Feb 20, 2024

How to Keep Your Family Safe This Thanksgiving

turkey being carved

Thanksgiving is a time of love, gratitude, and coming together. Sadly, it’s also one of the most dangerous days of the year in terms of knife wounds, house fires, and traffic fatalities. Emergency room visits spike around the holidays; in 2016, there were 36,000 such visits on Thanksgiving.

Here are some of the most common types of Thanksgiving injuries and how to avoid them.

Car Accidents

Thanksgiving, like Christmas and the Fourth of July, is one of the busiest travel times of the year — and one of the booziest. The combination of heavy drinking and heavy travel is deadly: The National Safety Council (NSC) predicts that more than 400 people will die on U.S. roads between Wednesday and Sunday.

Here’s how to avoid a car accident this Thanksgiving:

  • Don’t drink and drive. Designate a sober driver, or take a cab or Lyft. target="_blank" rel="noopener">According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), alcohol is a factor in roughly one-third of holiday traffic fatalities.
  • Don’t text and drive. Distracted driving claimed more than 3,000 lives in 2017, and the NSC estimates that cellphones play a role in 27% of all motor vehicle accidents.
  • Buckle up. According to the NHTSA, last Thanksgiving, “nearly half of all passengers killed in traffic crashes were unbuckled.”
  • Slow down. It may seem like a harmless infraction, but the NHTSA says speeding is a factor in one-third of all motor vehicle fatalities.

Fires and Burns

Alcohol and distractions contribute to another common Thanksgiving catastrophe: cooking fires. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), on average, there are 1,800 such fires on Thanksgiving each year — four times the average on a normal day. Cooking fires are the most common type of home fire, and the No. 1 factor in these incidents is an unattended oven or stove.

Hot grease and other burn injuries also spike on Thanksgiving, with Texas the apparent epicenter for these types of wounds. Physician Brad Uren wrote, “Burns of the hands and arms are another common holiday occurrence.” He recommends using oven mitts and avoiding wearing loose clothing that could catch fire or cause a spill.

Here are some more tips for avoiding a cooking fire or burn injury on Thanksgiving:

  • Stand by your pan (as the CSPC says). Never leave the food you’re cooking unattended.
  • Use turkey fryers outside, away from your home. Always follow the instructions, and never attempt to deep-fry a frozen turkey.
  • Don’t use water to try to put out a fryer fire. That will only make the situation worse.
  • Keep children at least three feet away from the stove and hot food items. The steam or grease could burn them.
  • Keep flammable items away from hot surfaces. Potholders, paper bags, etc., can be a disaster waiting to happen if they’re too close to your oven or stove.

Carving Injuries

With so many people in the kitchen (some of them inebriated, some children, and even some inebriated children), and so much food preparation occurring, Thanksgiving also sees a jump in ER visits related to carving injuries. Knives, broken glasses, and turkey bones are the typical culprits.

But as with burns and other injuries, knife wounds can be avoided if you’re careful:

  • Keep your cutting surface dry and use a non-skid pad underneath the surface. This will help prevent the knife (or turkey) from slipping.
  • Cut away from yourself. This way, if the knife does slip, it is less likely to cut you.
  • Keep your knives sharp. This might sound counterintuitive, but the sharper your carving utensil is, the quicker and more efficient the carving will be. (The idea is to do less hacking and sawing.)
  • Don’t let children help carve the turkey or chop vegetables, for obvious reasons.
  • Don’t try to catch a falling knife, again for obvious reasons.
  • Call 911 if 15 minutes of continuous pressure doesn’t stop the bleeding of a cut and/or if you are unable to clean the wound with mildly soapy water or otherwise disinfect it.

Food Poisoning

Mishandling or undercooking poultry increases the risk of food poisoning. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that each year, food-borne illnesses affect 1 in 6 Americans, killing roughly 3,000.

With more than 80% of American households eating turkey on Thanksgiving, the potential for salmonella is higher than usual. Take the following precautions:

  • Thaw the turkey in a leakproof bag, either in the refrigerator or in a sink full of cold water. If you thaw it in the sink, change the water every half-hour.
  • Don’t let the meat come into contact with other foods. This will prevent cross-contamination. Use a separate cutting board for the turkey, and don’t let it touch the other foods until it’s been fully cooked.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly while preparing the meal. Salmonella can live on dry surfaces for hours or even days.
  • Cook your turkey and stuffing all the way through. Set the oven to at least 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a food thermometer in the thickest part of the turkey breast to make sure it hits an internal temperature of 165 F.
  • Refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible. Bacteria can also grow on cooked foods that are left out at room temperature. If possible, refrigerate leftovers within two hours of their preparation to reduce risk.

By taking the steps outlined above, you and your family can enjoy a happy, healthy, and safe Thanksgiving — one full of delicious food and devoid of cautionary tales.