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Six Ways Deep Fat Frying a Turkey Can Burn You

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Six Ways Deep Fat Frying a Turkey Can Burn You

Nov 24, 2015

Episode Transcript

Deep fat frying a turkey is dangerous. Chances are good you are making at least one mistake that could lead to a fire — or worse, a severe burn injury. Annette Matherly from University of Utah Health Care Burn Center talks about the six big things to watch out for when deep fat frying your turkey and gives some tips so you and your loved ones stay safe this holiday season. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.


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Interviewer: If turkeys were to come up with the ultimate revenge against humans for us eating a whole bunch of them on Thanksgiving, I think it was they invented deep-fat frying turkeys, because it's really dangerous to humans. Six ways you could get really burned by deep-fat frying your turkey this Thanksgiving. That's next on The Scope.

Announcer: We're your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine. This is The Scope, University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.

Interviewer: Deep-fat frying a turkey can be really dangerous. There's a lot of potential danger and it can cause a life-changing burn injury. Annette Matherly is the Outreach and Disaster Coordinator for the University of Utah Healthcare Burn Center. We're going to find out the six ways that turkey's trying to burn you. It's like turkey's revenge here. They're trying to get back at us. But hopefully with this information, they won't.

But before we get to the six things, how would you rate deep-fat frying a turkey as far as burn danger is concerned, compared to what we come into contact with the rest of the year?

Annette: Ten. It's absolutely a ten.

Interviewer: How long would it take a 350-degree bucket of oil or tub of oil to cause a pretty severe burn, and could it kill somebody?

Annette: Absolutely, it could kill somebody. And it takes seconds if we think about hot water, which, if you haven't turned it down, it's set at 146, that can cause an injury in two seconds. So if you think about 350, that's much faster, that's much deeper and devastating injury.

Interviewer: All right, lots of things can go wrong. We'll cover some of those. I know that the experts say that you probably should avoid even doing this.

Annette: Absolutely. The Burn Center and the National Fire Protection Association discourages the use of home-fried turkeys.

1. Oil Overflow

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Interviewer: All right. Way number one that turkey's trying to burn you.

Annette: Oil overflow. It's an explosion. It just doesn't catch on fire, it explodes. You have to figure out how much oil you need and this has to be correct. The turkey obviously will displace a certain amount of oil and so you've got to factor that in. You need to have at least five inches of space between the top part of the oil and the top of the pot or it can burn over. And it will go onto the flame, remember there's that flame underneath, so that if the oil hits it, again you've got that explosion. So you should turn the burner off while lowering the turkey into the oil and also when taking it out.

Interviewer: And if you want to see what these explosions look like, just Google "deep-fat fried turkey fires" and you'll get a whole bunch of videos of people that overflowed the oil. And it is an explosion. You would think it would just burn, but it's an explosion. All right. Reason number two or way number two that deep-fat fried turkey's trying to burn you.

2. Water or Ice Gets Into the Oil

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Annette: Water and oil do not mix. So if you have not thawed your turkey out all the way, if you haven't checked that cavity for residual ice, then that ice can turn to water, which can make the oil splatter and that, in turn, can get onto the flame and so then you're back to your explosion again.

Also, it's pretty chilly sometimes around Thanksgiving, so rain or snow can get onto that oil, again causing it to splatter, again causing that potential explosion. And then let's take the worst-case scenario. So now, you do have a grease fire and instead of reaching for a class-B extinguisher, which you should use, you reach for the hose or you reach for the bucket and now you've got a bigger chance of that fire spreading. Not a smaller chance. Water and oil do not mix.

Interviewer: Way number three that that deep-fat fried turkey is trying to burn you.

3. Your Oil is Too Hot

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Annette: You get that oil too hot. Remember, you can only keep it to about 350, so you've got to keep an eye on it. If it gets too hot then it can ignite so you have to pay attention.

Interviewer: Number four.

4. Your Deep Fryer Tips Over

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Annette: It can tip over. You've got this five-gallon tub of hot oil and if there are unsupervised kids or dogs or cats around, even if they're not yours, if you're not used to people in your home, then it could tip over. Never, ever leave it unsupervised.

Interviewer: Yeah, especially you don't want somebody tripping over the hose and pulling the whole thing over, that would be pretty bad. All right, number five, the fifth way that that deep-fat fried turkey is trying to burn you.

5. Touching the Pot

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Annette: Well this sounds like a no-brainer in comparison to everybody else, but don't touch the pot. It is hot.

Interviewer: That's pretty simple, I guess, and you're right, it does sound like a no-brainer. How about number six?

6. Burning Yourself on the Flame Beneath the Burner

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Annette: Well, you've got the burner flame itself, and after all this, this does seem like the most dangerous thing but remember there's fire underneath that hot oil. So beware and stay away from it. It can still be very dangerous.

Interviewer: What are some tips if somebody does choose, things to keep in mind, some of the major things?

Annette: Always turn the burner off while lowering the turkey into the oil and when removing it. Don't wear shorts and flip-flops. Wear protective gloves, wear eye protection, wear shoes, wear long pants, remember to keep a circle of safety around that pot so you don't want anyone anywhere near it. We suggest three feet around a campfire, I would suggest even further around this boiling oil.

Then again, make sure it's on a level, sturdy surface, away from any building and anything flammable, anything that you value. Lastly, don't put alcohol in the mix. We really need to be clear-minded if we're doing something that's this potentially dangerous.

So probably the final thought would be something that the National Fire Prevention Association put out, and that would be, just don't do it. Leave the show to the pros, like they say about fireworks. If you must have a deep-fried turkey, then buy one from a grocery store.

Interviewer: And these are the experts in fire danger and they're saying it's just really a little too hot to handle, there are too many things.

Annette: There are too many risks. So at the end of the day, if it's not something you're 100% comfortable with, you might want to leave that deep fat turkey frying to somebody that has done it many times, so you can keep yourself and your family safe.

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