How to stop home fires this Thanksgiving

11/23/2013 12:00 AM

11/22/2013 7:52 PM

Turkey Day can be dangerous — especially in the kitchen. According to claims data compiled by Liberty Mutual Insurance, Thanksgiving and Christmas account for more kitchen fires than any other time of the year. That’s three times more than any other day on the calendar.

A recent survey conducted by Liberty Mutual underlined some of the complications that can lead to fire dangers during holiday entertaining. According to the National Fire Protection Association, cooking is the leading cause of home fires. And Thursday, a whole lot of cooking will be going on as more than half of Americans expect to host family and friends.

According to the Liberty Mutual survey, 42 percent of those cooking Thanksgiving meals this year expect 11 or more guests (a crowd of 11 is “average”), yet four out of five hosts admit to bad cooking habits that can lead to fires.

“We all know it’s a chaotic time of year,” noted Napa-based nutritionist, chef and best-selling author Cheryl Forberg, who teamed with Liberty Mutual to help break those bad habits. “We tend to cook for large groups and there are more people in the kitchen. We’re tackling bigger menus with lots of different dishes.

“But what alarmed me was how many people ignore basic kitchen safety rules,” she added. “(The survey shows) 65 percent of cooks leave the kitchen with burners on and one out of 10 cooks actually leaves the house! That’s stunning.”

Used to getting the fat out of diets, Forberg is best known these days as the nutritionist for NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.” Her latest cookbook is “Flavor First” (Rodale, 214 pages, $21.99), filled with calorie-conscious recipes.

Forberg often is asked how to cut calories over the holidays as people focus on food. “But kitchen safety often is overlooked,” she added. “A lot of people aren’t used to cooking — period.”

Keeping some pointers in mind will keep your gathering a lot safer — and saner, she said. Here are some of Forberg’s tips:

• “No. 1: You really, really need to stay in the kitchen,” Forberg said. “I know it’s hard to do with a house full of company. The doorbell rings, the phone rings. If you leave the kitchen, turn off the burners or oven or both.”

Don’t leave anything cooking unsupervised; it takes only moments for something to boil over or the oven to start smoking. Never leave the kitchen while frying, broiling or grilling.

• “No. 2: Use kitchen timers,” Forberg said. “If you don’t have one, buy one or two or three. It’s a really inexpensive way to make sure your food is properly cooked and you don’t forget there’s something in the oven. I have a bunch of them. Timers really help you stay organized.”

• Keep anything that can catch fire — packaging, towels, potholders, aprons, etc. — away from the stovetop.

• Make sure your smoke alarm is in good working order with fresh batteries. Never disable it while cooking.

• Be ready in case a fire starts. Keep a large lid or cookie sheet handy to help smother a grease fire in a pan. Baking soda also can extinguish a grease fire.

“I always have a box of baking soda ready, just in case,” Forberg said. “A home fire extinguisher is a good idea, but without proper training, it can actually make a grease fire worse.”

• Have a container (such as a coffee can) ready for grease. Don’t pour it down the drain. Thanksgiving also ranks among the top days for clogged kitchen sinks.

– Debbie Arrington

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