By MARY ANN LIENHART CROSS
County Extension Director, Purdue Extension Elkhart County
The holidays are all about entertaining and that means food! It’s so easy to get caught up in the festivities that we become careless and/or forget about safety. It is important to think about and practice basic kitchen safety.
We are all susceptible to kitchen accidents. A safe kitchen begins with clutter removed, and clean counter tops, stove and floor. If you work at cleaning as you cook and putting away utensils and ingredients in their proper places, there is less chance of accidents.
Burns and cuts are just two of the possible injuries that can happen in the kitchen. Other injuries include bruises, slips, sprains, falls, strains, electric shock and poisoning. Fire and hot utensils are the most obvious dangers. The basic rule of stove safety is never leave cooking unattended. Remember to turn pot and skillet handles so they don’t extend over the stove where they can be bumped or pulled down. When lifting a pot lid, tilt it so it directs the steam away from your face and hands. Always use dry potholders to remove hot dishes from the oven or stove. When in a hurry don’t grab and use a hand towel.
Another risk in the kitchen is hot grease and oil, they present special hazards. Food should be as free of water and ice as possible when it is lowered gently into hot oil. Keep in mind that grease that is smoking is too hot. Smoking grease indicates that it is at the point that it can easily ignite. If a grease fire starts, never try to put it out with water. Remember water and oil/grease do not mix; instead they create dangerous splatters that can really hurt. Plan to extinguish it by turning off the burner and sliding a lid over the pan or a use a dry-chemical fire extinguisher.
When it comes to clothing here are some common safety rules that should be practiced. Wear close-fitting attire and rolled-up or short sleeves rather than loose or flowing sleeves. Scarfs are in high fashion but they are a kitchen nightmare for getting caught or catching on fire. Many kitchen fires start when a long full sleeve of a bathrobe crosses a flame. If clothing does catch on fire, drop to the floor and roll back and forth to smother the flame. If the burns are minor, rinse with cold water for at least five minutes. Never treat a burn with grease, butter or ointment; they will trap the heat and make the injury worse.
Knives can be another kitchen hazard. Keep knives sharp, as a dull knife requires extra pressure, which increases the possibility that the blade, hand or cutting board will slip. Use knives only for cutting and not for tasks like chopping ice or prying open a container. It is a good idea not to soak a dirty knife in your dishwater as feeling around for a knife in soapy water could mean a nasty cut. Instead, wash, dry and put knives away after use. When not in use, knives should be stored in a special slotted rack or wood block or in a separate drawer with blades pointing to the back of the drawer.
Even the general kitchen environment can be hazardous. A cabinet door left open can result in a bumped head. Worn flooring or food spills left on the floor increases the chances of slipping. Throw rugs at the kitchen sink and stove are also big hazards; they make it easy for you to catch your foot and fall.
The whole area of electric appliances is another safety issue. Cords increase the chances of shock and fire. Make sure to plug and unplug properly and don’t put cords where one will trip over them. Also check the lighting; poor lighting means poor visibility, which increases the possibility of accident.
This is also a good time of the year to check to your smoke detectors. At the same time check your kitchen fire extinguisher. It should be capable of putting out both grease and electrical fires. A fire extinguisher is an essential piece of equipment that should be in every kitchen. It should also be stored where it is easily and quickly accessible. Smoke alarms and fire extinguishers also are great practical holiday gifts.