a woman carving a turkey with a child looking on

Bring Some HF/E to Your Thanksgiving Meal

In honor of Thanksgiving, I thought I would provide some warnings about the risks you may want to watch out for as you celebrate the holiday. Since it is a holiday post, I didn’t feel obligated to check for hard statistics on any of these. I am pretty sure that these are well established risks on Thanksgiving.

The major source of injuries, illnesses, and property damage comes from the turkey. In the old days, trying to catch the turkey was probably a major hazard, but luckily we have grocery stores. Still, there are many left to worry about. Emergency rooms dread Thanksgiving because of the huge number of salmonella cases from undercooked turkeys. Get yourself a meat thermometer and make sure you push it all the way to the center of the meaty parts. I think the breast is your best bet. Another solution is to pre-brine your turkey (Alton Brown over at the Food Network has a great episode of Good Eats dedicated just to this). This will keep your turkey moist so you can cook it fully. Many undercooked birds are reportedly due to cooks worried that they will overcook and dry out the turkey, and so they make a more serious error when overcompensating.

Another turkey hazard comes from the trend over the past two decades or so to deep fry them. The turkey comes out really moist because it is cooked so fast and the oil protects the juices. But please do it OUTSIDE. There are thousands of house fires every year from splashing hot oil. I know it is cold out, but you will be spending a lot more time out in that cold while you wait for the fire trucks to come.

A third turkey hazard comes during the carving. We don’t use these knives, whether manual or electric, very often and this inexperience rears its ugly head pretty frequently. It doesn’t help that many cooks are somewhat impaired by the three glasses of wine they have consumed thus far (see below for more hazards related to alcohol).

A related hazard comes from slicing those delicious dinner rolls. When you are cutting it in half to double your surface area to slather on the butter, please cut AWAY from your hand. This isn’t as hazardous as slicing a bagel, but the same risk applies. Your palm has a lot of soft tissue that is at the mercy of even of a halfway sharp knife.

Another popular dish is the sweet potato pie with marshmallows. I heard this morning how that dish was invented. About a hundred years ago, the major marshmallow company was having trouble selling them. They are cheap to make and have a great profit margin. So they created a cookbook full of marshmallow recipes. Luckily, the other ones have all been relegated to history. But for some reason, this one endured. The only injury in this case is to your palette, but still. Just say no.

When you are done eating, get those leftovers into the fridge pronto. Many food poisoning cases arise from the fact that we all (myself included double) live for the leftovers. Personally, I eat them for a week. But you can only do that if you get them into the fridge before the bacteria start to grow. It is tempting to let them sit and spend some quality time chatting with the family and other guests.

There are other activities on Thanksgiving besides eating. Many of us go out into the backyard while waiting for the food to be ready and play some backyard touch football or driveway basketball. Many sprains and strains come out of this. We are not dressed for sports. We have already a few beers into the wind. We don’t stretch. We aren’t really that good at the sport to begin with. A nice recipe for injury. Just take it easy. It isn’t about the winning, it is about the family bonding.

Many of these examples assume that this is a happy family event. But if even a few of the TV dramas are correct, there are some major exceptions. If your family dynamics are not so smooth, please don’t respond by drowning yourself in alcohol. It may dampen the pain in the very short term, but it can lead to more than just the turkey carving injuries I mentioned earlier. Fights can be a source of physical and emotional damage and these can be very long term. There are also more drunk driving related crashes, injuries, and fatalities than on any other holiday. This is serious. Assign a responsible designated driver if you are going to drink.

Finally, there is a new risk that has emerged in the past few years. Black Friday shopping. These examples are just from 2013. In a New Jersey Walmart, a shopper was trampled. An 11-year old was sent to the hospital by bargain shoppers in another store. A man was stabbed at the Carlsbad Mall. Several shoppers were injured in a shooting spree at a Kohl’s in Illinois. A man was stabbed over a parking space dispute at a Walmart in Virginia. A man was shot outside a Target in Las Vegas over a television set. Tired shoppers fall asleep at the wheel and cause numerous traffic crashes.

Some of these are presented tongue in cheek, but many of them can be pretty serious. Be careful.

And Happy Thanksgiving from the team at EID.

Image credit: zen Sutherland

4 thoughts on “Bring Some HF/E to Your Thanksgiving Meal”

  1. Great post, Marc! The National Turkey Federation [there’s an association for everything!] says that the thermometer should go into the turkey’s thighs, not breast — see http://www.eatturkey.com/consumer/cookinfo/turtherm

    Proper Placement
    An important part of using any thermometer is the proper placement in the turkey. Insert the thermometer 2 1/2 inches in the deepest portion of the turkey breast or into the inner thigh near the breast.
    Make sure the thermometer does not touch a bone.
    When inserting the thermometer in the turkey breast, insert it from the side.
    The thermometer is easier to read and more accurate than when inserted from the top.

    Internal Temperature
    The internal temperature should reach
    165 degrees F to 170 degrees F in the breast or
    175 degrees F to 180 degrees F in the thigh and
    165 degrees F in the center of the stuffing.

  2. Don’t forget the issues related to the poor ergonomics of the oven: lifting from a low position, reaching past the hot oven door, the poor design of most rack supports so that the rack tips as the rack and turkey are slid forward, and the fact that most of us rarely lift 20+ lbs from such an awkward position. My mother-in-law really ruined her Christmas one year trying to catch the turkey as it fell out of the oven.

  3. Lynn – Thanks for adding some detail. It is definitely true that putting a thermometer in the turkey doesn’t really help if we don’t know what temperature to look for, or if we put it in the wrong place. I heard a story once that someone punctured a bone and the temp didn’t get above 150 until the turkey was toast. Oops!

    Mike – the ergo is key too. I saw other posts in the HF/E sphere covering these risks and I should have linked to one.

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