When it comes to safety tips in the kitchen, there is more to it than just avoiding cutting yourself with a sharp knife or setting the place on fire. Yes, those are legitimate concerns. However, kitchen safety also includes the notion of safely preparing and serving food.
You may not realize it, but the kitchen can be one of the most accident-prone areas in a home. It’s important to be aware of potential hazards and take precautions to prevent accidents in this area.
Why kitchen safety is so important
When it comes to childhood accidents and deaths, many happen in the kitchen. For example, when recommending how to childproof a home, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that three of their four top tips involve the kitchen.
According to the CDC, most incidents occur where there is (my bolding of the items related to kitchen safety):
- Water: in the bathroom, kitchen, swimming pools or hot tubs
- Heat or flame: in the kitchen, in the fireplace or at a barbeque grill
- Toxic substances: under the kitchen sink, in the medicine cabinet, in the garage or garden shed, in a purse or other place where medications are stored
- Potential for a fall: on stairs, slippery floors, from high windows or from tipping furniture
To ensure the safety of those in your home, here are some simple kitchen safety tips that will help keep your culinary area a secure haven, from small children to everyone else in your household.
Reduce the risk of accidental cuts
The number one way to reduce your risk of accidentally cutting yourself is to keep your cutting utensils sharp. This includes knives, scissors, vegetable peelers and anything else with a blade.
Also important? Knowing how to use and store them.
This sounds counterintuitive, right? However, cutting food with a dull edge makes you do things that make you more susceptible to hurting yourself. For example, when you cut with a dull knife, you need to increase the force required to make that cut.
By doing that, you increase the chances you will slip and cut yourself instead of the food. And even a dull knife can do some damage to your body.
You can buy a handheld sharpening tool. Or you may have gotten a knife that sharpens automatically when you put it in the block, like this MasterChef knife set.
Perfect your cutting technique
You know where I learned the right and safe way to use a knife in the kitchen? By watching the show “Worst Cooks in America” on Food Network.
Each season the first few episodes highlight the right and wrong ways to use a knife. That is, how to handle it correctly and cut safely. Here are some of the ways I’ve learned to lessen my chances of cutting myself when cutting food:
- Always push the knife blade away from your body, never towards it.
- Use a sturdy cutting board on a flat surface.
- Consider using a guard or glove when slicing vegetables with a mandoline.
Robin Donovan of All Ways Delicious didn’t need a Food Network show to teach her son how to use a knife. She taught him herself.
“One of the first things I taught him when he first started wanting to cook at around age 7 was the claw technique for cutting — hiding the fingers on the hand that is holding the food you are cutting,” she recalls. “The second thing I taught him was never try to catch the knife. Jump back to get your feet out of the way and let it fall.”
Safe storage in the kitchen
Store knives and other sharp implements in a secure location. Knife blocks, magnetic knife strips and drawers are all good options, unless you have little ones at home. Then you’ll want to keep all of these sharp objects out of their reach until they understand they are tools, not toys.
So, the top shelf of a tall kitchen cabinet might not be the most convenient place to store cutting implements. However, it is probably the safest with curious children in your home.
Reduce your risk for burns
Hot water from the tap is just one way to burn yourself in the kitchen. You also have to consider the oven, stove, air fryer and all of the hot pots and pans in and around these devices.
While you can take action to reduce the risk for some of these, others simply require being aware of your surroundings. For example, always turn all pan handles away from the edge of the stove. This keep little ones safe. At the same time, it prevents you from bumping into them as you move through your kitchen.
Here are additional safety tips you can take to make your kitchen safer for everyone.
Adjust the temperature on your water heater
For the water faucet, adjust the water temperature on your boiler to be no hotter than you can handle without burning or scalding yourself. For most homes, that is 120 F, as it takes about 5 minutes of exposure at that temperature to result in burns.
At 140 F, the standard manufacturer’s setting, it takes a mere 6 seconds of exposure to cause a burn. This temperature setting is simply too risky for little ones and older adults.
Use proper pot holders or hot pot gloves
Do not use wet or damp pot holders when handling hot items, as the heat will go through them. Do not use kitchen towels to remove a hot roast or casserole from the oven unless you know they are heatproof. Microfiber towels are great for drying but will melt against the oven’s heat. Instead, keep dry pot holders or heat-resistant gloves in an accessible place, within easy reach of your oven and stove top.
How to avoid steam burns
When opening the oven or removing lids from hot pans, stand clear of any escaping steam. Lift pan lids with the opening away from you to direct steam away from your face. When opening your oven, stand to the side and allow the initial blast of heat to clear before you reach inside.
It’s the same with taking a dish out of the microwave or opening your slow cooker or Instant Pot top. There could be steam built up inside. If you don’t take the top off safely, you risk burning yourself.
Prevent falls in the kitchen
Falls in the kitchen can happen for many reasons. However, there are two situations that cause the most falls in the kitchen.
- Trying to reach things that are just out of your grasp.
Thankfully, both are easily preventable with a bit of planning and awareness.
Spills in the kitchen are inevitable. You would be hard-pressed to make a meal without cleaning up at least one mess, if not more.
