On Your Health

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Keeping Your Kids, Fingers, Stomachs and Kitchens Safe This Thanksgiving

Whether you’re cooking for a group of four or a crowd of 40, Thanksgiving dinner can seem overwhelming with so many nuances and moving parts associated with it.

When life gets hectic, accidents can happen. It’s why the holidays can be hazardous. Things like child accidents, food poisoning, kitchen fires and knife mishaps are possibilities during Thanksgiving when large groups of sometimes distracted people come together to consume their favorite dishes. In this On Your Health article we’re exploring ways to make your Thanksgiving safer.

Keeping Your Children Safe

We all know the holidays can be busy with days full of cooking, cleaning and entertaining visitors. But it’s imperative you keep a watchful eye on your children. Supervision is key, especially on busy days like Thanksgiving that often include new environments your little ones want to explore.

Keep the children away during the carving process to avoid accidents. Don’t leave hot pans unattended, especially with children around. Place cooking handles away from you to reduce the risk of someone bumping into them. Also, make sure they stay away from hot liquids or cords that could cause them to trip.

Consider putting a childproof lock on the oven, so children aren’t opening it and exposing themselves to high temperatures. If you decide on frying your turkey outdoors, don’t allow children to be near the hot oil. Grease splashes on the skin are especially harmful to youngsters.

While it isn’t safe to get your children involved in carving a turkey or cooking over the stove, use this as a teaching experience. Show them the dangers of improper cutting techniques and why it’s necessary to clean up each time they handle raw meat.

Children, along with pregnant women and older adults, are more at risk for developing food poisoning. You can explain why you store foods at proper temperatures to avoid any foodborne illnesses.

Involve your kids by letting them help clean up. For example, they can help you clean areas that come in contact with raw foods. Hand them a rag with warm, soapy water to wipe down counters. Make sure they wash their hands after. Then you can follow up yourself with a bleach spray to further disinfect the surfaces.

Food Safety Tips

The CDC estimates that 48 million people get sick from foodborne illnesses each year. Make sure the Thanksgiving meal doesn’t contribute to those numbers! Days before the holiday, you should safely defrost your turkey to avoid food poisoning. As a rule of thumb, it takes 24 hours for every five pounds. Be aware that a 15- or 20-pound turkey could take three or four days to properly thaw.

If you’re in a bind and need a quicker option, try thawing in cold water. This will take 30 minutes a pound. Make sure to change the water every 30 minutes. You can also thaw the turkey using the defrost function on your microwave. If using either of these defrosting methods, you should cook the turkey immediately after thawing to prevent any bacteria from growing.

Remember to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water after touching raw meat. This will help avoid cross contamination. Make sure you clean your prep stations and countertops, washing any utensils and cutting boards that come in contact with the turkey. If you plan to stuff your turkey, cook any raw ingredients before placing them in the turkey because raw stuffing may not reach 165 degrees before the turkey does.

Don’t bother washing your turkey. Bacteria can still exist inside the turkey, so cooking the bird to the proper temperature is the only way to kill bacteria. Plus, rinsing raw meat can cause splashing which can spread germs in the kitchen.

Cook your turkey until at least 165 degrees to avoid any foodborne illnesses (make sure to check the breast, wing, and thigh). When roasting, you can place aluminum foil over the breasts so they don’t overcook and brown too quickly. Technology has advanced to include digital thermometers that link to your smartphone, alerting you when food reaches a certain temperature.

Don’t allow any food to sit at room temperature for more than two hours before storing it in the refrigerator. You can keep leftovers for three or four days. Transfer any remaining items to the freezer in an airtight container or bag for up to six months.

The USDA recommends keeping hot foods above 140 degrees and cold foods below 40 degrees. The 100-degree range in between is the danger zone where bacteria can grow. Try using steam tables, warming trays, and slow cookers to ensure your food stays at optimal temperatures. For cold foods, try an ice bath. This can come in handy for fruit dishes, salads and cold meats.

Tips to Prevent Injuries When Carving

You don’t have to be a professional chef to carve a turkey. A few simple guidelines will ensure you safely cut up your bird for your guests to enjoy. Cuts from carving are among the most common Thanksgiving injuries.

For starters, allow the turkey to rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving. This lets the juices redistribute throughout the meat, ensuring the turkey doesn’t become dry. It also gives the turkey time to cool to avoid any burns.

To carve the turkey, start by pulling the drumstick and thigh and separating it from the body by cutting at the joint. Then cut through the joint to separate the drumstick and thigh. Slice the meat off both pieces and assemble on a platter. For the breast, cut each piece away from the keel bone and rib cage. Slice it against the grain.

An electric knife is the preferred choice to carve a turkey. A chef’s knife also works. If you use a knife, sharpen it before you start to help you make clean, smooth cuts. A dull knife can make it hard to cut and, in turn, cause accidents. Make sure your cuts move away from the body, not toward. This prevents any accidents in the event your knife may slip. Keep your knife and workspace dry so there isn’t any slippage.

Practicing Proper Fire Safety

Cooking mishaps on Thanksgiving and Christmas are among the leading causes of household fires.

Data from the National Fire Protection Association estimated 1,5070 cooking fires on Thanksgiving in 2016. The biggest culprits were unattended cooking followed by cooking equipment.

If you know you’ll be cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year, check the batteries in your smoke detector to make sure it works. Smoke detectors are inexpensive and can save lives, so add it to your grocery list if you don’t have one. You should also have a fire extinguisher in your home.

When cooking, don’t wear loose clothes or long sleeves that could catch fire from a gas flame or hot stove. Set a timer so you don’t forget to check your food. You can use your smart phone or watch for hand-held convenience.

Traditionally, an oven was the go-to means to cook a turkey. Nowadays, more families use outdoor turkey fryers for a different spin on turkey. We urge you to be very careful when using a fryer to avoid burns and safety hazards.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 216 turkey-fryer related fires, burns or other injuries that resulted in $10 million worth of damage. Consider buying a fried turkey from a restaurant if that’s what you want to serve. If you do decide to fry on your own, the U.S. Fire Administration and FEMA have guidelines to follow.

For starters, place the fryer on sturdy ground so it isn’t prone to tipping over. Keep a three-foot area around the fryer that is safe from children and pets. Completely thaw your turkey to avoid splattering. A frozen, or partially frozen turkey, has excess moisture that can cause a fire.

To avoid overfilling the pot, first place the turkey in a pot full of water to determine how much to use. Too much oil in the pot can cause the oil to spill over, which increases your fire risk. Invest in a thermometer you can place on the side of the pot to regulate the temperature. To protect yourself against the hot oil and possible splattering, the USFA recommends using cooking gloves. You can buy a pair of fire-resistant gloves at your local hardware store.

We hope you have a safe and delicious Thanksgiving holiday!

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