The kitchen is, after the bathroom, the most dangerous room in the house—and with the average kitchen’s complement of knives, exposed heat sources, glassware, ceramics, and household poisons, perhaps that is unsurprising. Kitchen accidents cause millions of disabling injuries and tens of thousands of fatalities every year. Here are a few ways to make your kitchen safer, without overhauling your routine or spending a lot of money.
Falling – Slipping and falling incidents in the kitchen are common, and the presence of hazards on countertops can make the resulting injuries much more serious. A newly-cleaned floor or a fresh spill can make it easy to lose your footing, and sustain concussions and lacerations from the floor and countertops. The involuntary flailing associated with a fall can also spill hot liquids, shatter glassware, or bring the arms in contact with stovetops or knives.
To mitigate the risk of a falling injury, never cook on a wet floor, and clean spills thoroughly as soon as they happen. Turn the handle of any pots and pans over the stovetop, so they’re less likely to be knocked over in the event of a fall.
Knives – Lacerations from kitchen knives are so common that the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System actually subdivides them by the item being cut. A blade slip while cutting raw chicken is the most common form of kitchen laceration, followed by potatoes, apples, onions, and bagels. Those five categories alone account for over 15,000 emergency room visits every year, with patients experiencing extreme blood loss and potentially permanent nerve damage.
Cutting injuries are mostly the result of dull knives, badly-secured cutting boards, and improper knife technique. As much as possible, use sharp, high-quality blades, especially on slippery items like raw meat. Invest in a non-slip food cutting-board or slide a wet towel underneath the board to secure it. While cutting, keep your hands as dry as possible, firmly grip the knife, and always curl the fingers of your free hand.
Stovetops – Improper use of a stovetop (particularly a gas range) can result in fire, burns, and scalding. Loose sleeves, neckties, or long hair can ignite in contact with the burners, so it’s important to keep hair tied back and any loose-fitting clothing away from the range. Never leave a stovetop unattended, especially while using a glass casserole dish; they can explode violently from the heat, and spray shards of glass all over the kitchen. Also be sure to keep small children away from the range, and turn your pot handles over the stovetop so as to be out of reach.
Liquids on a stovetop can also be extremely dangerous, especially if they boil over or spill. It only takes a second of exposure to boiling water to inflict third-degree burns, and potentially permanent loss of the affected tissue. Don’t use a receptacle that is too small to accommodate the liquid, and never leave a boiling pot unattended.
Bacteria – 128,000 Americans are hospitalized with foodborne illness every year. Not all of these incidents begin at home, but you can take steps to design a kitchen that will reduce your risk. Firstly, wash your hands and all cooking utensils before and after preparing food—and do not switch from preparing raw meat or seafood to preparing vegetables without washing. Never put cooked food right back on the plate where you prepared it raw—the blood and juices can easily reintroduce bacteria.
Take special care to sanitize your countertops and cutting boards, and be ready to replace them if they sustain deep gouges from knives—those crevices can be a haven for bacteria, and are difficult to clean properly. If you use rags and sponges, wash and (especially) dry them thoroughly—often they will do more to spread bacteria than to remove it. Also remember that refrigerators slow bacterial growth, but do not stop it. Leftovers can become dangerous to eat without any noticeable change in flavor or odor, so minimize the time your leftovers spend at room temperature, and eat them within (at most) one week of preparation.
Poisoning – Accidental poisoning is an extremely common cause of injury and death in the United States, among adults as well as children. The easiest way to avoid kitchen poisoning is to keep your cleaning and cooking separate, and make sure your cleaning supplies are well-secured under the sink if you have small children. To prevent food poisoning from canned or jarred goods, never eat food from a can that appears swollen, or releases pressurized gas when you open it. Respect the expiration dates on your packaged foods, and never leave an open can or jar at room temperature for more than an hour.
Mike Freiberg is a staff writer for http://www.homedaddys.com, a resource for stay-at-home dads, work-at-home dads, and everything in between. He’s a handyman, an amateur astronomer, and a tech junkie, who loves being home with his two kids. He lives in Austin.
Thank you, Mike, for this enlightening article. Imagine the thousands of restaurant employees who are injured in the kitchen. There are many types of personal protective wear such as cut-resistant gloves, and gloves for food handling.