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Experts urge fire safety when cooking for holidays

Newton County firefighter Joe Cagle carefully lowers a turkey into hot oil for frying. He has checked to make sure the oil is not too hot and knows how much the turkey weighs so it won't overflow the hot oil into the flames below. Careful and meticulous preparations make for a safe cooking experience when frying a turkey. - Special photo

Newton County firefighter Joe Cagle carefully lowers a turkey into hot oil for frying. He has checked to make sure the oil is not too hot and knows how much the turkey weighs so it won't overflow the hot oil into the flames below. Careful and meticulous preparations make for a safe cooking experience when frying a turkey. - Special photo

COVINGTON -- Cooking mania is about to be upon us with the Thanksgiving holiday coming up next week. Experts are warning to not get so wrapped up in celebrating the holidays that safety is forgotten.

Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens warns that cooking can be hazardous.

"We've had nine fatalities in Georgia so far this year in which the cause of the fire was cooking-related," he said. "Over the years we have seen many fires caused by a stove that has been accidentally left on."

Here are Hudgens' cooking safety tips that should be followed year-round.

-- Always set a timer when cooking so you never forget to turn off the burners or oven;

-- If a pan catches fire, cover it with a lid immediately and turn off the burner. Don't attempt to fight a grease fire with water, as it may make the fire worse.

-- For an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed.

-- Wear tight-fitting sleeves when cooking. Loose clothing can contact a burner and ignite. If this happens, remember "stop, drop and roll." Stop where you are, drop to the ground and roll over to smother the flames with your hands by your side if your sleeve is on fire.

-- Never use a cooking stove to heat your home.

-- Have a fire extinguisher readily available and be familiar with the instructions on how to use it before it may be needed. An ordinary dry chemical extinguisher is usually safe for both grease and electrical fires.

-- If the fire is too large for an extinguisher, get out of the house and stay out. Call the fire department from a neighbor's house.

-- Install an adequate number of smoke alarms.

-- Each household should have a well-rehearsed family escape plan.

But not all cooking fires are kitchen-related.

"Every year since turkey frying became popular, Newton County has had incidents involving fires from turkey frying," said Newton County Fire Service Safety Educator Cydnie Taylor-Ridling, adding that the problem has reached such proportions nationwide that the National Fire Protection Agency discourages the use of outdoor, gas-fueled turkey fryers that immerse the turkey in hot oil.

"The use of turkey fryers by consumers can lead to devastating burns, other injuries and the destruction of property," they warn and suggest that those who prefer their turkey fried to purchase it from a grocery store or restaurant which specializes in the process.

Despite these warnings, however, turkey frying continues to be popular and Taylor-Ridling offers these safety tips for the process.

-- Always follow the manufacturer's directions which come with the turkey fryer.

-- In considering where to place the fryer (always outside and never under a roof or on a patio attached to the house), remember that hot oil may splash or spill at any point during the cooking process when the fryer is jarred or tipped over or when the turkey is placed in the fryer or removed. Keep children away from the cooking area. Any contact between hot oil and skin could result in serious injury. Any contact between hot oil and nonmetallic materials, such as a fence or siding on the house, could lead to serious property damage.

-- In deep frying, oil is heated to temperatures of 350 degrees Fahrenheit or more. Cooking oil is combustible and if it is heated beyond its cooking temperature, its vapors can ignite. This is a fire danger separate from the burn danger inherent in the hot oil. Overheating can occur if temperature controls, which are designed to shut off the fryer if the oil overheats, are defective, or if the appliance has no temperature controls. A good rule of thumb is if any smoke comes from the oil, it is too hot and should be turned off until it has ample time to cool down.

-- Propane-fired turkey fryers are designed for outdoor use and by Thanksgiving in Georgia it is possible that a cold rain may develop. If the rain strikes exposed hot cooking oil, the result can be splattering of the hot oil or a conversion of the rain to steam, either of which can lead to burns. However, do not move the turkey fryer inside to avoid bad weather. Fires have occurred when turkey fryers were used in a garage or barn or under eaves to keep the appliance out of the rain.

-- The approximately 5 gallons of oil in these devices introduce an additional level of hazard to deep fryer cooking as does the size and weight of the turkey which must be lowered into and raised out of the oil. Many turkeys are purchased frozen and they may not be fully thawed when cooking begins. As with a rainy day, a defrosting turkey creates the risk of contact between hot oil and skin. Make sure the turkey is completely defrosted and toweled dry before placing in hot oil.

-- Consumers should know how much oil can safely be used with the size turkey they are frying. Here is a simple method to make sure the oil won't overflow when the turkey is introduced:

A) Place turkey in pot

B) Fill with water until the turkey is covered by about inch of water

C) Remove and dry turkey

D) Mark water level. Dump water, dry the pot and fill with oil to the marked level.