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Be the safest cook in the kitchen

November 19, 2019
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For most of us, the holidays equal food — sweet treats to share with neighbors and big meals that gather friends and family to savor togetherness — and, of course, favorite dishes. However, all that extra time in the kitchen means you have to pay special attention to potential safety risks. Here are some common kitchen mishaps that cooks face — whether they are professional or novice — and advice to prevent them.

Burns
From a pot of boiling potatoes to cookie sheets emerging from the oven, potential burn hazards abound during the holiday season. Keep yourself and everyone in the kitchen safe with these tips:

Cook on back burners when possible.

  • Turn pot handles toward the back to avoid accidental spills.
  • Always use oven mitts when removing items from the stove or oven.
  • Keep away from a hot pan when you remove the lid to avoid steam burns.
  • Pour hot liquids carefully to avert splashes.

If you do receive a minor burn, run it under cold water, apply an antiseptic spray or ointment, and bandage it loosely. Don't hesitate to seek treatment if the burn is larger than two to three inches; is on your face, hands, feet or a joint; or if you see fluid oozing from it.

Fires
The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates an average of 1,400 cooking fires occur on Thanksgiving Day alone. Don't let your holiday go up in smoke; take these precautions:

  • Make sure you keep flammable items like pot holders, towels, napkins, aprons and food packaging away from the stove or any open flames.
  • Wear short or close-fitting sleeves.
  • Never use an extension cord with a cooking appliance; plug it directly into an outlet.
  • Be sure you have a working fire extinguisher in the kitchen.

Cuts
Knives make quick work of dicing veggies for your savory meals, but they also can make quick work of your fingers if you're not careful. Believe it or not, a dull knife is more hazardous than a sharp one, as it can slip more easily. Place the food on a flat surface (never your palm) before chopping. You also can try curling your fingers under when chopping, which will leave your knuckles exposed rather than your fingertips.

If your knife does slip, treat a cut by cleaning the wound under cool running water and bandaging it. Seek treatment if the cut is deep or long, or has jagged edges, or if you can't get the bleeding to stop with direct pressure.

Mini-chef safety
What kid can resist the allure of holiday baking? But if you have a little helper, it's important to remember to focus on him or her exclusively. "Simply being in the same room as a child is not necessarily supervising. An actively supervised child is in sight and in reach at all times," notes Dwayne Smith of Safe Kids Colorado in an article for Children's Hospital Colorado. Of particular concern is the potential for cuts and burns, since their skin is thinner than adults'. For the youngest kiddos, start with tasks such as assembling, measuring, pouring and mixing ingredients, gradually adding more involved tasks as they mature.

Slips
Even the most careful cook is bound to spill when working around food and liquids. That's why commercial kitchens use nonslip matting on their floors. You may not have nonslip matting, but you can replicate the grip aspect by always wearing shoes in the kitchen — but avoid open toes or smooth soles. If you do spill, clean it up right away so that the floor is always clean and dry. And avoid running in the kitchen or having clutter underfoot (kids and pets included!).

Food safety
Commercial kitchens have to adhere to specific food safety measures, and your home kitchen should do the same to help prevent the spread of contamination and bacteria. FoodSafety.gov offers four simple guidelines to remember:

  • Clean: Wash hands, utensils, counters and other surfaces often.
  • Separate: Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs separate from other ingredients, as they can easily spread bacteria.
  • Cook: Make sure that you cook all food to the appropriate temperature by using a food thermometer.
  • Chill: Don't leave leftovers out — refrigerate them promptly to avoid the growth of bacteria that cause food poisoning.

Cooking can be an especially memorable part of your holiday celebration, but adhering to basic safety practices will ensure you remember it for all the right reasons. And if you oversee a commercial kitchen, rely on Pinnacol Assurance to help you make safety your No. 1 job.

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