CATES: Make plans for a safe and happy Thanksgiving

I love the holiday season, but my favorite day of all is Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving because it’s not about presents or “stuff,” it’s about gratitude. It’s for looking back on the past year and realizing while times have been very tough, especially since the pandemic hit, there are still things to be grateful for. For every person those things will be different, some will be big, some will be small, and that is to me why Thanksgiving is so special. It’s not about the size of the thing we are grateful for, it’s the gratitude itself. Thanksgiving takes us out of our own heads if we let it, for just one day. It allows us to say Thank You. If there is a downside to Thanksgiving it is the illness and injury that can result from things like fires, and improper food handling. To avoid these issues as much as possible, please consider adding these safety tips for Thanksgiving to your planning this year.

According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), Thanksgiving Day is the highest day of the year of cooking or cooking related equipment fires. The US Fire Administration, part of FEMA states that from 2014-2016, more than 2,400 residential fires were reporting on Thanksgiving Day. More than 36,000 people are injured and seen in the emergency department on Thanksgiving Day each year. The NFPA recommends several safety tips to avoid cooking related fires and burns: Stay in the kitchen when using the stovetop so you can keep an eye on the food. Stay home whenever there is food in the oven and check on it frequently. Keep kids away from cooking surfaces and keep them away from hot food and liquids to avoid steam or splash burns. Keep traffic areas in the kitchen clear so there are no tripping hazards. Make sure cords from small appliances are not within reach of children or that they do not pose a tripping hazard. Keep flammable items like dishtowels, bags, and boxes away from cooktops or other heated surfaces like hotplates or chafing dishes. Keep pets out of the kitchen as well, they can be burned or tripped over. Don’t wear loose clothing or dangling sleeves when cooking. Turn pot handles towards the back of stoves or other cooking surfaces so they cannot be bumped into or accidentally pulled off the stove. Keep matches, lighters, and any toxic chemicals out of reach of children. Never leave a lit candle unattended or in a room where a child could be alone with the candle. Use a timer or other alarm to remind yourself to make sure cooktops, hot plates, ovens, coffee makers, or any other appliance is turned off before you go to bed or leave the house. Finally, make sure your smoke detectors are working.

Food poisoning is the other culprit that frequent ruins Thanksgiving Day for many people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the following food safety tips: Thaw turkeys or other meats safely, either in the refrigerator in a container, in a leak-proof plastic bag in a sink of cold water (changing the water every 30 minutes) or in the microwave following manufacturer instructions for that microwave. Do not thaw turkeys or other meats by leaving them out on the counter. When meats are left out on a counter at room temperature for more than 2 hours, they can rapidly grow bacteria that causes food poisoning. Take care when handling raw poultry. Do not wash or rinse raw turkeys. A 2020 survey of Thanksgiving food poisoning victims found that 78% of them had rinsed or washed poultry before becoming sick, despite recommendations since 2005 not to follow this practice. Rinsing or washing raw poultry is not recommended because it spreads those juices quickly in the kitchen leading to contamination of other foods, utensils, and cooking surfaces. Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw poultry. Never place any other food on a surface that held raw poultry without thorough disinfection first (hot soapy water for cooking implements and utensils, antimicrobial wipes or sprays with counter tops). Make sure your turkey and any other foods, especially stuffing, is cooked sufficiently to reach safe temperatures for killing bacteria (165 degrees Fahrenheit) before serving. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling food. Finally make sure leftovers are put in the refrigerator as soon as possible (within 2 hours) of serving. Reheat leftovers to 165 degrees Fahrenheit before consuming.

I wish all of you a safe and happy Thanksgiving and hope that you have a day filled with gratitude and peace.