residential fires more than doubles compared with other days of the year. About two-thirds, or 67 percent, of home cooking fires start when food or cooking materials catch on fire.

Cooking fires can be better prevented by taking a few simple precautions:

— Start with a clean stove and oven. Remove food and grease buildup from burners, stovetop and oven;

— Turn pot handles toward the back of the stove to prevent pot tipping by young children or catching on loose clothing;

— Wear short sleeves or roll sleeves up, so clothing doesn’t catch fire during cooking;

— Check food regularly while it’s simmering, baking, boiling or roasting;

— Set timers to keep track of turkeys and other foods that require extended cooking times;

— Turn off the stove if leaving the kitchen for even a short period of time. “Unattended cooking is the main cause of residential fires, especially on Thanksgiving when busy cooks can be distracted,” Sehlmeyer said. “Never leave cooking unattended, not even for a second.”

— Keep children away from cooking areas; do not hold children while cooking;

— Keep kitchen clutter, potholders, towels and food wrappers well away from the stove, candles and other open flames;

— Keep a pan lid or cookie sheet nearby;

— Always use oven mitts;

— In case of an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed;

— Have working smoke alarms in the home and have an escape plan the entire family knows. Have two ways out if a fire occurs.

More than half of home cooking fire injuries happened when people tried to extinguish the fire themselves. “If you don’t know how to use a fire extinguisher, don’t try and fight a fire yourself. Immediately call 9-1-1 in such emergencies and evacuate your family and friends out of the home,” Sehlmeyer said.

For more fire safety information, go to the Bureau of Fire Services website at www.michigan.gov/bfs. The bureau wishes everyone a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

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