Kitchen safety awareness is crucial during food preparation and cooking, as well as during clean-up and daily living. Understanding the hazards present in the kitchen can help you avoid causing an accident or subjecting your family to a bout of food poisoning.
Be Aware of Kitchen Safety Hazards
In order to stay safe in the kitchen, it's important to understand the dangers present in this area of your home. From sharp knives to hot stoves, reading up on kitchen hazards can help you change your habits and protect your family.
Using a knife appropriately can help prevent serious injuries. To keep yourself from sustaining a knife related wound or laceration:
- Always handle knives with caution.
- When picking up a knife, make sure you aren't holding anything else or are distracted.
- Keep your knives sharpened so you don't need to strain while chopping, slicing, or dicing.
- When chopping round objects, cut one side to make it flat and then lay the flat side down on your chopping block. This way, you can stabilize whatever item you are chopping.
- Grasp the knife handle firmly and lay your other hand on top of the knife to prevent any blade contact.
Using Appropriate Cooking Tools
To keep hot items from slipping or spilling, use the right cooking utensils. Be sure to:
- Use tongs to handle large, firm products. When handling hot items, grasp them firmly and be mindful of oil or water splashing.
- Use tools with hand grips if you have difficulty with firmly grasping your cooking tools.
- When using tools that have sharp edges for the first time, go slowly until you get the hang of it. Graters, zesters and mandolins all have the potential to slice or cut your fingers or hands if you aren't paying attention, or misuse them.
- Keep utensils clean to prevent food contamination. When hand drying or putting sharp utensils away, watch where you place your hands.
Handling Hot Dishes
Hot dishes can not only pose a risk to you, but others around you. To stay safe:
- Do not leave stovetop dishes unattended while the burner is on. Use oven mitts when removing a hot lid from a stovetop dish. Consider turning the pot handles inward or angled back so you don't accidentally bump them.
- When boiling water, never overfill your pot to prevent the water from overflowing. When dumping boiling water from the pot, be sure that you have a clear walking path to the sink and children, pets, and other individuals are not nearby. Use an oven mitt if the pot handle is hot and pour water slowly into the sink to prevent splashing.
- When removing a dish hot from the oven, be sure that no one who could be injured is nearby and if so, warn them that the oven will be opened. Use two oven-safe mitts that fit you properly to remove the hot dish. Ensure that you have a good grip on the hot dish prior to lifting it up. Hold the hot dish away from your body when walking with it and place on a heat-safe surface right away.
Knowing How to Handle Kitchen Fires
While kitchen fires don't impact everyone, it is important to be prepared in case one occurs. To handle grease, microwave, stove, and electrical fires:
- Use a pot pan or pour baking soda over the flames to smother grease fires. Water will not work and should not be used.
- For microwave, stove, or oven fires, shut the door and turn the appliance off. If it is safe, unplug the appliance and if the fire continues for several minutes, call the fire department.
- With electrical fires, do not use water to extinguish them. It's best to use a fire extinguisher. Keep a small one in your kitchen if possible.
- In general, always watch food that's on the stove, avoid wearing loose clothing that could catch fire, and double check that you've turned appliances off when you are done using them.
Helping Kids in the Kitchen
It can be fun to have a child join you while you're prepping food in the kitchen. If you're cooking with a little one, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- If the child has long hair, have them tie it back to prevent it from catching on fire or blocking their view.
- Teach them about washing their hands before beginning and after handling raw foods.
- When using sharp or dangerous objects like food processors or blenders make sure to monitor the child at all times and inform them what is and isn't okay to do.
- When cooking with pots and pans, teach your child to turn the handles away from them so they don't accidentally knock them over.
- If your child is quite young, don't let them use knives, the blender, the stove, or anything else that could potentially cause an injury.
- With older kids, teach them how to use cooking utensils properly, as well as general safety and how to put out a fire if an emergency occurs.
Practice Proper Food Safety
In addition to the hazards from heat and sharp objects, the kitchen also presents safety concerns surrounding food preparation. Improper food preparation can lead to food poisoning like salmonella. Keep these tips in mind to prepare food safely for yourself and your family.
How to Cook Safely With Oils
Many people use oils when cooking meat, poultry, and veggies. To prevent injury:
- Heat oil slowly to avoid splashing, which can lead to minor burns.
- When putting your food into the pot or pan, do so slowly so the oil doesn't splash.
- Watch food that's on the stove or in the oven to prevent burning. If you smell something burning, turn the heat off and wait a few minutes before checking the food in case a small fire has started.
- Before cleaning your pot or pan, let them cool completely and remember to use pot holders to prevent your hands from getting burned.
- When using an air fryer, always keep a watchful eye without leaving the room, use dry hands when operating it, do not leave anything around, on, or near the appliance while it is on. Never wash the electrical parts of the air fryer when you are ready to clean it to prevent shock, injury, and machine damage.
Food safety actually starts before you even get to the kitchen. At the grocery store, keep these tips in mind:
- Don't buy any food that is past the expiration date.
- Shop for your perishable foods last.
- Do not buy meat in a torn or leaking package.
- When buying meat, place it in an extra bag before putting it in your cart.
- Do not buy dented or damaged cans.
Store Your Food Properly
How you store your food is also an important part of kitchen safety. Keep these tips in mind:
- Refrigerate food within one to two hours, depending on room temperature.
- Keep your refrigerator temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the freezer below zero.
