Thanksgiving Safety Tips for Hosts and Travelers

From kitchen fires to highway hazards, Thanksgiving can be surprisingly dangerous. Find out how to stay safe on Turkey Day.

Some Thanksgivings are more memorable than others … like the time my family forgot to open the fireplace flue and ended up with a 3-foot layer of smoke in the dining room. Then there was the year the turkey looked a bit “off,” so my sister had to rush out and buy a very pricey ham at the only open grocery store.

Fortunately, all ended well and now those mishaps are just family folklore — but Thanksgiving can have some surprising dangers. Read on for tips about staying safe this year whether you’re visiting family and friends or your guests are coming to you.

Thanksgiving safety tips for hosts

As the host, most of the meal prep falls on you. This is a day for home cooks to shine, so go for it! But, because cooking causes around 69 percent of Thanksgiving Day fires, we’ve compiled a few ways to avoid a kitchen disaster on Thanksgiving (or any other day).

  • Most cooking fires are the result of unattended cooking. While there are always distractions when hosting (guests arriving, appetizers to serve), don’t walk away from a stove or appliance in use.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher handy in your kitchen and make sure everyone in your family knows how to use it.
  • Avoid wearing loose-fitting clothing while cooking since the fabric can ignite. And be especially careful of your sleeves — make sure they’re short or tightly rolled.
  • The stove can be a major source of carbon monoxide, especially if it’s being used for several hours at a time. Turn on your kitchen fan or vents, open windows periodically, and make sure your carbon monoxide and smoke alarms are in good working order.
  • If a fire starts in a pan on your stove, turn off the stove and cover the pan with a lid (or use your fire extinguisher to put it out). Never try to douse a stove fire with water, flour, or similar substances since they can cause a flare-up.
  • In case of a fire in your oven, turn off the oven, keep the door closed, and call 911. Stay out of the house until firefighters arrive.
  • If you are deep-frying your turkey, I’ll be right over! In all seriousness, this cooking method (while delicious) poses a number of safety hazards. Never use the fryer indoors, keep it a safe distance from buildings and flammable objects, be sure your turkey is completely thawed and dry, keep children and pets away, and be mindful of splashing or spattering oil.
  • Never dispose of hot grease in the garbage. Instead, let it cool and then discard it in a covered metal can (like a coffee can).
  • Before going to bed, make sure the oven, turkey fryer/BBQ, and stove burners are off, candles are extinguished, and the chimney damper (if you have a fireplace) is open.

Thanksgiving safety tips for travelers

According to the American Automobile Association, an estimated 43.4 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home over Thanksgiving weekend — and 90 percent of those will travel by car. Here are some tips to keep in mind if you’re headed out on the road.

  • Leave yourself extra time — especially if the weather is bad. With so many cars on the road, slow traffic is a given. But, if you aren’t in a rush, you’ll be less stressed and more patient. And if you happen to arrive early, you can help your host with meal prep or a run to the store.
  • Make sure items in your car are secured so they won’t become a hazard if you have to brake suddenly. If you’re transporting food, use containers with tight-fitting lids to keep you from lunging to prevent spills or protect your homemade goodies.
  • Properly secure your pets with a harness or a crate and provide kids with enough activities to keep them entertained. Remember to pack snacks, water, and clean-up supplies.
  • Food poisoning can be a risk when food sits out for more than a few hours at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F. If preparing a hot dish to bring, cook it completely the day before and refrigerate it overnight. Then, transport it in a cooler and reheat it at your destination. Or, if you make the dish on Thanksgiving Day, use an insulated container to keep it hot.

If you’re going away for the weekend …

Take some precautions before you go so you don’t come home to an unpleasant surprise. Thieves like privacy and don’t want interruptions, which means they’re more likely to target a place they know is unoccupied.

  • Don’t announce your travel plans over social media. A study of ex-burglars found that 4 out of 5 used social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to identify unoccupied properties.
  • Make it look like someone’s home. Put your lights on a timer, for example. You can also have a trusted friend or neighbor pick up your mail and newspapers and move your car occasionally.
  • Clean leaves and debris out of your rain gutters to prevent flooding if there’s storm while you’re gone. Just be sure to put the ladder away afterward so a thief can’t use it to access your upper windows or scale your fence.
  • Don’t forget to lock all windows and bolt all exterior doors. One-third of home burglaries happen through unforced entry, where thieves are able to get in through an open door or window.

Thanksgiving should be memorable for all the right reasons, so follow these tips to help keep holiday hazards at bay. And, as an extra precaution, make sure you have the right homeowners, renters, and auto coverage.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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