We’ve all heard the horrifying stories of how dangerous a kitchen can be; people get burned by bacon grease left on a stovetop too long or spilling boiling water on themselves when they are distracted by something else going on. The five main kitchen hazards are ones that you probably encounter every day. So, what should families look out for?
For families, the five main kitchen hazards are:
1. Injuries from knives and other sharp objects
2. Burns from hot liquids
3. Burns from stovetops and ovens
4. Dangers from appliances and other food preparation surfaces
5. Foodborne illness
Let’s examine each potential danger in detail and work through the risk-prevention guidelines on eliminating injuries in the kitchen so you and your family can stay safe.
1. Injuries From Knives And Other Sharp Objects
According to a study conducted in the US, more than 800,000 knife-related injuries from 1990 to 2008 needed medical attention (52% of this statistic value was due to altercation-related events, like stabbing).
The most common knife-related injury in the kitchen involves accidentally chopping a finger, thumb, or hand lacerations. The study found that children are at substantial risk for injury when handling or playing with a knife.
Knife Injuries That Occur In The Kitchen
Knives are essential kitchen tools, but they must be handled with care.
It might sound a tad silly or even made up when someone tells you they walked into a knife, but it is not unheard of in the ER. It is extremely dangerous to leave sharp object countertops.
Small children are curious, and a sharp object on the edge of the countertop might just look like a fun thing to play with while mom or dad is busy elsewhere. Toddlers can be highly resourceful when they are bored.
Another risk of injury can occur during the post-meal clean-up, especially when you wash the dishes by hand. Be mindful of any sharp objects in the sink; by being hasty or distracted, you can easily grab the blade by mistake and cut your hand.
Sharpening your dull knives might sound like a greater hazard, but if you ever tried to slice a tomato with a blunt knife, you’ll have noticed that you have to press down harder to get through the tomato’s skin. You can accidentally cut yourself if your hold slips on the handle and moves down to the blade.
2. Burns From Hot Liquids
The most typical hot liquid injuries happen when boiling water in the kettle, milk boiling over while on the stovetop, oil splashing when frying, and steam burns. Some of these situations are purely accidental. However, most injuries are caused by negligence.
Avoid cooking in the kitchen when you are distracted, sick, on medication, or consuming alcohol or drugs. If you are hungry but shouldn’t be in the kitchen, it might be a better idea to call for delivery or ask someone for help.
There is a secondary risk of injuries where people slip on the spilled liquid on the floor. Just when you think that your day can’t get any worse, you just burn yourself with boiling water, and your way to treat your injury, slip on the water covering the floor and end up flat on your back – or worse, with a concussion.
Always keep a dish towel handy; when you do spill the liquid on the floor, you can quickly drop the towel on the mess and go in search of help without causing yourself additional harm.
While we want to teach our kids to be independent, we also need to remember that young kids are still refining their motor skills, and a four-year-old handling a heavy kettle filled with boiling water is an accident waiting to happen.
3. Burns From Stovetops And Ovens
Burns from stovetops and ovens happen every day across the US. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) imparts some startling insight on cooking fire statistics.
According to the Association:
- 49% of house fires result from cooking equipment, with a 21% death rate and 44% burn injuries.
- A whopping 66% of kitchen fires directly result from food ignition (or cooking materials), with 31% resulting from unattended cooking equipment.
Frying remains the top hazard in the kitchen, and families should be aware that holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter see the most burn injuries and kitchen fires.
NFPA also provides us with the following tips on how to avoid burns and prevent kitchen fires:
- Do not leave the room while you are frying, grilling, boiling, or broiling food
- Don’t stray too far while baking or roasting food in the oven. Always use an alarm clock or timer as a reminder that there is food in the oven
- Fire hazard items like oven mitts, long sleeves, wooden utensils, packaging, towels, paper, etc. should be kept away from open flames
4. Dangers From Appliances And Food Preparation Surfaces
Kitchen gadgets and countertops have potential health and safety risks that most people don’t think about until it’s too late. The two-part golden rule about all appliances is to read the manual before you use it and stay in the room while you use it.
The Dangers Connected To Kitchen Appliances
Accidental injuries while using kitchen appliances are more common than we think. Sometimes life gets us all tangled up, and we do things like put the coffee can in the fridge and leave the milk on the counter to spoil.
And other times, a piece of toast gets stuck in the toaster, and without thinking, you stick a metal butter knife in the slot to dislodge your breakfast, or you put your foil-wrapped burrito in the microwave.
Blender-related injuries are also a big concern in the kitchen; the blender’s blades are incredibly sharp. If you put your finger inside and accidentally switch on the blender, it can cause severe injuries – even just to quickly remove the strawberry stuck below the blade.
To avoid cuts while cleaning the blender, rinse it out thoroughly, add some lukewarm water, a squirt of dishwashing liquid, let it run for a minute, and rinse the soapy water from the container.
Don’t let young children work with any appliances when you are not in the kitchen to supervise. One of the leading kitchen-related injuries in children is burns. And, it’s not just obvious sources like hot pots on the stove or burns from bowls and plates that were in the microwave. Burns from hot tap water cause more deaths and hospitalizations than burns from any other hot liquids.
Is Electrical Shock From Appliances Common?
While knife injuries and burns are the most seen emergencies in the ER, electrical shock from appliances is a definite concern, more so in professional kitchens, but still a risk in a typical household.
To avoid possible electrocution, make sure there are no exposed wires, do not use wet hands when plugging the appliance’s power cord into the wall socket, or stick a butter knife in the toaster. Electric shocks can be fatal under the wrong circumstances.