- Wrap meat securely so it will not leak on other food and store it on a bottom shelf so it doesn't drip on other foods.
- Use canned foods before the expiration dates. For home-canned food, the National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends using items within one year.
Wash Your Hands Before Preparing Food
Always wash your hands well with soap and water before you begin preparing a meal. Over the course of the day, your hands come in contact with a variety of bacteria and viruses that can cause illness. Thoroughly washing your hands reduces your risk of spreading these diseases.
Thaw Meat Safely
The freezer is a great way to preserve meat until you're ready to use it, but it's essential that you use the proper procedures to thaw meat safely. Otherwise, you put your family at risk for food poisoning.
Don't Cross-Contaminate Food
Meat, fish, and poultry are more susceptible to certain food-borne pathogens, so it's important to keep these foods separate from vegetables and other items. Specifically, the USDA recommends the following guidelines:
- Use separate, clean cutting boards for each type of food. Be sure to use plastic cutting boards that you can sanitize in the dishwasher and that are in good condition.
- Sanitize other food surfaces after cutting up meat or fish. Use a weak bleach solution on countertops.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after cutting meat.
- Never return cooked food to the same plate you used for raw food.
Cook Foods Thoroughly
Although a chicken breast or other dish may appear "done," it isn't always safe to eat. Testing the internal temperature of the item is a better way to check whether it's safe to consume. To use a food thermometer, insert the sharp end into the thickest portion of the meat without touching the bottom of the pan or the bones. Wait for the thermometer to give you a reading.
The USDA recommends specific temperatures for different types of meat:
- 145 degrees for lamb, beef steaks, veal, and roasts
- 160 degrees for egg dishes, pork, and hamburgers
- 165 degrees for poultry and combination dishes
Use Care When Transporting Food
If you have to take food from one place to another, using coolers and thermoses will help keep foods at safe temperatures. Using a cooler properly is important. Fill a cooler or ice chest with ice or ice packs to maintain a cold environment. Pack food tightly, and as soon as you arrive at your destination, place it in a refrigerator or on ice. This is important for uncooked as well as cooked meats.
Small Kitchen Appliance Safety
Small kitchen appliances are convenient and are typically easy to clean. To ensure your safety while using small kitchen appliances make sure you always unplug the appliance when you are done using it, make sure the cord is unobstructed, and read the manual prior to using.
Using a Pressure Cooker Properly
When using a pressure cooker, do not overfill it. Be sure to release the pressure prior to lifting the lid and do not cook large frozen meats as they may not cook through completely.
Crock Pots and Slow Cooker Safety
When using a Crock Pot or slow cooker, it is best to invest in a newer version that is designed with food safety in mind. The newer versions heat the food evenly and warm the food once cooked, making it safer to consume. Always use your Crock Pot or slow cooker on a heat safe, flat surface without other items nearby. Clean your Crock Pot or slow cooker thoroughly once it has cooled down.
Staying Safe While Using Your Coffee Maker
When using your coffee maker, be sure to not overfill the water and to take caution when pouring your coffee. Do so by holding the heat safe handle and pouring the coffee into a cup that is on a flat surface away from children, or pets that could knock it over. If you accidentally burn yourself, run the injured area under some cool water and head to your doctor or urgent care for further assessment. Deep clean your coffee maker once a month by using equal parts vinegar and water and brewing. Rinse thoroughly.
Understanding Toaster Oven Safety
When using a toaster oven, always place the appliance on a heat safe, flat surface. Take caution when removing hot items from the toaster oven and use oven mitts to remove food safely. Always unplug the toaster oven when not in use to decrease the risk of fire.
Use Good Cleaning Practices
Having a clean kitchen is an essential part of having a safe kitchen. This means using proper procedures to sanitize surfaces and take care of spills.
Wash all your countertops and tables with hot soapy water immediately before and after use. If you're cutting up meat or using eggs, sterilize the surfaces with a weak solution of bleach and water.
Don't Forget the Sink
The kitchen sink can be a dangerous place when it comes to food-borne pathogens. Rinsing chicken breasts, scraping dirty dishes, and other tasks can deposit bacteria on this surface. When you rinse vegetables, wash dishes, or drain pasta, you can inadvertently contaminate "clean" foods and surfaces with the dirty sink water. Regularly use a cleanser with bleach to kill harmful germs.
Clean Utensils Well
Your cooking and prep utensils also need to be thoroughly cleaned. Immediately wash knives in hot, soapy water and dry thoroughly. Don't use wooden utensils for meat dishes, since it can harm these items to go in the dishwasher. When in doubt, soak utensils in a bleach water solution to rid them of pathogens.
Use Paper Towels for Hands
Although they aren't a "green" choice, paper towels are safer for drying your hands and cleaning up spills. Dish towels can easily become contaminated with germs. When that happens, it's too easy to spread those germs to other surfaces.
Wash Dishcloths and Sponges Regularly
Germs can live in damp sponges and dishcloths, so it's important to clean or replace these items on a regular basis. For dishcloths, wash them in your washing machine using hot water. According to tests conducted by Good Housekeeping, soaking sponges in bleach water was the most effective way to clean them.
Prevent Illness and Accidents
Being aware of kitchen hazards and taking care with your food handling and cleaning can help keep you and your family safe from accidents and food poisoning. Although these measures may seem time-consuming, they can prevent illness and accidents and put your mind at ease.