A Guide to Safety in the Kitchen

Modern homes are designed to make kitchens the warm and casual hub of family connection. That doesn’t mean, however, that kitchens aren’t dangerous places. Every year fire departments across the United States respond to an average of 166,100 house fires that include cooking equipment as a component, and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that 66% (two-thirds) of kitchen fires in the home start with the ignition of cooking materials or food. Oven fires made up 16% of home cooking fires while range fires made up 62% of them.

Fires aren’t the only danger lurking in your kitchen: an estimated 42% of hand injuries in emergency rooms are from cuts and lacerations, many of them coming from working with food. And if, like many people, you keep an armory of cleaning products under your kitchen sink, you might be concerned to hear that in the  U.S., the leading cause of death due to injury is poisoning, and that in 2015, 10% of poisonings among children—and 5% in adults—came from the ingestion of household cleaners.

Your kitchen can be a dangerous place for you and your loved ones. Here are some things you can do to lessen those risks.

How to prevent kitchen fires and burns

As mentioned, kitchen fires are some of the most common types of fires in the U.S. But knowing the dangers—and knowing how to respond in an emergency—can help you avoid this risk. Follow these steps to avoid kitchen fires:

  • Turn all pot handles so they do not extend beyond the edge of the stovetop.
  • Start with the back burners when cooking – this keeps the pots away from the stovetop’s edge.
  • Don’t leave your pans unattended.
  • Don’t line the bottom of your oven with foil; it traps heat and blocks air flow, which can cause a fire.
  • Always clean up spills on the stovetop.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher in your kitchen at all times.

If the worst happens, and a fire does break out, do the following:

  • If it’s an oil fire, slide a pot lid or baking sheet over the pan to completely cover it. Turn off the burner and let the pot sit for 20 minutes or more.
  • Avoid throwing water or flour on an oil fire; it will only make it worse.
  • If your clothing ignites, roll on the ground until the fire is out and remove your clothing immediately.
  • If cooking equipment catches fire, use a fire extinguisher, but only as long as no oil is involved.
  • If you can’t get the fire under control, get everyone out of the house and call the fire department.

Remember that scalds are also a hazard in the kitchen, and take precautions accordingly:

  • Use dry potholders or oven mitts when you remove hot food from the stovetop, microwave, or oven
  • Prevent steam build up by venting cooking food: puncture plastic wrap, vent pot lids, and remove light lids
  • Place the microwave so that is lower than face height and within easy reach

If you end up getting burned or scalded, remember the following first aid tips:

  • Use cool water (not cold) to cool the burn.
  • Cover the burn with a non-adhesive, sterile cloth.
  • Use acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen for pain.
  • Know when to call 911—a burn larger than a quarter could be susceptible to infection or cause scarring.

One of the best safety procedures is to practice—either physically or mentally—what you would do in the case of an emergency. Any time you’re in the kitchen, ask yourself: what would I do if a fire started, or if a member of my household was injured in a fire? And ask yourself constantly what you can do to cook more safely.

Knife Safety

Knives are one of the biggest sources of kitchen accidents. And yet they’re also an indispensible tool in the kitchen. Fortunately, they’re also very simple tools, so it’s easy to store and use them safely.

  • Store knives in a knife block or holder. Keeping them in a drawer causes wear and tear that can dull them and can lead to accidental cuts.
  • In a similar vein, try to avoid leaving knives immersed in soapy or dirty water in the sink. Any unseen knife left in a place where someone can accidentally touch it is a laceration hazard.
  • Know how to use knives safely: Never hold something in your hand while you cut it, always cut on a stable surface, and only use knives for their intended purposes. Also, though, if you drop a knife, just step back and let it fall. Never try to catch it.
  • Keep your knives sharp: a dull knife can require you to apply so much force while cutting that you lose control of it.

Small Appliances

Appliances range from the relatively safe refrigerator to much more dangerous blenders and juicers. Following some sensible rules, however, can help you keep your kitchen free of accidents or incidents involving any kitchen aid.

  • Always unplug your appliances when they are not in use, and never leave appliances unattended while they are in use.
  • Keep cords contained so that they don’t hang freely, and if an appliance is plugged in, don’t put it near the sink.
  • Don’t touch appliances when they are hot; similarly, treat blades on equipment the same way you do knives
  • Regularly clean the crumb tray/trap at the bottom of the toaster, and never use a metal utensil to get an item out.
  • Blenders/Juicers/Mixers require some special care:
    • Always turn off the equipment before stirring
    • Never stick your hand in the blender unless the unit is unplugged
    • Do not insert plastic or wooden spoons in the blender while it is in operation
    • When using a juicer, don’t use your hands to push the food into the unit

Avoiding Poisoning

There are any number of dangerous or toxic household chemicals in the average household, and typically many of them, such as drain openers, oven cleaners, degreasers, and disinfectants, are kept in the kitchen. To avoid accidental exposure or ingestion by children, only keep these items in locked cabinets, or behind doors fitted with child safety latches. In addition, follow these safety tips to keep yourself safe when using household chemicals:

  • Read warning labels and always follow safe use instructions.
  • When purchasing, always select the product that is the least toxic.
  • If the container label, or the container itself, not in good condition, do not buy or use the product inside.
  • Avoid the following combinations of household cleaners:
    • Any two different types of drain cleaner (even if they are from the same manufacturer)
    • Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide, vinegar and ammonia, and vinegar and bleach.
    • Ammonia and bleach.
    • Rubbing alcohol and bleach.

If, despite your best efforts, you end up with skin or eye exposure to a toxic chemical, follow these first aid procedures:

  • Immediately flush eyes or skin with water. Rinse for 30 minutes if you were using corrosives; 15-20 minutes for any chemical that’s toxic when absorbed by the skin, or which is moderately or severely irritating to the skin; and rinse 5 minutes for milder chemicals.
  • If other symptoms are present, consider calling a doctor. Also, though, the nation’s network of Poison Control Centers give free, confidential, expert advice for dealing with chemical exposures of all kinds—skin exposure as well as ingestion. You can reach your local center by calling the national number—1-800-222-1222.

Your kitchen should be a place where your family comes together to safely and comfortably celebrate daily life. And while many hazards lurk in the kitchen, some forethought and a willingness to take precautions can ensure that your family stays safe there for many years to come.