Appliances Can Be Fire Hazards
According to insurance brokers, seven kitchen (and household) appliances routinely cause home fires due to either electrical issues, appliances switching on by themselves, or because people forget to switch it off before they leave. Keep an eye on the following gadgets, and make sure you check the wires now and then.
- Clothes dryers
- Microwave ovens
- Toaster and toaster ovens
- Washing machines
The Hazards Linked To Food Preparation Surfaces
Food preparation surfaces might seem innocent enough until someone puts a hot pot on a kitchen counter. Some countertops, such as granite, retain heat; once the hot pot is removed from the countertop, the granite will remain hot enough on that spot to cause minor burns.
It is a good idea to use heat pads for the sake of your skin and your preparation surfaces. The heat pads also serve as a visual reminder that this spot is meant for hot cookware and not hands.
Another issue people seem to neglect is sanitizing the countertops. Kitchens are one of the high traffic zones in your home where bacteria can spread quite quickly. Always keep a food-grade disinfectant near and clean the surface before and after every meal – even if you only had a bowl of cereal.
5. Foodborne Illness In The Kitchen
We touched a little on the need to sanitize your workstation above. But because a lack of proper kitchen hygiene can be dangerous and people appear to be widely misinformed about food poisoning, families should be aware of how deadly foodborne illnesses can be.
Which Foods Have A Greater Risk Of Causing Food Poisoning?
According to the CDC, the most common foods linked to foodborne illnesses are:
|Uncooked meat like chicken, turkey, beef, and pork||Campylobacter, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, E. coli, Yersinia|
|Undercooked seafood and raw shellfish||Norovirus, Vibrio bacteria|
|Uncooked or unwashed fruits and vegetables||Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria|
|Raw milk products||Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella|
|Unpasteurized raw eggs||Salmonella|
|Sprouts||Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria|
|Raw flour||It is not treated to kill germs before the product is supplied to consumers|
The bacteria that cause health problems can spread from one product to another, from one surface to another. Cleaning and adequately rinsing everything before and after adds another layer of protection for your family.
You might not think about it because you use these tools to clean with, but dishrags and sponges can spread germs all across the kitchen. Make sure you rinse your rags and sponges with a disinfectant to kill the bacteria that might be growing on them. An easy way to keep your sponges clean is to toss them in the dishwasher.
While on the topic of proper hygiene and the products we use to disinfect our homes, parents should be aware that another leading cause of death for children is poisoning. Make sure your small children cannot reach any cleaning products, even if they are labeled child and pet-friendly.
Kitchen Safety Guidelines And Precautions
Now that we know the five main kitchen hazards are so easily encountered, we also need to know what to do to eliminate – or at least limit – the associated risks. Here are the five main precautions to take:
- Switch it off
Even if you are just stepping away for a moment, switch off the stovetop burners or appliances.
If you get distracted or something else happens that delays your return, there is a considerable risk that something can go wrong, and if you are not there to control the situation, it can become life-threatening.
- Put it away
When you are finished with a sharp object, wash it, and put it away; this will eliminate any chance of accidents happening.
If you keep your sharp objects in a drawer instead of a block, consider buying knives that come with hard-plastic sleeves, it adds a layer of protection for when you grasp the blade by mistake.
It would be best if you remained sharp and alert when you were in the kitchen. Avoid distractions like your phone, television, or the neighbor’s third fight in as many days.
Accidents happen so quickly that they need a second of distraction to cause irreparable harm. When you are sick, on medication, or intoxicated, ask a family member or a friend to help you in the kitchen – a fuddled brain belongs in the bed.
- No-play zone
Don’t let your kids run around in the kitchen or play on the floor, especially when you can’t comply with numbers one and two above. Ideally, this would be your general practice regardless of whether or not someone is actually cooking.
Children run the highest risk of kitchen-related accidents because they cannot foresee the possible dangers ahead, nor can they react fact enough if you slip with a hot pot in your hands.
- Be prepared
Have “safety meetings” with your family and inform them of the kitchen rules above.
It is also good to have a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit with a burn shield in the kitchen. Remember to teach your kids how to call the emergency services if you cannot get to a phone to make the call yourself.
How Many Kitchen Injuries Occur Each Year?
A yearly estimate of around 100,000 kitchen injuries is reported, with burns and knife-related injuries as the top accidents. Electrical shocks and unsanitary conditions might be lower on the list, but households should still take it very seriously.
What’s the most common household injury for kids under 5 years old?
According to the University of Utah, the five most common injuries that small children are at risk for are: Drowning, Suffocation, Fires and burns, Falls, Poisoning.
Which Foodborne Illness Is Not Related To Cooking?
All Foodborne illnesses (also food poisoning) are caused by the contamination of food products with certain bacteria. Common foodborne illnesses include norovirus, salmonella, and listeriosis. Another condition labeled non-foodborne is the stomach flu (gastroenteritis) because it presents with some of the same symptoms as foodborne illnesses and can be confused with food poisoning.
How To Prevent Cross-Contamination In Your Kitchen?
The Minnesota Department of Health states that cross-contamination happens when you transfer bacteria from one object or place to another. To avoid spreading the bacteria, there are five basic steps you need to adhere to:
(1) Wash your hands before and after each meal preparation; (2) Wash all vegetables before and after peeling/cutting; (3) Disinfect all food preparation surfaces before and after each meal; (4) Make sure all cooking tools (including cutting boards) are clean; (5) Use separate cutting boards for meat, vegetables, and dairy.
Knives and sharp objects can cause severe injury. Hot liquids and food preparation surfaces may be scalding or potential burning hazards. Appliances such as grills and microwaves may also present a danger if misused.
Unfortunately, the human element and our propensity to negligence is the most dangerous combination in any kitchen; therefore, every family member needs to take precautions and avoid becoming victims of these common household injuries.