Ever hear of a turkey torch? That’s what fire departments call a deep-fat turkey fryer, an appliance increasingly being used for cooking the Thanksgiving Day turkey. Fried turkey aficionados say this method produces a juicier bird with crispy skin, and in a fraction of the time needed for oven roasting. A lot of guys seem to like the adventure of this outdoor cooking technique which depends on gallons of hot oil and a propane-fired open burner. It’s more “fun” than sliding a roaster into the kitchen oven. What’s not fun are the fires and injuries that occur each year from turkey fryer fires.
State Farm Insurance says that grease and cooking-related claims more than double on Thanksgiving Day compared to an average day in November. During 2012, fire departments in Indiana responded to more than 1,500 cooking fires. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) says deep fryer fires cause an average of 5 deaths, 60 injuries, and more than $15 million in property damage each year.
You may have seen the news reports of these recent Indiana turkey fryer fires:
- In September of 2012, a Valparaiso man lit the burner of the turkey fryer he had in his garage and then went inside for 15 minutes while it heated the oil. When he returned, the fryer was on fire. He tried to carry it outside but the oil spilled and caused an uncontrollable fire. The man suffered burns to his hands and arms; the house was fully engulfed by flames.
- In St. John, Indiana, a turkey fryer started a fire that destroyed a garage and an SUV. The fire began when oil in the fryer boiled over. No people were injured, but the house was damaged by smoke and water.
State Farm releases data each year on the number of November claims for cooking fires. In 2011, Indiana was in the top ten states for the number of grease and cooking-related claims; we fell off the list in 2012, so maybe we’re doing something right. Here are some of the things you should do right if you’re going to fry a turkey this year:
- Look for the newer model fryer which has a sealed lid to prevent oil spills.
- Put the fryer in an open area away from all walls, fences or other structures.
- Put the liquid propane tank at least 2 feet away from the fryer burner.
- Never use the fryer in, on or under a garage, breezeway, carport, porch, deck or any other structure that can catch fire.
- Make sure the turkey is completely thawed (the USDA says 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds).
- Make sure the turkey is dry when placed in the hot oil. Slowly raise and lower the turkey to reduce hot-oil splatter and to avoid burns.
- Don’t overfill fryer with oil. Turkey fryers can ignite in seconds after oil hits the burner.
- Keep the fryer in full view while the burner is on.
- Keep children and pets away from the cooking area.
- If oil begins to smoke, immediately turn the gas off.
- Keep a fire extinguisher nearby and know how to use it. It should be made specifically for grease fires.
- Do not use a hose in an attempt to douse a turkey fryer fire.
- If you do burn yourself, or someone else is burned, seek immediate medical attention.
Most turkey fryer fires are due to “operator error.” But the fryers themselves have inherent problems. Underwriters Laboratories, the product safety testing and certification organization, refuses to certify any turkey fryer as safe. Their Director of Consumer Affairs, John Drengenberg, stated, “Although we recognize that the industry has made improvement to turkey fryers, we’re still concerned by the increasing reports of fires related to turkey fryer use. Based on our observations, the fryers used to produce those great-tasting birds may not be worth the risks. And, as a result of these observations, UL has decided not to certify any turkey fryers with our trusted UL Mark.”
UL has produced a video demonstrating their concerns: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yObDuYTfudY
Additionally, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has stated that “turkey fryers that use oil, as currently designed, are not suitable for acceptably safe use by even a well-informed and careful consumer.”
Mike Stephenson of McNeely Stephenson has been successfully litigating personal injury cases since 1982, including claims of injury caused by defective products. If you or someone you know has been harmed by a turkey fryer that was faulty or was defectively designed, we may be able to help.