Thanksgiving cooking safety

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Everyone should have "safety first" on their minds this Thanksgiving when they step into the kitchen to prepare their feast.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA, cooking fires are three times more likely to occur on Thanksgiving than any other day of the year. In 2004, cooking equipment was involved in 1,040 reported home structure fires on Thanksgiving, which was three times the daily average that year.

NFPA studies show cooking fires are the No. 1 cause of home fires and home fire injuries. Cooking fires also cause roughly half a billion dollars in direct property damage to homes and the belongings inside.

Officials say it can be easy to get wrapped up in entertaining guests, but it is important to remember to stay in the kitchen and monitor meal preparation closely as most cooking fires start because cooking has been left unattended.

People may look to vary the traditional turkey entrée by using a turkey fryer, but due to the unique fire and injury hazards associated with this specific piece of equipment, the NFPA recommends against their use.

The deep-frying process requires that up to five gallons of oil be heated before placing the turkey into the device. Tests have shown that a number of available turkey fryer devices are not sturdy and can easily tip over, allowing hot oil to spill, creating a serious risk of fire or scald burn from contact. There also have been reports of turkey fryers overheating, which can also lead to hot oil spilling or splattering outside the fryer, which is again a recipe for dangerous fires, serious injuries and property loss.

If having fried turkey is a must this Thanksgiving, the NFPA recommends that consumers turn to commercial sources where professionals will prepare their entrée with a safety and skill unlikely to be matched at home. Some supermarkets and restaurants accept orders for fried turkeys during the holiday season.

The NFPA offers these tips for safer cooking:

Stand by the pan
-- Stay in the kitchen when frying, grilling or broiling food.
-- If it is necessary to leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn off the stove.
-- When simmering, baking, boiling or roasting food, check it regularly, remain in the home while food is cooking and use a timer.
-- Avoid wearing loose clothing or dangling sleeves while cooking. Loose clothing can catch fire if it comes in contact with a gas flame or electric burner.

No children allowed
-- Keep children away from cooking areas by enforcing a "child-free zone" of 3 feet around the stove.
-- Use the stove's back burners whenever possible, and turn pot handles inward to reduce the risk of pots with hot contents getting knocked over.
-- Never hold a small child while cooking.

Keep it clean
-- Keep anything that can catch fire, such as pot holders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, food packaging, towels or curtains, away from the stove top.
-- Clean up food and grease from burners and the stove top.

For more information on the NFPA, visit their Web site at www.nfpa.org.