Originally posted August 29, 2014. Revised and updated January 5, 2017.
Think about cooking, with its sharp knives and intense heat. It’s no wonder accidents happen while we’re preparing food for our families.
And what about the sleek, shiny surfaces like granite countertops and quarry tile floors? Have you ever dropped a glass and watched, horrified, as it shattered into a zillion little shards?
The following is a recipe for safety that will help you to minimize kitchen mishaps and enjoy cooking in your home.
1. Wear Sturdy Shoes
As simple as it sounds, this is a key safety practice.
Recently, someone in my house – who shall remain nameless – not only dropped a glass, but proceeded to walk barefoot over the broken slivers, leaving a red trail in his wake.
This is why good First Aid kits contain tweezers, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
In addition to protection from broken bits, shoes provide a barrier between your foot and a falling knife, heavy platter, or hot gravy.
The footwear that’s best for cooking and kitchen use has non-skid soles, sturdy toe caps, supportive arches, and comfortable insoles.
In addition to protection from injuries like dropped items and slippery floors, shoes that are comfortable for long periods of standing will help prevent back and leg strain.
Your feet are your foundation, so treat them well!
2. Dry Your Hands
Have you noticed how chefs on TV tuck a dishtowel into their waistbands?
This is so they can constantly wipe their hands. Clean, dry hands have better traction for gripping than wet ones do.
Again, picture a drinking glass slipping through wet fingers…
Also, wet hands conduct heat quickly. If you handle a hot item without first drying your hands, you’re likely to flinch and let go.
Similarly, if you put wet hands into oven mitts and reach for a hot baking pan, you’re going to conduct the intense heat of the oven right into your damp skin. Ouch!
3. Respect Everything with a Blade
Be sure to clean knives and other sharp items immediately after use. Wash each individually, and never leave one submerged in water, where it may become an invisible peril.
Always store knives with blades and tips pointed downward. Wood blocks and drawer dividers help to further reduce the risk of injury. No one wants to reach into a drawer and graze a razor-sharp blade.
And please, never try to catch a falling knife! Try your best to step out of the way.
Now that we’ve established these ground rules, careful cleaning isn’t the only item that’s important to point out when it comes to sharp kitchen tools.
Did you know that a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one?
A cutting implement should be sharp enough to work under moderate pressure. If you find yourself having to force it through food, it either needs to be sharpened, or it is not the proper tool for the job.
A heavy knife with a substantial blade is great for chopping, whereas a serrated one is perfect for sawing slices of bread from a crusty loaf. Using the wrong knife, or a dull one, may result in a cutting injury.
4. Store Gear Properly
Modern cabinetry is designed with safety in mind! There’s never been a better time to store cooking equipment ergonomically, with heavy items stored low, and lighter ones up high.
Countertop appliance garages keep items like standing mixers within easy reach.
Also, be sure stored items have plenty of room for manipulation into and out of cabinets. Stacking dissimilar items, like cups within bowls, may result in dropping multiple items, breakage, and injury.
The same goes for the refrigerator. I like to use plastic containers with lids so I can securely stack and retrieve food.
I know glass is a better choice when it comes to the environment, but I can’t tell you how many times someone has used my little Pyrex dessert dishes and plastic wrap to store bits of leftover food, only to fumble them and send bits of glass waaaaay under the fridge!
But I digress…
5. Keep Floors and Counters Free of Debris
It’s not only a challenge to work in a cluttered space, it’s dangerous.
I have a ceramic cooktop, and it’s tempting to use it as an additional counter. However, my son the firefighter says this is a big no-no.
Unless you’ve got food cooking in a pot, the stove top should be clear.
The same goes for the oven. Use the drawer below for cookie sheets and baking pans, but please don’t store anything in the oven itself. You might forget, turn it on, and start a fire.
In addition, you need to keep clear paths between the stove, fridge, sink, and table. Children’s toys are particularly treacherous when strewn across a kitchen floor.
Wipe up spills as soon as they happen. Sticky foods like honey may harden and attract ants, and dropped raw chicken may leave bacteria behind. Clean countertops and floors are essential to kitchen safety.
A wet floor is a major hazard. Slipping can cause muscle strain, falling can break bones, and falling while carrying sharp or breakable objects multiplies the risk of serious injury.
If you break a glass, come to a grinding halt!
Shards of glass become projectiles with the force of breakage, and ensuring that they have not landed in food is the number one priority. Second is cleaning up the glass with great care.
Use a broom and dust pan to sweep up as much of the glass as possible.
Throw glass away in an appropriate receptacle. Next, use a wet paper towel or disposable rag to go over the area to pick up glass fragments that were too small for the broom to catch. Wrap fragments in the towel or rag, and then throw away.
Use your vacuum attachment to carefully vacuum the broom straw and the dust pan. Then vacuum the floor. Discard the vacuum bag.
6. Maintain Equipment
As with a dull knife, a poorly maintained cooking implement is an accident waiting to happen.
Make it a practice to regularly examine your cooking gear. Make sure all screwed-in parts are tight. Lids should fit snugly and handle grips shouldn’t wobble. Discard any items that may pose a hazard.