The best action is to clean up spills immediately so they don’t become a falling hazard. Keeping tools like a broom and dustpan, kitchen towels and a mop and bucket nearby will make clean-up quick and easy.
Reaching for things
The other common cause of falls in the kitchen is when individuals resort to climbing onto countertops (guilty as charged) or chairs to access items out of reach (also guilty as charged). While it may seem like a minor convenience, this habit can lead to severe accidents.
Using a sturdy step stool or ladder to increase your reach is much safer and will prevent potential injuries. If you often need a boost, store your stool in the kitchen to make it even more convenient.
Even better, get a step stool that folds flat and can slide into a closet or between cabinets for easy access. We keep ours in the coat closet near the kitchen, along with the vacuum cleaner and the broom and dustpan.
When working with food, you often play with literal fire, especially if you have a gas stove or use an outdoor grill. While fire and heat are essential to creating magic in the kitchen, it’s vital to maintain control over them at all times. By being prepared, you can prevent accidental flare-ups and better manage them when they happen.
Ensure you keep kitchen towels, pot holders and other flammable materials away from open flames or hot burners. Do not wear loose clothing while cooking. Always have an up-to-date fire extinguisher in your kitchen.
When pan frying fritters, fish or anything else in hot oil, keep the lid of the pan handy to use as the first line of defense in an accidental flare-up. If all else fails, be ready to fight the fire with a household fire extinguisher or fire blanket.
Finally, if the fire is too big to put out on your own, get out and call the fire department.
Safe food preparation
As mentioned in the introduction, safety tips in the kitchen are about more than just preventing falls, fires and injuries. There’s also safe food preparation to consider.
Here are tips from the CDC.
Clean: Wash your hands and surfaces often.
- Germs that cause food poisoning can survive in many places and spread around your kitchen.
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm or cold water before, during and after preparing food and before eating.
- Always wash hands after handling uncooked meat, chicken and other poultry, seafood, flour, or eggs.
- Wash your utensils, cutting boards and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item.
- Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running water.
- Raw meat, chicken and other poultry, seafood and eggs can spread germs to ready-to-eat food unless you keep them separate.
- When grocery shopping, keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and their juices away from other foods.
- Keep raw or marinating meat, poultry, seafood and eggs separate from all other foods in the refrigerator. Store raw meat, poultry and seafood in sealed containers or wrap them securely so the juices don’t leak onto other foods.
- Use one cutting board or plate for raw meat, poultry and seafood and a separate cutting board or plate for produce, bread and other foods that won’t be cooked.
- Raw chicken is ready to cook and doesn’t need to be washed first. Washing these foods can spread germs to other foods, the sink and the counter and make you sick. If you choose to wash chicken, do so as safely as possible.
- Food is safely cooked when the internal temperature gets high enough to kill germs that can make you sick. The only way to tell if food is safely cooked is to use a food thermometer. You can’t tell if food is safely cooked by checking its color and texture (except for seafood).
- Use a food thermometer to ensure foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature. Learn how to place the thermometer correctly in different food to get an accurate reading.
- Whole cuts of beef, veal, lamb and pork, including fresh ham: 145°F (then allow the meat to rest for 3 minutes before carving or eating)
- Fish with fins: 145°F or cook until the flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork
- Ground meats, such as beef and pork: 160°F
- All poultry, including ground chicken and turkey: 165°F
- Leftovers and casseroles: 165°F
- Check this chart for a detailed list of temperatures and foods, including shellfish and precooked ham.
- Microwave food thoroughly: Follow recommended cooking and standing times. Letting food sit for a few minutes after microwaving allows cold spots to absorb heat from hotter areas and cook more completely.
- Know your microwave’s wattage. Check inside the door, owner’s manual, or manufacturer’s website. If your microwave is high wattage (800 watts or more), use the minimum cooking time recommended. If it is low wattage (300–500 watts), use the maximum cooking time recommended.
- When reheating, use a food thermometer to make sure that microwaved food reaches 165°F.
Bacteria can multiply rapidly if left at room temperature or in the “Danger Zone” between 40°F and 140°F.
- Keep your refrigerator at 40°F or below and your freezer at 0°F or below and know when to throw food out before it spoils. If your refrigerator doesn’t have a built-in thermometer, keep an appliance thermometer inside it to check the temperature.
- Package warm or hot food into several clean, shallow containers and then refrigerate. It is okay to put small portions of hot food in the refrigerator since they will chill faster.
- Refrigerate perishable food (meat, seafood, dairy, cut fruit, some vegetables and cooked leftovers) within 2 hours. If the food is exposed to temperatures above 90°F, like a hot car or picnic, refrigerate it within 1 hour.
- Thaw frozen food safely in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. Never thaw food on the counter because bacteria multiply quickly in the parts of the food that reach room temperature.
Kitchen safety in action
Safeguarding your kitchen is paramount to creating a secure haven for culinary endeavors. Adhering to these essential safety tips in the kitchen can significantly reduce the risk of accidents and injuries.
Remember, prioritizing safety not only enhances your cooking experience but also ensures the well-being of your loved ones, making the kitchen a place where everyone can gather, create and share without worry.
Portion of this article originally appeared on Food Drink Life.