Did you hear about the woman who varnished a Thanksgiving turkey and fed it to her guests?1 Her husband had stored varnish in a plastic container in the refrigerator, and the woman mistook it for a basting liquid. Their guests ate the nicely browned turkey, which led to a frantic call to the Illinois Poison Control center…and Thanksgiving chaos.
You probably have your own version of the holiday dinner that went very wrong. Mine entails stuffing the turkey with breadcrumbs and the plastic bag they came in. The dressing was very chewy that year.
Here are five more Thanksgiving scenarios that trigger chaos:
1. You’re hosting a potluck Thanksgiving dinner. Luna arrives with a green bean casserole and mentions she’s kept it warm using the car’s heater…on the three-hour drive.
That casserole is a hospitalization waiting to happen. Bacteria grow most rapidly between 40°F – 140°F degrees, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes.2
Advice for Luna: keep hot food hot and cold food cold with insulated food covers. Better yet, bring the ingredients for the casserole and bake it on site.
2. The day after Thanksgiving, dinner guest Sue calls to say she’s violently ill and accuses your turkey of salmonella contamination.
According to WebMD, you should assume your turkey has salmonella.3 You can avoid a lawsuit by following safe food preparation. That doesn’t mean disinfecting the bird on the pots-and-pans cycle in the dishwasher.
In fact, experts advise cooks to avoid washing raw poultry.4
Water splashes those icky bugs throughout the kitchen, onto countertops, other food, towels and people. Roasting the bird at 325°F degrees until the internal temperature reaches 165°F degrees kills bacteria and may prevent retaliation from litigious dinner guests. When testing for doneness, check by inserting a food thermometer into the center of the stuffing and the thickest portions of the breast, thigh, and wing joint.5
3. An argument about politics breaks out among dinner guests.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 27% of adults strongly or somewhat agree that the political climate is causing strain with family members.6 This strain can erupt during holiday gatherings.
Last year in HealthDiscovery.org, I offered up a tactic I use to thwart testy conversations at Thanksgiving:
- Place a festively decorated empty container in the center of the dinner table.
- Announce before the meal begins that anyone who violates your “no politics during dinner” rule is required to put a $20 bill in the jar.
- Everyone else must stop eating until the violator pays up.
- If a guest rants about the upcoming presidential election, his/her $20 “donation” will be contributed to the opposing political party in their name.
4. Uncle Edgar gobbles three helpings at dinner, guzzles six beers, drinks gravy directly from the pitcher, and inhales an entire pumpkin pie. Now he’s clutching his chest.
Stress, overdoing alcohol and pre-existing heart disease all play a role in what’s known as meal-provoked heart attacks. One study7 found that a heavy, rich meal may quadruple an individual’s risk of having a heart attack if they have other risk factors like high blood pressure and cholesterol.
While there’s little a host can do to screen guests for pre-existing conditions or to monitor their food and booze intake, one can serve healthy side dishes, cut down on added salt, and reduce the fat in the gravy and mashed potatoes. When all else fails, tell Uncle Edgar that you’ve run out of beer.
5. You’re wondering if all of your effort and stress over one meal is worth it.
During the holidays, stress takes on a different character than at other times of the year, according to the APA. There is a tendency to be sedentary, overeat and drink too much. In one study, more than a third of respondents said the holidays stressed them out, and spending time with a difficult family member was the most disliked aspect of the holidays for 11% of people.8
Is there a way to manage and control stress, guests and circumstances before they turn into Thanksgiving chaos? The Mayo Clinic recommends being realistic about expectations. Translation: the holidays don’t have to be perfect. Planning ahead, sticking to a budget and keeping up with healthy habits, like exercise and avoiding excess food and alcohol, can help everyone cope.
But maybe next year, don’t invite Uncle Edgar.
1MentalFloss, “15 Thanksgiving Dinner Disasters”
2USDA, “Danger Zone”
3WebMD, “Does Your Turkey Have Salmonella? Assume It Does”
4Foodsafety.gov, “4 Steps to Food Safety”
5Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Food Safety Tips for Your Holiday Turkey”
6APA.org, “Managing Conversations When You Disagree Politically”
7Science Daily, “Heavy Meals May Trigger Heart Attacks”
8pbs.org, “Poll: How Stressed are Americans This Holiday Season?”