The top five things other than COVID-19 that could send you to the hospital this Thanksgiving

Spoiler: Stop frying frozen turkeys.

Thanksgiving should be about being thankful for what we have, spending time with the people we care about, and stuffing our faces with foods we love. It would be a shame to have it end in the emergency room, especially with hospital staff stretched thin with COVID-19 this year. Follow our tips so you only end up with a stomach ache and nothing worse.

Don’t get food poisoning

This one may sound obvious, but it’s easier to contract a food-borne pathogen than you might think, since there are multiple steps in the meal prep process that can result in illness. The first one is thawing a turkey. The turkey “danger zone” is between 39 and 140 degrees F, so a thawing bird should happen either in the fridge or the microwave, not left out in the open. The one exception to this rule is that you can thaw a turkey more quickly by letting it sit in cold water. Here’s our ultimate defrosting guide for tips.

The second food poisoning opportunity is when you’re cooking the darn thing. Everyone knows you shouldn’t bake stuffing in the turkey unless you follow a recipe designed to keep you safe, but you should also make sure to check the internal temperature of the meat. The USDA recommends cooking your bird to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Even if your turkey comes with one of those pop-up thermometers, you should still check the meat at the thickest part of the breast and the innermost part of the thigh and wing. This will help prevent salmonella, a pathogen often found in poultry. We recommend spatchcocking your turkey instead of roasting it whole, which makes it much easier to bring everything up to the right temperature.

Last and not least, make sure to safely store your food. Before you collapse into a food coma, get up and put away your leftovers to prevent the growth of Clostridium perfingens, one of the most common causes of food-borne illness in the US.

Bonus: if you want to avoid an emergency run to the veterinarian, make sure you’re keeping most of the holiday bounty away from your pets. None of it is good for them, and some of it could kill them.

Protect your heart

This might seem a little less obvious, but heart problems cause a significant number of visits to the hospital on Thanksgiving each year. The high quantity of sodium in a typical holiday meal causes your body to retain water, increasing the volume of your blood and putting extra strain on your heart. That, combined with the stress of traveling, overeating, and debating politics with your relatives can cause underlying issues to surface in the form of fibrillations, heart attacks, or heart failure. If you’re worried about your cardiovascular health, try to take it easy on the food this Thursday and keep the conversation to important topics like puppies and science news. Brushing up with our CPR guide also couldn’t hurt.

Don’t set yourself on fire

Deep-fried turkey has become a Thanksgiving standard for many people, and rightly so. The crispy skin and juicy, evenly-cooked flesh make it an instant hit at the dinner table. But neglecting to fully thaw a turkey you plan to fry can cause a potentially dangerous fire. As a frozen turkey heats up in the oil, ice turns to water, which quickly turns to steam, causing the oil to bubble up over the sides of the pot. If that oil hits the open flame on a turkey fryer, then you’ve got yourself a Thanksgiving emergency. If you insist upon using this method, check out our (potentially life-saving) turkey frying tips.

Drive safely

As you travel to and from Thanksgiving dinner, whether it’s around the corner or across municipalities, pay special attention to road conditions and your own physical state. If you’re sleepy from overeating (or perhaps from an extra glass of wine or two) it’s always better to stay over rather than risk an accident, even if it means sleeping in your childhood racecar bed or imposing on someone’s couch (just make sure you get them a nice thank you gift).

Thanksgiving rivals New Years Eve for the most drunk driving deaths, and this could be made even worse if your town receives a snowfall. So please, for your safety and everyone else’s, make sure to have a designated driver or just spend the night.

Don’t overreact

If you don’t see your family members very often, you may be alarmed to notice how much someone ages in a year. It can be easy to mistake chronic medical conditions or normal aging as a medical emergency when you haven’t seen their slow progression. So before you rush your family member to the hospital, talk to them and the people who see them more often to make sure you’re not breaking up the party—and possibly saddling someone with a big medical bill—for no reason.