Safety Belongs on the Thanksgiving Menu

Prevention and precautions are crucial to avoiding stovetop, oven and electrical hazards on the year’s worst day for cooking fires.

PHOTO: SCE | South Pasadenan.com News | On Thanksgiving Day, home-cooking fires reach an annual peak by more than tripling to an average of 1,400 nationally compared to 430 on a typical day.

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Article by Paul Netter

Too many cooks in the kitchen might perfectly describe an over-the-top situation.

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But at Thanksgiving, the worst time of the year for home-cooking fires, always having at least one cook in the kitchen is unquestionably the safest way to prevent the leading cause of those fires — unattended stovetop cooking.

This is crucial all year, but especially on Thanksgiving Day when reported home-cooking fires reach an annual peak by more than tripling to an average of 1,400 nationally compared to 430 on a typical day, according to the National Fire Protection Association. One-third of those fires are caused by unattended cooking, especially frying, grilling and sautéing.

“From entertaining to watching TV to talking on the phone and texting, distractions are prevalent at Thanksgiving, but they should never compromise safety,” said Andrew Martinez, vice president of Safety, Security and Business Resiliency at Southern California Edison. “If you leave the kitchen even briefly, turn off the stove or get someone to watch it. But never leave your stovetop cooking unattended.

Abandoned or discarded materials like grease buildup, while a distant second to unattended cooking as a cause of Thanksgiving fires, are just as likely to occur on the stovetop, where about 61% of home-cooking fires begin.

Working smoke detectors and properly rated fire extinguishers are good preparation steps and are strongly recommended since water should never be used on grease or electrical fires. Often, a small stovetop fire can be extinguished by turning off the burner and placing a lid atop the burning item or using baking soda. Oven fires can often be put out by turning off the heat source and keeping the door closed — depriving the fire of oxygen.

Though cooking is the leading cause of home fires, damaged appliance and extension cords also lead to fires and electrical accidents.

“Frayed or worn electrical cords are hazardous in several ways,” said Martinez. “They, of course, could potentially initiate a spark and also may no longer offer people protection from shock or serious injury. Worn cords and any appliances with them should be replaced immediately and not be used.”

And those turkey fryers? The fire association still discourages their usage at home because they can lead to severe burns and property damage and UL still refuses to certify them. They recommend people use professional sellers of deep-fried turkeys, restaurants, grocery stores and food retailers instead.

SCE hopes everyone enjoys a safe Thanksgiving weekend when 46 million turkeys are expected to be eaten and offers additional safety tips:

  • Never connect extension cords to other extension cords to extend their length. Never place them in pinched positions or high-traffic areas and under rugs where they can lead to trips and falls.
  • Never plug more than one large appliance into an outlet or an extension cord.
  • Ensure that all appliances bear the labels of trusted independent safety organizations like UL.
  • Keep the stovetop and oven free of grease buildup that can ignite a fire.
  • Keep children at least 3 feet away from the stove and keep electrical cords from dangling off counters within easy reach of children and pets.
  • Have an emergency plan in the event of a fire.
INFOGRAPHIC: Alfredo Coello and Larry Tsuei | South Pasadenan.com News