FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, November 23, 2020

Cooking Hazards Are Still at Play Despite Limited Gatherings Brought on by the COVID-19 Pandemic 

TRENTON, NJ – The New Jersey Division of Fire Safety, along with fire departments and officials statewide, are reminding residents to take safety precautions during the preparation of holiday meals to prevent inherent fire hazards.  Having ten or fewer people at Thanksgiving as a result of the COVID-19 indoor gathering restriction does not lessen the risk of cooking hazards. 

“Holiday gatherings may be a little smaller this year, but the same fire hazards remain. With the ongoing pandemic, Governor Murphy and I are asking residents to take extra precautions to avoid trips to the emergency room by following State Fire Marshal Mikutsky’s guidance,” said Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, who serves as Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs.

“As we continue to take precautions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in New Jersey, we must also remember to take basic safety precautions ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday,” said Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “Residents should be aware of cooking and fire hazards to keep them and their families safe.”

According to the National Fire Protection Association, Thanksgiving is the peak day for U.S. home cooking fires, followed by the day before Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. “The Association’s latest Home Cooking Fires report shows that the upcoming holiday period brings a spike in home cooking fires,” said Richard Mikutsky, Division of Fire Safety Director and New Jersey State Fire Marshal. “Even within the current pandemic constraints, the time spent in the kitchen can increase the instances of fires, resulting in tragic circumstances that are devastating at a time of traditional family gatherings.” Fire Marshal Mikutsky suggests the following cooking safety actions to preventing fires associated with meal preparation:

  • 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 encounter 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.

Fire Marshal Mikutsky recommends that people who are planning on using turkey fryers first consider buying a  deep-fried turkey that has already been prepared. Those who opt to do it themselves should exercise the following cautions:

  • Turkey fryers should always be used outdoors at a safe distance from buildings and any other flammable materials.
  • Never use turkey fryers under an overhang, in a garage, or on a wooden deck.
  • Make sure the fryers are used on a flat surface to reduce accidental tipping.
  • Never leave the fryer unattended. Most units do not have thermostat controls. If you do not watch the fryer carefully, the oil will continue to heat until it catches fire.
  • Never let children or pets near the fryer even if it is not in use. The oil inside the cooking pot can remain dangerously hot hours after use.
  • To avoid oil spillover, do not overfill the fryer.
  • Use well-insulated potholders or oven mitts when touching pot or lid handles. If possible, wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from oil splatter.
  • Make sure the turkey is completely thawed and be careful when using marinades. Oil and water do not mix, and water causes oil to spill over, causing a fire or even an explosion hazard.
  • The National Turkey Federation (NTF) recommends thawing the turkey in the refrigerator approximately 24 hours for every five pounds in weight.
  • Keep an all-purpose fire extinguisher nearby. Never use water to extinguish a grease fire. If the fire is manageable, use your all-purpose fire extinguisher. If the fire increases, immediately call the fire department for help.

Last month, the Division joined with the National Fire Protection Association and fire departments statewide calling attention to cooking hazards during National Fire Prevention Week. More information can be found at:

The Division of Fire Safety serves as the central fire service agency in the State. The Division is responsible for the development and enforcement of the State Uniform Fire Code and other community risk reduction strategies, as well as certification and ongoing training for the state career and volunteer firefighter corps.

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Tammori Petty
Gina Trish
Lisa Ryan
(609) 292-6055