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2020 brings a year of unique challenges to families who have been looking forward to gathering during the holiday season.

The Center for Disease Control recommends however, that when celebrating this year, only gather with members of your own household, and host virtual gatherings for more distant family and friends.

The CDC defines your household as anyone who currently lives and shares common spaces in your housing unit, which can include family members, as well as roommates or people who are unrelated to you. People who do not currently live in your house, such as college students who are returning home from school for the holidays, should be considered part of different households.

For those who still plan to host or attend larger gatherings, the CDC recommends considering the risk of virus spread based on certain criteria.

This criterion includes gathering size, whether the gathering is held indoors or outdoors, space available to safely social distance and infection rates locally. Possible exposure to the virus from traveling should also be considered as a factor for more distant guests.

Do not host or participate in any in-person gatherings if you or anyone in your household:

  • has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and has not met the criteria for when it is safe to be around others
  • Has symptoms of COVID-19
  • Is waiting for COVID-19 viral test results
  • May have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days
  • Is at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19

The National Fire Protection Agency also warns community members to keep fire safety in mind while preparing for holiday meals this year, since Thanksgiving is the number one for U.S. home cooking fires.

The association’s latest Home Cooking Fires report shows that Thanksgiving is the peak day for U.S. home cooking fires followed by the day before Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

According to the report, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 1,630 home cooking fires on Thanksgiving Day, three and half times an average day. Unattended cooking was by far the leading cause of associated fires and fire deaths.

“Thanksgiving often involves cooking multiple dishes at once, which can be particularly tricky with lots of distractions in and around the kitchen,” said Lorraine Carli, vice president of Outreach and Advocacy at NFPA. “From getting ready for guests and managing family needs to entertaining when everyone arrives – these types of activities make it all too easy to lose track of what’s cooking, and that’s where a lot of fires tend to happen.”

Carli notes that the pandemic may reduce the number of larger group gatherings in favor of smaller celebrations, which may mean more kitchens being used to cook Thanksgiving meals this year.

NFPA offers these tips and recommendations for safely cooking this Thanksgiving:

  • Never leave the kitchen while cooking on the stovetop. Some types of cooking, especially those that involve frying or sautéing with oil, need continuous attention.
  • When cooking a turkey, or other items in the oven, stay in your home and check on it regularly.
  • Set a timer on your stove or phone to keep track of cooking times, particularly for foods that require longer cook times.
  • Keep things that can catch fire like oven mitts, wooden utensils, food wrappers, and towels away from direct contact with the cooking area.
  • Avoid long sleeves and hanging fabrics that could come in contact with a heat source.
  • Always cook with a lid beside your pan. If you have a fire, slide the lid over the pan and turn off the burner. Do not remove the cover because the fire could start again. Let the pan cool for a long time. Never throw water or use a fire extinguisher on a grease fire.
  • For an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed. Only open the door once you’re confident the fire is completely out, standing to the side as you do. If you have any doubts or concerns, contact the fire department for assistance.
  • Keep children at least three feet away from the stove and areas where hot food or drink is being prepared or served. Steam or spills from these items can cause severe burns.

“The pandemic may limit the number of people in homes this year, but there will still be lots of the usual cooking and distractions that contribute to a sharp increase in cooking fires on and around Thanksgiving,” said Carli. “Being vigilant in the kitchen remains critical to ensuring a fire-safe holiday.”

In addition, NFPA strongly discourages the use of turkey fryers, as these can lead to severe burns, injuries, and property damage. For a safe alternative, NFPA recommends grocery stores, food retailers, and restaurants that sell deep-fried turkey.