Today’s kitchens easily supplant the bathroom as the home’s most dangerous room. While scalds and falls on tile can inflict serious harm in the bathroom, modern kitchen appliances and gadgets offer many more opportunities for injury. Even a seemingly simple kitchen task can result in a devastating injury.
Just ask April Stewart Klausner, a New York illustrator and accomplished cook. Recently Ms. Klausner, 56, severed four tendons, multiple nerves and a blood vessel in her hand while pitting an avocado, something she’d done countless times.
Gushing blood and unable to feel or move two fingers, she was taken by ambulance to an emergency room. The injury required more than three hours of surgical repair and many months of painful rehab. It will take at least a year for the injured nerves to heal, and Ms. Klausner can only hope her hand will function normally, enabling her to resume her career full-speed.
The therapists at Lang Hand Therapy in Manhattan told her she was the fourth “avocado victim” they’d seen that month. “So add that to immersion blenders and mandolines . . . and maybe the bathroom is not the most dangerous room in the house!” Ms. Klausner said in an e-mail.
Knowledge and mindfulness are the secrets to kitchen safety. My husband used to say, “From rushing no good can come.” Don’t try to do several things at once, and leave enough time to accomplish your tasks.
Use timers, especially for foods that cook a long time. I use them for everything I cook. My favorite is the battery-operated West Bend Kitchen Timer, easily set by punching in the numbers for hours, minutes and seconds — a worthwhile investment.
CUTS Knives are the most frequently used of hazardous kitchen tools. Two safety essentials: they must be sharp (dull knives are more likely to slip and cut the user), and they must be stored separately and safely in their own drawer (or divided section of one), in a wooden block or on a wall-mounted magnetic holder.
I wash, dry and put away my knives as soon as I’m done using them. They should never be left lying on a countertop or in a sink full of water or other equipment.
When slicing or mincing, keep fingers holding the food curled and out of harm’s way. Cut on a sturdy surface, moving the knife’s edge away from your body. Use the right knife for each task: a serrated blade, for example, is best for bread and safer for the person slicing it.
Other sharp kitchen objects, like can lids, can cause nasty cuts. Be careful, too, when opening hard plastic packages, which often have sharp edges.
Broken glass should be swept up with a broom and dust pan and disposed of posthaste. Do not use your hands; a damp but sturdy paper towel can be used to clean up tiny pieces of glass.
BURNS Keep dry oven mitts near the stove and microwave, and always use them. Microwaved dishes can get extremely hot. Do not substitute dish towels for pot holders.
Pot handles should be turned in toward the center of the range, away from the cook and passers-by, to prevent accidental tipping. Under a covered pot of boiling liquid, keep the gas flame low. Avoid steam burns by opening lids away from you. When cooking with hot oil, cover the pan with a spatter screen.
Do not wear loose sleeves or flowing clothes while cooking, and tie up long hair. Note the shoes worn by professional chefs: clogs protect their feet in case hot water or oil spills on them.
If you suffer a burn, immediately hold the injured area under cold water for several minutes.
FIRES Do not leave or store flammable materials near the stove or in the oven. Make sure pots on open flames hold enough liquid, and use a trivet when placing a hot pot on a wood or fabric surface.
Clean your oven often to keep it free of grease. If fats or oils catch fire, turn off the heat immediately but don’t try to pick up the pan. Never pour water on a grease fire; use salt or baking soda. Better yet, keep a fire extinguisher handy and know how to use it.
FALLS Unnecessary climbs are a recipe for disaster. Keep often-used equipment and heavy pots within easy reach, and use high cupboards only for infrequently needed items and food products.
Never stand on chairs. Invest in a sturdy stool with wide steps and rubberized foot pads. I used my wooden stool safely innumerable times until one morning it literally let me down. I landed hard on my back and narrowly missed cracking my head on a doorjamb.
Wipe up all spills immediately lest they result in a human spill. I keep sponges and microfiber cloths handy for use on floors only. Leave no tripping hazards on the floor, including shoes and loose throw rugs. Though costly, cushioned rubber mats at the sink and food prep area are safer and more comfortable.
ELECTRIC SHOCKS Modern kitchens are replete with electric tools that can result in life-threatening shocks if the power plug comes into contact with water. Read all warning labels and obey them. Use polarized plugs, and do not overload outlets. Dry your hands before plugging in and using appliances, and be sure to unplug an appliance before cleaning it. Hold the plug when pulling it from the socket; do not pull on the cord.
POISONING Cleaning products should never be stored in the same cabinet as foods, medications or supplements. My grandmother nearly poisoned herself when she mistakenly drank cleaning fluid, thinking it was Milk of Magnesia; both were milky fluids in blue bottles, and she could not read English. Never transfer cleaning supplies to unmarked or emptied food containers.
CHILD SAFETY Children are innately curious and can easily get into trouble in the kitchen the minute you turn your back. If you have young children, grandchildren or friends or relatives who visit with children, keep cabinets containing cleaning products and potent seasonings secured with a safety lock.
Never cook with a child in your arms or baby carried in a sling. Best to have a safety seat in the kitchen to secure the child while you are cutting food or cooking. Never leave a toddler loose in the kitchen when no adult is present and paying attention.
If children want to help with food preparation, give them age-appropriate tasks and supervise the undertaking. A 2-year-old can add cherry tomatoes to the salad; a 6-year-old can be taught how to cut soft vegetables; a 10-year-old may be able to slice meat.
Courtesy of New York Times.