Thanksgiving warning: Deep-fried turkey a danger

Deep fried turkey warningDeep-fried turkey on Thanksgiving may be tasty, but it's not worth burning down the house, Underwriters Laboratories warns.

The consumer product safety group has refused to endorse any turkey fryers this holiday season -- which means consumers won't see the familiar UL tag on the cooking gadgets used to cook an untold percentage of the estimated 45 million turkeys on U.S. tables this Thanksgiving.

Manufacturers have made improvements to fryer designs, including non-heat conducting handles and sturdier stands, UL concedes. But the 116-year-old, Illinois-based non-profit said its tests showed the fryers are still dangerous.

"We're worried by the increasing reports of fires related to turkey fryer use," John Drengenberg, UL consumer affairs manager, said in a statement. "Based on our test findings, the fryers used to produce those great-tasting birds are not worth the risks."

To drive the point home, UL created a video of some of its fryer testing -- complete with some pretty impressive flames.

The U.S. Fire Administration said about 4,300 Thanksgiving Day fires occurred each year between 2006 and 2008, resulting in 10 deaths and 50 injuries. Of those fires, 69% were caused by cooking, with 97% being small, confined fires that caused little damage, UL said in a report released earlier this month. How many of those fires were from fryers, the report did not detail.

Based on its claims data from 2005 to 2009, State Farm Insurance said deep-fryer fires number 1,000 a year, with grease and cooking-related claims more than doubling on Thanksgiving as compared to an average day in November.

State Farm ranked the top 10 states for grease and cooking fires on Thanksgiving Day from 2005-09, with Texas coming in at No. 1 with 33 fires during that period. The other highest states, listed from two to 10 are: Illinois with 22 fires; Ohio with 18 fires; Michigan, 15; New York, 15; Florida, 14; Pennsylvania, 12; Indiana, 11; Missouri, 10; and South Carolina, 10.

Between 1998 and 2005, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission logged 112 reports of fires or burns from turkey fryers, most occurring while the oil is being heated before the turkey is put in to cook.

UL offered 10 safety tips for deep-fry die-hards:
  • Always use a turkey fryer outside, away from buildings or other flammable materials.
  • Never use it on wooden decks or in garages.
  • Make sure the fryer is on flat ground before using to reduce the chance of tipping.
  • Never leave the fryer alone. UL says most units lack thermostats, meaning an unwatched fryer will continue to heat until it bursts into flames.
  • Keep children and pets away from the fryer, even after you're done cooking, since the oil can remain hot for hours.
  • Don't overfill the fryer.
  • Use well-insulated potholders or oven mitts when touching pot or lid handles. UL also recommends wearing safety goggles to avoid splatter.
  • Only cook a completely thawed turkey and be careful with marinades. Oil and water don't mix; water could make the oil spill over, creating a fire or explosion.
  • The National Turkey Federation recommends refrigerator thawing and to allow approximately 24 hours for every five pounds of bird thawed.
  • If a fire does start, never use water to extinguish it. If the fire is manageable, use an all-purpose fire extinguisher. If the fire grows, immediately call 9-1-1.
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