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 and taking simple precautionary steps can help you to avoid an accident or subjecting your family to a bout of food poisoning.
5 Safety Tips to Avoid Kitchen Hazards
In order to stay safe in the kitchen, it's important to understand the potential dangers present in this area of your home. From sharp knives to hot stoves, learning to predict and prevent possible hazards can help you protect your family.
Use Knives Properly
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. Avoid distractions and focus on the task at hand.
- Grasp the knife handle firmly and lay your other hand on top of the knife to prevent any blade contact.
- 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, then lay the flat side down on your chopping block. This way, you can stabilize whatever item you are chopping.
- When picking up a knife, make sure you aren't holding anything else to avoid accidentally dropping the sharp blade.
Choose Appropriate Cooking Tools
To keep hot or sharp items from slipping or spilling, use the right cooking utensils. Be sure to:
- Keep utensils clean to prevent food contamination, but when hand drying or putting sharp utensils away, be especially cautious about where you place your hands.
- Use tongs to handle large, firm foods. When handling hot items, grasp them firmly and be mindful of splashing oil or water.
- Use tools with hand grips if you have a hard time firmly grasping your cooking tools.
- When using tools that have sharp edges, go slowly at first. Graters, zesters, and mandolins all have the potential to cut your fingers or hands if you aren't paying attention, or if misuse them.
Handle Hot Dishes With Care
Hot dishes can not only pose a risk to you, but also to 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. Make sure that 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 it on a heat-safe surface right away.
Be Prepared for Kitchen Fires
No one expects a kitchen fire to occur. But it is important to be prepared in case it happens. Take these steps to handle grease, microwave, stove, and electrical fires:
- Always watch food that is on the stove and double-check that you've turned appliances off when you are done using them.
- For microwave, stove, or oven fires, shut the door and turn the appliance off. If it is safe, unplug the appliance. If the fire continues or spreads, call the fire department immediately.
- Keep a small fire extinguisher in your kitchen to use on electrical fires or for other fires. Do not use water to extinguish an electrical fire.
- Use a pot pan or pour baking soda over the flames to smother grease fires. Water will not work and should not be used.
- When cooking near a gas flame, avoid wearing loose clothing that could catch fire.
Supervise 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:
- Don't let young children use knives, a blender, the stove, or anything else that could potentially cause an injury.
- If a child has long hair, tie it back to prevent it from catching on fire, getting caught in equipment, or blocking their view.
- Take an afternoon to teach older kids general kitchen safety tips, including how to use cooking utensils properly and how to put out a fire if an emergency occurs.
- Teach kids about washing their hands before and after handling raw foods.
- Teach your child to turn the handles of pots and pans away from their bodies so they don't accidentally knock them over.
- When using sharp or dangerous kitchen tools (like food processors or blenders) make sure to monitor the child at all times. Be clear about what is and isn't okay to do.
8 Safety Tips for Food Preparation
In addition to the hazards from heat and sharp objects, the kitchen also presents safety concerns surrounding food preparation. Improper food prep can lead to food poisoning like salmonella. Use these tips to prepare food safely for yourself and your family.
Shop With Safety in Mind
Food safety actually starts before you even get to the kitchen. At the grocery store, use these tips to guide your process:
- Do not buy dented or damaged cans.
- Do not buy meat in a torn or leaking package.
- Don't buy any food that is past the expiration date.
- Shop for your perishable foods last.
- When buying meat, put it in an extra plastic bag before placing it in your cart.
Store Your Food Properly
How you store your food is also an important part of kitchen safety. Use these storage rules to keep food from spoiling:
- Keep your refrigerator temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the freezer below zero degrees.
- Refrigerate food within one to two hours, depending on room temperature.
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
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 and Seafood 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 freeze and thaw meat safely. Otherwise, you put your family at risk for food poisoning.
The USDA recommends that you keep a thermometer in the freezer to monitor the temperature. You can store meat and seafood in its original packaging but for long-term storage, they recommend that you double wrap it. Be especially careful to double wrap any package that has been torn or has been opened.
To thaw food properly, the USDA advises that you thaw food in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. They specifically advise that you do not thaw in areas such as a garage, basement, car, dishwasher, out on the kitchen counter, outdoors, or on a porch.
According to the USDA, 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. Follow these guidelines to avoid cross-contamination.
- 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 prepping 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 Safely With Oils
Many people use oils when cooking meat, poultry, seafood, and veggies.
To prevent injury:
- Heat oil slowly to avoid splashing, which can lead to minor burns.
- When putting food into a hot 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.
- When cleaning a pot or pan, let it cool completely first. Remember to use potholders to check the pan's temperature and 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.
Cook Food Thoroughly
Although a chicken breast or other dish may appear "done," it isn't always safe to eat. Testing the internal temperature of your food 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, use a cooler or thermos to help keep food at a safe temperature.
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.
4 Quick Tips for Small Kitchen Appliances
Small kitchen appliances are convenient and are typically easy to clean. To ensure your safety while using these handy gadgets 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 your first use.
Never overfill a pressure cooker. The cooker's manual will provide guidance on how much food you can use in your device. 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-Pot or Slow Cooker
Slow cookers (such as those made by Crock-Pot) heat food evenly and warm the food once cooked, making it safer to consume. Always use your slow cooker on a heat-safe, flat surface without other items nearby. Always clean your slow cooker thoroughly once it has cooled down.
Be sure to not overfill the water tank when prepping your device to make coffee. Then take caution when the coffee is ready. Pour coffee by holding the heat-safe handle and pouring 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.
Always place your toaster oven 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.
5 Cleaning Practices for a Safe Kitchen
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, poultry, seafood, 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 as wood cannot be sanitized in the dishwasher. When in doubt, soak utensils in a bleach/water solution to rid them of pathogens.
Use Paper Towels for Hands
Paper towels are safer for drying than cloth dish towels for use on your hands and for cleaning up spills. Cloth 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.
Take Time for Kitchen Safety
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.