The kitchen is inherently a dangerous place, even for experienced cooks. Sharp knives, hot oil, boiling water, bacteria lurking in the cracks and crevices. Hmm, I think I’ll eat out tonight.
Seriously, you do have to be aware of the accidents that can happen in the kitchen, some simple preventative measures, and, God forbid, what to do if something bad happens.
We’re going to divide Kitchen Safety into three parts: Personal Injury (cutting or burning yourself), Property Damage (setting fire to your kitchen), and Biological Hazards (your refrigerator and cutting board).
Personal Injury — I’m sure the number one and two accidents in the kitchen are cuts and burns, although I’m not sure what order they would be in. It’s surprisingly easy to nick a finger when slicing foods with a knife. I’ve even nipped my finger with kitchen shears when cutting up a bunch of cilantro. I have several important tips here:
Buy a First Aid kit and read the manual.
Keep knives sharp; dull knives cause you to press harder, increasing the chances of a slip.
Don’t rush; I’ve almost always been in a hurry when I’ve hurt myself.
Keep Band-Aids in the pantry where they are handy; working with a paper towel wrapped around a finger is very cumbersome.
Don’t let the handles of pots and pans stick out beyond the edge of the stove or counter where they can be bumped. Be especially careful of large pots of boiling water if you have to carry them to the sink to drain. Use oven mitts so you don’t get your hands burned.
Be careful reaching into the oven; the backs of your arms are very near the hot edge of the opening.
Don’t let electrical cords dangle over the edge of the counter; you don’t want a toddler pulling the crock pot over!
Don’t put wet foods in hot oil; the steam will cause the oil to splatter. Always add food to hot oil a little at a time, or in the case of a loaded French fry basket, lower it slowly into the oil to avoid a boil-over.
Wrap an ice cube in a paper towel and put on small burns immediately.
If you or someone gets burned over a significant part of the body, put them in a bathtub with cold water until help arrives.
Familiarize yourself with basic First Aid techniques:
Visit www.mayoclinic.com/health/FirstAidIndex/FirstAidIndex or other similar site.
Property Damage — People have burned their houses down with fires that started in the kitchen. The Wendy’s in the next town burned down last year when someone overheated the French fryer. Don’t be afraid, though, just be aware. And pay attention — don’t go off and make a phone call or change the baby while the oil is heating in the skillet. (Both of these examples actually happened!) If you have to leave, turn the burner off. You can always pick up later where you left off.
When heating oil, monitor it closely. Even if your fryer is temperature controlled, thermostats can fail. If the oil starts smoking, turn the heat down. If it bursts into flame, put a cover on it to smother the flames and turn off the heat. DO NOT pick up the pan and try to carry it to the sink or outside. If you spill the burning oil, and you don’t have a fire extinguisher, get the kids and pets out and call 911. DO NOT put water on burning oil. If it’s handy, they say you can pour salt or baking soda on it, but personally, I’ve never had a five gallon pail of either sitting around.
I do, however, keep a home-rated fire extinguisher inside the cupboard door under the range.
Biological Hazards — Bacteria are everywhere, and most of them are harmless. But some of them can cause food poisoning or worse. How do you guard against this threat? Three ways:
Cleanliness — wash utensils and containers thoroughly. Rinsing off instead of washing with soap is usually not adequate. Scrub cutting boards with a scrubbing sponge and detergent with hot water.
Don’t keep leftovers too long. After a few days, bacteria start growing on or in almost anything.
Read the labels. If the manufacturer says “Refrigerate After Opening”, do it.
Be especially careful with raw chicken. I think the Chicken Police have been giving Emeril instructions on how to handle them on his show. Wash hands often. Use a separate cutting board. Wash the knife. Wash the container. As Emeril says, next they will want you to wash the car you brought the chicken home in. I agree — don’t get carried away, but be sure and do a good job cleaning up.
Stuff in the freezer doesn’t last forever. Sometimes after thawing the food your nose will tell you the food’s not right. I once had to throw away a whole chicken that had been in there too long. How long is too long? Most things maybe a couple of months. Usually not a year. Visit http://www.dvo.com/newsletter/monthly/2003/march/remedy4.html to see a list of guidelines.
Blaming mayonnaise for the bad potato salad at the church picnic seems to be wrong. It’s the potatoes. Cook’s Illustrated published a recipe for a potato salad that had no mayo, and still gave the warning. After testing they determined that the mayo has too much acidity to spoil easily; but the potatoes will.
So don’t rush, pay attention to what you are doing, don’t get distracted, learn how to handle emergencies, and read labels. Have fun cooking but stay safe!