Don’t Be a Turkey: 4 Ways to Stay Out of the ER This Thanksgiving

Woman holding a Thanksgiving turkeyWoman holding a Thanksgiving turkey

By: Darria Long Gillespie, MD, MBA

Visiting Grandma's house…running in your local turkey trot…relaxing on the sofa watching football…making a trip to the ER…


Wait -- the ER? You bet! Every year, countless people spend time in the ER due to preventable accidents. If you want to avoid quality time with the ER doc this Thanksgiving, read on!


1. Punt Food Poisoning
Whenever you're dealing with raw meat, there's always a risk of some bacterial contamination and food poisoning. Cooking such a large item such as a turkey can make it especially difficult to tell that the entire thing is cooked. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), be sure to completely thaw the turkey before cooking. Set the oven temperature to at least 325 degrees and continue to roast the bird until a food thermometer registers a minimum temperature of 165 degrees on the inside.

It's best to cook stuffing in a casserole pan, but if you choose to stuff a turkey, make sure the stuffing also reaches a temperature of 165 degrees.

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2. Avoid the Penalty of Rushing
Every year, I see several patients with hand cuts. The culprits? Carving knives and glassware. Often the cause is an extremely sharp carving knife that can cut fingers and hands as easily as it can a turkey breast. The other major cause of cuts is broken glass. The guests have left, and you're hurrying to clean up. You stick your wet hand with the sponge into a wine glass and it cracks -- cutting your hand. The moral of the story? Slow down! As one patient jokingly put it, "I probably shouldn't have been washing stemware after I'd had three or four glasses of wine myself!"

3. No Foul Play in the Kitchen
Burns are another common injury on Thanksgiving. The kitchen can be a dangerous place, especially around the oven and grill. Again, don't be a speed demon when preparing the big meal. Have a plan and leave yourself plenty of time to get everything done.

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Cooking fires in the kitchen are three times more likely on Thanksgiving Day than any other. With all the family around -- especially kids -- there's so much commotion and activity that it raises the risk of accidents happening; we also tend to let down our guard when the day feels festive. Avoid wearing loose-fitting clothing with long sleeves while cooking. Keep children out of the kitchen, and watch to make sure pan handles aren't sticking off the stove edge.

A special note of caution for deep-frying a turkey. Yes, I know it's delicious! But if you're not careful, this cooking method can result in serious burns and fires. Research the proper way to deep fry (and by research, I don't mean just look it up on YouTube!). Once you've figured out the "how," use extreme caution as you go about frying your bird.

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4. Leave the Tackling to the Pros
Everyone loves the annual family football game! But the only thing worse than having to go the ER on Thanksgiving is having to stop in the middle of your victory play. So take steps to prevent it from happening. Pull uber-aggressive Cousin George out of the game before he knocks someone's tooth loose. Stop the game every 5-10 minutes for a water break. Make sure the field where you're playing is level -- check it for any holes or rocks and patch them up before the start of the game. (Or hello, sprained ankle!) And play the game before Thanksgiving dinner, not after you've had some wine and are as stuffed as your bird.

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