Do you have a pot or maybe a frying pan that no longer sits squarely on your stove? Did you know that it’s probably because you used it over high heat?
Many of today’s modern cooking equipment heats up very quickly and efficiently, and doesn’t require settings greater than medium-high for optimal performance. In fact, high heat causes them to warp. Be sure to follow manufacturer’s directions for the care and use of all of your equipment.
Also, evaluate your china. Is the glaze intact, or do chips and cracks mar the surface? In addition to harboring bacteria, these pieces are liable to break under the slightest amount of heat or pressure.
7. Use Common Sense
Remember how the teacher used to tell the kid in the back of the room to stop tipping his chair back? (Or was that you?)
When you use tools as they were intended to be used, you can avoid some common kitchen injuries.
Don’t use knives to pry lids open. Some knives don’t go the full length of their handles, and may snap under excessive pressure.
And how many times have you stretched to get something seldom used out of that silly cabinet over the fridge?
I know I’ve done it more than once, and felt my lower back seize with the strain. Don’t do it! Keep frequently used items within reach.
If you need an item from a high cabinet, use a step-stool to retrieve it. Climbing on chairs is not recommended, but if you must do so, place the chair’s back firmly against the counter before stepping onto the chair. If possible, have someone hold the chair steady for you.
And after reaching into that cabinet, remember to close it. Head injury and even concussion may result from banging your head on the bottom or corner of a cabinet door.
Once you have the equipment or utensil you need, be sure to use it per the manufacturer’s instructions. If it’s a new gadget, or one you use rarely, practice first and be sure to use it properly.
8. Take Child-Proofing Measures
There are special considerations when you have small children in the house. First, never leave them unattended, especially in areas where food is being prepared.
Sit on your kitchen floor one day when you are making dinner, and look up. Do you see oven knobs within reach? Are pot handles pointing out over the stove, just waiting to be tipped downward?
Child-proof your home with latches on the cabinets and the refrigerator, and keep breakables out of reach.
9. Keep a Fire Extinguisher Handy
If you see flames that aren’t coming from your gas burners or a flambéed dessert, call 911, or your local emergency responders.
A fire needs air to burn. If you have the presence of mind to remember to NEVER put water on a grease fire, you may be able to put out the flames by covering the burning pan with a lid, dousing it with baking soda, or drenching it with a fire extinguisher.
Many folks have tried to put out a cooking fire, only to find that they have made it worse and injured themselves in the process. Precious time may be wasted unless you know exactly what you’re doing.
My advice is to call for help immediately.
10. Make a First Aid Kit
Every home should have a first aid kit for minor emergencies.
It should contain alcohol pads, antibacterial ointment, a bandage roll, self-sticking bandages, cloth tape, disposable gloves, gauze pads, scissors, a sling, tweezers, a white washcloth, and a book on the basics.
I know we live in modern times, but I once cut my arm during an unprecedented tornado that whipped through my neighborhood. It was some time before I could get to the hospital for stitches.
Sometimes you need to help yourself or a loved one until you can get to a doctor. So, don’t just stockpile the supplies. Read the first aid book and be prepared.
In the event of an emergency, try to remain calm.
If you have cut yourself, rinse the area under a gentle stream of cool tap water. Sanitize tweezers with an alcohol pad, and gently remove any remaining debris, such as glass shards. If the cut is deep, or you are feeling unwell, seek professional help immediately.
If you deem the cut to be minor, elevate the area, place a clean white cloth over the wound, and apply firm pressure until the bleeding stops. Bandage per the directions in your first aid book.
If the wound continues to bleed, and repeated attempts to stop the bleeding fail, seek professional help.
Some injuries may appear small, but may require stitches to promote healing and prevent scarring. Ask your physician for a professional opinion.
For burns and eye injuries, always consult a medical professional.
11. A Word on Food Safety
There’s another key element to staying out of harm’s way, and that’s food safety.
Proper storage, handling, and preparation of food is essential to good health. Read labels for important information on things like cooking temperatures and expiration dates, to ensure that the food itself is never a source of danger in your home.
An Ounce of Prevention
An organized kitchen, careful work habits, and well-maintained equipment are key ingredients in the recipe for cooking success. However, sometimes even with the best intentions, things don’t turn out well.
Stress in the kitchen is one sure-fire way to ruin your best laid plans.
Maybe you’re running late for work and you’re trying to get the kids fed before school. Distractions and rushing are two common causes of cooking catastrophes.
Do your best to minimize morning stress with make-ahead meals for busy days. Keep your cool, and stay out of harm’s way in the kitchen!
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Photo credit: Shutterstock.
About Nan Schiller
Nan Schiller is a writer from southeastern Pennsylvania. When she’s not in the garden, she’s in the kitchen preparing imaginative gluten- and dairy-free meals. With a background in business, writing, editing, and photography, Nan writes humorous and informative articles on gardening, food, parenting, and real estate topics. Having celiac disease has only served to inspire her to continue to explore creative ways to provide her family with nutritious locally-sourced food.