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Cooking tips for a safer Thanksgiving

With an increasing number of Michigan residents staying home for Thanksgiving as part of the largest decrease in seasonal travel since the Great Recession in 2008, many folks may be trimming the turkey on their own for the first time.

While staying home is the safest thing you can do this year, be forewarned: Cooking is the leading cause of all residential building fires and injuries, and more home fires occur on Thanksgiving than any other day of the year. The sheer number of cooks hitting the kitchen on Thanksgiving results in a national home fire risk three times that of an average day.

“In 2020, the name of the game for Thanksgiving is protecting other people,” said Adrienne Woodland of the AAA-The Auto Club Group. “That means staying home and, if you’re cooking, taking good care to avoid common kitchen missteps that can strain our health system and expose first responders to even greater risk.”

The number one cause of cooking fires is leaving the kitchen unattended. A few key steps can keep everyone safe —

— Have a fully functional fire extinguisher handy for emergencies.

— Have someone on duty at all times to avoid an overcooked meal — or worse. If you have to leave, turn off cooking equipment first.

— Limit distractions by planning television time, video chats, chores, and other activities outside of meal preparation time.

— Smother grease fires with a metal lid or baking soda. Never use water. Make sure to turn off the heat first.

— If a fire starts in the oven, turn off the heat and keep the oven door closed.

— To minimize kitchen accidents and divert traffic of loved ones, put snacks, games and toys in another room.

— Step away from cooking and designate a “kitchen driver” to take the lead if you are sleepy or have consumed too much alcohol.

— Keep dish towels, oven mitts, paper products and other flammable materials away from heat.

If you opt to fry the turkey, remember these three key steps —

— Move the fryer at least 10 feet away from the home. Your fryer should be set up on a stable, non-combustible surface. Don’t use it inside the home, in a garage or on a deck or patio, as that creates a serious fire risk. Avoid operating the fryer near or under trees. Open space as far from the house as possible is the best bet, but never place the fryer directly on the lawn or dirt.

— Don’t overfill the fryer. Read all directions carefully, ahead of time, before beginning the frying process. Be sure to fill the fryer only to the fill line — overfilling the fryer may cause it to overflow, especially when you add the turkey. Hot oil spillover, in turn, presents a serious burn hazard and fire risk.

— Important: Properly thaw the turkey. If you try to deep fry a frozen turkey, it will explode and start a fire. A frozen turkey must be completely defrosted before frying, so read thawing directions. If thawing in the fridge, leave the turkey to thaw for six hours per pound, or three days for a 10- to 12-pound bird. If thawing your turkey in cold water in your sink, let it thaw for 30 minutes per pound — and make sure to change the water every 30 minutes to ensure it stays cold.

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