State Fire Marshal Warns of Dangers of Turkey Fryers Used for Holiday Meals Oil-free Fryers Offer Greater Consumer Safety

Contact: Mario L. Morrow 517-373-9280
Agency: Licensing and Regulatory Affairs

November 19, 2010 - State Fire Marshal Ronald R. Farr today urged consumers who will be cooking with turkey fryers to be aware of the dangers, know the safety precautions, and consider using oil-less fryers to help ensure greater safety when preparing feasts this Thanksgiving Day.

"Deep frying a turkey in hot oil is dangerous, risky business no matter what you do and accounts for the high number of house and garage fires reported each year," said Farr. "That doesn't mean you need to give it up completely. Several manufacturers have new units available - oil-less electric or infrared models that are much safer provided that instructions are followed carefully."

The popular cooking method which some believe delivers better taste and cuts down on cooking time, requires placing the turkey in three gallons or more of oil, heated by propane. Tests have shown that the fryers have a high risk of tipping over, overheating, or spilling hot oil, leading to fires, burns or other injuries. Farr's concern is that when the oil meets the fire the fryers instantly become a "vertical flame thrower" turning into a volcano of smoke and fire within seconds.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) continues to believe that turkey fryers that use oil, as currently designed, are not suitable for acceptably safe use by even well-informed and careful consumers. Even though manufacturers have added product features in an attempt to make turkey fryers safer for consumers (including non-heat conducting handles and sturdier stands), they still pose a considerable risk and are not safe to use due to the amount of oil and high temperatures used to cook a turkey. So much so, that Underwriter's Laboratories, Inc., (UL) remains firm in its decision not to certify any turkey fryers with its trusted UL mark. The NFPA believes the new outdoor turkey cooking appliances that do not use oil should be considered as an alternative.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission says the majority of reported turkey fryer incidents occur while the oil is being heated. The units can easily tip over, spilling hot, scalding oil onto anyone or anything nearby. Since most units do not have automatic thermostat controls, oil may heat until it catches fire. The sides, lids, and handles get extremely hot and may cause burns.

"Unattended cooking is the primary cause of residential fires," said Farr, referring to the U.S. Fire Administration statistics that report approximately 2,000 Thanksgiving Day fires occur in U.S. homes each year resulting in five deaths, 25 injuries and $21 million in property loss.

"Keep it safe and simple and reduce the chance for serious burns and injuries by simply oven-roasting a turkey the traditional way, or ordering a fried turkey from a grocery store or caterer who is experienced in deep frying food," said Farr.

For those planning to use a turkey fryer anyway, here are additional tips for safer use: 

  • Only use turkey fryers outdoors, away from any buildings, materials or anything flammable; keep it in full view. 
  • Never use turkey fryers on wooden decks, in garages, carports, or breezeways. 
  • Allow at least two feet of space between the liquid propane tank and the fryer burner. 
  • Use the fryers on a flat surface to avoid accidental tipping. 
  • Keep children and pets well away from the fryer when in use and for several hours after cooking. 
  • The oil inside the cooking pot can remain dangerously hot, hours after use. 
  • Read and follow the manufacturer's user guide. 
  • Carefully measure oil; do not overfill the fryer that can result in overflow and fire when the turkey is added. 
  • Use extreme caution placing the turkey in the hot oil; oil may spill onto the burner, creating a fire. 
  • Never leave the fryer unattended. Monitor the temperature closely; most units do not have thermostat controls. 
  • Cover bare skin and use well-insulated potholders or oven mitts; wear safety goggles to protect eyes from oil splatter. 
  • Thaw the turkey completely before cooking -- allow approximately 24 hours for every five pounds of bird thawed - preferably thawed in the refrigerator. 
  • Be careful with marinades. Oil and water do not mix, and water causes oil to spill over, causing a fire or even an explosion hazard.
  • If oil begins to smoke, immediately turn gas supply OFF. 
  • Keep an all-purpose fire extinguisher nearby and use it, if the fire is manageable.
  • Never use water to extinguish a grease fire. 
  • If the fire increases, immediately call 9-1-1 for help.

The Bureau of Fire Services wishes everyone a safe and happy holiday. Visit the Bureau of Fire Services website at more fire safety information.

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