Turkey frying tradition boosts home insurance claims on Thanksgiving?

By Adam Kosloff

Cooking-related home insurance claims more than double on Thanksgiving Day, compared with an average day in November, according to State Farm Insurance -- and the increasing popularity of turkey fryers might be fanning the flames.

The insurer recently released a video showing improper frying techniques and the consequences).

Because of the hazards associated with these cooking machines, product safety certifier Underwriters Laboratories UL) pulled its approval label from every turkey fryer on the market in November 2010.

"Based on our test findings, the fryers used to produce these great tasting birds are not worth the risk," John Drengenberg, consumer affairs manager of UL, says in a safety guide on the organization's website.

The states with the most Thanksgiving grease and cooking catastrophes between 2005 and 2009, according to State Farm, were Texas in first place with 33), Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Missouri and South Carolina.

Federal and nonprofit agencies concur that turkey fryers are dangerous. Of the roughly 4,300 Thanksgiving Day fires each year, 3 percent can be tied to deep fryers, according to U.S. Fire Administration data. The National Fire Protection Association argues that turkey fryers are not suitable for use, even by well-prepared consumers, because the independent product testing conducted on most fryers is not adequate. According to NFPA data, fryers caused five deaths and $15 million in lost property between 2003 and 2006.

Even the National Turkey Federation recognizes the inherent dangers of bird frying. It recommends thawing turkeys for 24 hours for every 5 pounds in weight before frying. An overly frosty bird can cause oil spatter and ignite a fire.

Why are home insurance providers and institutions so concerned? The National Fire Protection Association NFPA) provides the following reasons:

  • Hot oil in fryers can reach temperatures of 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Oil can burn adults, children and pets, even hours after cooking.
  • Many fryers on the market tip over easily -- and spill hot oil onto flammable surfaces or bystanders.
  • Frozen turkeys, or birds not thoroughly thawed, can cause spattering, which can spark fires.
  • The absence of thermostatic controls on fryers makes it difficult, if not impossible, for consumers to gauge the potential of overheating.
  • The sides and lids of fryers can become extremely hot and cause serious burns.
  • Even when turkey fryers are used properly outdoors, rather than inside), any precipitation that comes in contact with the oil can cause it to spatter and ignite.
  • When superheated oil catches fire, the inferno can rage out of control because of the large amount of oil involved 5 gallons or more, potentially).

If homeowners choose to deep fry, the NFPA recommends that they adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Avoid using a turkey fryer in an enclosed area, on a wooden deck or in a garage.
  • Keep the fryer on a flat surface to prevent tipping.
  • Never overfill the fryer.
  • Use proper safety gear, such as goggles, heavy-duty mitts and insulated potholders.
  • Thaw the turkey thoroughly in the refrigerator before frying.
  • Never spray water on a grease fire, as that will spread the fire. Instead, keep a fire extinguisher handy.

Do not let children or pets near the fire, and never leave the device unattended.

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