Avoid a Trip to The ER This Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time for family, friends, good food and good times. The nation’s emergency physicians want to help you keep it that way and not have an unwanted memory that involves a medical emergency.

“Emergency physicians are ready to care for you any time you need it,” said Rebecca Parker, MD, FACEP, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). “We are available 24/7, including holidays. But we hope that by following some common sense precautions, you will avoid preventable injuries and illnesses, so you can spend your holiday enjoying time with loved ones.”

Food Preparation Safety

The risk of bacterial contamination is high with any raw meat. Wash your hands thoroughly when handling uncooked meat, keep it separate from other foods.  Sanitize any surfaces that raw foods come in contact with. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that oven temperatures should be no lower than 325 degrees, and turkeys should be completely thawed before cooking. A food thermometer must register a safe minimum temperature of 165 degrees inside a turkey before it is served.

It’s best to cook stuffing in a casserole dish outside the turkey, but if you choose to stuff a turkey, make sure the stuffing reaches a temperature of 165 degrees (CDC) to ensure there is no bacterial contamination. Refrigerate all leftovers within 2 hours.

People with food allergies who have not prepared their own meals at home should ask about the ingredients and how food was prepared to prevent exposure to allergens.

Common Injuries

One of the most common injuries during the Thanksgiving holiday is cuts with knives – specifically carving knives that cut fingers or hands. Be careful when slicing food, and more specifically, do not rush. More accidents occur when carving and cutting too quickly. If possible, allow someone who is experienced in handling sharp knives do the carving.

Burns are another common injury during Thanksgiving. The kitchen can be a dangerous place, especially around the oven and grill. Again, don’t rush when cooking dinner, have a plan of execution that leaves you plenty of time to get it done.

A special note of caution is given for anyone who deep fries a turkey. This can be very dangerous and cause serious burns and fires, especially if you have never attempted this before. Make sure to carefully research the proper way to “deep fry” and use extreme caution. Frying a turkey should be done well clear of the home or any flammable structure.  Also, never attempt to deep fry a frozen turkey.

Driving Safety

Around 42 million people will drive somewhere for Thanksgiving, according to AAA.  With more cars on the roads, more car crashes occur.  Avoid injuries by making sure you drive carefully, don’t text and drive or talk on a cell phone, always wear your seatbelt and make sure younger children are properly strapped in and obey all traffic laws.  It’s also important to be rested while driving.

Eating Safely

The key is to approach the Thanksgiving meal with moderation. Food is usually abundant; however, for some, it is too much and consumed too quickly. For those with medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, kidney disease and high blood pressure, excess salt is dangerous. Monitor your sodium intake, and make sure you take any necessary prescription medications, as you would any other day. Consult your doctor if necessary. Eat food slowly, and when satisfied take a break and allow your body to process it. Eating too quickly can cause heartburn, indigestion and may create chest pain, which could require medical assessment.

Injury Prevention

Before or after the meal, it’s common for many to head outside and play sports (football, basketball, etc.). Weekend warriors – beware! Injuries can occur for those not used to routine exercise. If you must play a traditional “Thanksgiving game,” emergency physicians recommend having fun and going easy — not overdoing it. It’s important to pace yourself after a big meal, and for those not used to regular physical activity, you might want to reconsider and participate in a different activity. Emergency physicians see many sprains, strains and fractures in those who try to do too much, too quickly. We also treat patients develop shortness of breath and chest pain from over-extension.

ACEP is the national medical specialty society representing emergency medicine. ACEP is committed to advancing emergency care through continuing education, research and public education. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, ACEP has 53 chapters representing each state, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. A Government Services Chapter represents emergency physicians employed by military branches and other government agencies.