When you’re preparing food, it’s important to always keep kitchen safety in mind. Where else in the house do you get to play with sharp objects, open flames, boiling liquids, cans under pressure, and countless amounts of breakable glass? In contrast to the rest of the house, the kitchen is a perpetual accident waiting to happen.
I feel like I’m pretty aware of safety when I’m working in the kitchen, but I am constantly reminded of yet another hazard by an OMG moment! Grandchildren in the kitchen have added yet another layer of awareness.
Here are a few safety tips from my kitchen…
Beyond the obvious keep knives away from fingertips warning, don’t be tempted to leave knives lying on the countertop. This is hard for me. I will chop something on a cutting board, then lay a knife across it because I plan to use it again after I’ve done a few other things. I know the knife is there, how dangerous can it be?
Well, having almost stabbed my foot with a falling knife I’d accidentally jostled a couple of months ago, I’d say pretty dangerous. I was grateful I’d had Stop the Bleed training. I also became keenly aware how difficult it would be to use that training on myself.
I know not to leave sharp or breakable objects on the counter when my grandchildren are around. A curious 18-month-old may reach above his head and swipe his hand across the countertop to see what he can find. He also may reach for a knife from your knife block if it is visible. Luckily, my grandson warned me that he was about to pull a knife out by telling me he needed one for the dish he was “cooking” on his stove. My knife block no longer resides at the end of the counter.
I’ve narrowly escaped burning dish towels and sleeves by failing to notice until the last minute how close they were to the flames on the burner. In general, long flared sleeves may be adorably cute on you, but they’re a really bad idea to wear as cooking fashion. In the same vein, a dish towel may be the most handy potholder, but if you leave any part of it dangling, it can touch a dancing flame before you know it.
And don’t even get me started on paper towels near the stove. Fry some chicken, cover a plate in paper towels, hold that plate above and to the side of the skillet when you remove the chicken to drain on the paper towels. Sounds like reasonable instructions, right?
The instructions aren’t bad, they’re just not complete. They should include a caution to make sure NO paper towel extends beyond the edge of the plate and that the flame is turned low enough that it doesn’t extend past the edge of your frying pan. If you need the flame higher than that to maintain the proper oil temperature, it’s probably best not to hold the plate so that you know it’s sitting a safe distance away from the flame.
Also, don’t be tempted to wipe that drip off the top of the stove just behind the burner while it’s on. You’ll have to reach your arm over or around a very hot pot near a very hot burner most likely with something wet in your hand that won’t protect fingers from heat. That’s too much risk for the amount of time it will save you later. Of course I know this is a bad idea because I’ve done it.
Always keep a fire extinguisher charged and handy just in case flames get out of hand. Mine lives under my kitchen sink. If you happen to have a small grease fire in a pan, turn off the burner, smother the fire with a metal lid or baking sheet, baking soda, or salt. Do not throw water or flour on the fire. Do not cover the pan with glass or pottery. Do not try to carry the pan outside.
Pot Holders and Dish Towels
We just touched on one downside of using a dish towel as a potholder, but it’s also good to remember that a damp or wet towel will not provide insulation from heat. Any towels or potholders should be dry before grabbing a hot handle.
Dish towels may have to be folded multiple times to be thick enough to protect your hand. This can result in a wiggly (technical term) grip. Heavy skillets like those made from cast iron increase the risk a wiggly grip poses.
I use my pot holders so much, they get thin in the middle. I usually discover this when I grip a skillet of cornbread and start to lift it out of the oven. The heat transfer is gradual, but over time I’ve learned when it feels hotter than it should in the first few seconds I should immediately put the skillet back down on the rack in the oven. Muscling through the heat to lift it to the counter is a D-U-M-B thing to do.
Don’t store anything in the oven that isn’t oven proof to the temperature you’d use to bake a frozen pizza. Sometimes I just need a quick place to hide something in the kitchen. Of course the oven works beautifully…until days later when I’ve totally forgotten the plastic tray in there and preheated the oven. Ugh, you get the picture. I actually preheated the oven this morning with a skillet & sheet pan in it. I do this on the regular, so I know I have to outsmart myself and only store oven proof things.
