As someone correctly said "Safety is no accident."
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
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
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
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:
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
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
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!