If you have pets, storing anything on the top of the stove can be risky. A former customer of mine put a basket on top of her stove to at night. One night while everyone was sleeping, her cat jumped on the stove to investigate. In the process, the cat’s foot turned on a burner starting a fire. Luckily, a smoke alarm awakened the family quickly, but the whole kitchen burned.
Having a system that tells you how long a bottle of olive oil, soy sauce, or maple syrup has been stored open in the pantry can prevent you from eating spoiled condiments. Of course, it’s good to do the same thing for the salad dressing, mayonnaise, pickles, jelly, and ketchup in the fridge. Discarding these in a timely manner (with hot sauce, timely means you have years to spare) is a great safety precaution.
I’ll admit my discard system is haphazard. When I’m testing recipes, I use everything so fast this isn’t an issue. When I’m cooking less, I periodically throw everything away that I can’t remember opening and start over. I’m about to have one of these purging sessions in my pantry.
I’m sure you know not to put metal in the microwave. You may not know that putting a honey bear in there to heat up crystalized honey can result in serious burns. If heated too long, the bottle can explode when you remove it and you can end up covered in molten honey. This happened to a friend of mine, but a Reddit thread tells me it’s happened to others as well.
When James was about two, I microwaved a cup of water. I took it out of the microwave then had to go check on his crying baby brother. Before I left the room, I made sure the cup was toward the back of the counter where James couldn’t reach it. Being resourceful, James pulled a chair up to the counter, climbed up, got the cup and spilled a full cup of boiling water down the front of his shirt. It all happened in a matter of seconds.
James proceeded to run around the house screaming at the top of his lungs because his shirt was burning him. When I finally caught him, I grabbed the shirt and quickly pulled it off. The skin of his entire chest came off along with the shirt.
Yes, it looked as bad as it sounds and I’m sure it was as painful! After a visit to the doctor, we kept the wound clean and coated in Silvadene and it healed. The only scars left are in James’ memory and on my Mommy record.
Unplug the coffee grinder before you use your finger to scrape out the grounds that didn’t fall into the lid. I mean it. Unplug the thing. More than once I’ve had coffee grinders come on unexpectedly and get stuck on. One of them was recalled because of this problem. I’ve seen plenty of otherwise smart people dig out grounds with the grinder plugged in. It makes me cringe each and every time.
Unplug the coffee maker when it’s not being used. I once watched my coffee maker shoot sparks into the kitchen. It was plugged in, but not turned on. The fact that I was there to see it (and prevent a fire) was a happy accident. I switched to a French press.
I use the timer on my stove, but it’s not very loud. If I’m leaving the kitchen, I know it’s a good idea to set a corresponding timer to carry with me. The one on my phone works great. I also have a stationary one on the desk in my home office.
It’s also a good idea to set a timer if you decide to chill a can of soda in the freezer. I rarely do this, but when I do, I consistently forget about that can for way too long. Usually I catch my error at the point the top of the can begins to bow out, but I have had to clean up the freezer after a can explosion. I can assure you that cleaning the freezer is not my idea of fun!
-Read labels for allergens.
-Disinfect anything that touches raw meat.
-Use a meat thermometer to make sure meat reaches a safe temperature.
-Don’t eat raw eggs.
-Wash fruits and vegetables.
-Kiss Caesar salads goodbye for awhile. The romaine problem has gotten out of hand.
-Refrigerate leftovers in a timely manner.
-Turn pot and pan handles toward the center of the stove.
-Wipe spills up quickly so you won’t slip and fall.
I’m fine with you doing whatever you want to do in the nude, but this post is about safety in the kitchen. Soooo, don’t cook naked. Like ironing naked, it seems like a good idea until it’s not. By that point you’ll probably have frozen or burned something you really don’t want to freeze or burn. At least put on an apron. A simple apron with heels can be the perfect cooking outfit depending on the guest list.
Every cook I know burns themself at some point. Many cut a finger. Most of these injuries are minor. Nonetheless, it’s a good idea to have a watchful eye and always keep kitchen safety in mind when you’re having a kitchen adventure.