How to Prevent Kitchen Injuries

Welcome to the very first post in our Cooking School series. Here you will find tips and tricks on a wide variety of subjects from cooking techniques to basic knife skills, tool selection and tips on how to identify quality ingredients.

You don’t have to attend culinary school to be a whiz in the kitchen; however, there is a lot to be learned from the professionals. Whether you are a beginner cook or have been tending the stoves for decades, this series will both boost your confidence in the kitchen and inspire you to try new things.

Welcome! Tie on your apron and sharpen those knives–no wait! Read this post first, then reach for your knife.

The Importance of Kitchen Safety

You may be wondering why we are starting this series with safety tips. I believe that safety awareness is a very important first step for the home cook, rather like reading a safety manual before you operate a new appliance. Also, safety in the kitchen was a topic that was discussed on my very first day of culinary school, although at first I didn’t understand why….

Aimée’s Culinary School, Day 1

There we were, 23 fresh-faced and eager students, ready to jump into the kitchen and start glazing éclairs… but instead we had to sit and listen to a lecture about safety.

This is silly.” I remember thinking to myself, “Everyone knows these fundamentals.” But then a young punk a few seats over from me raised his hand to speak. There was something about the gleam in his eyes that made me uncomfortable, and his voice had a controlled excitement that was unsettling.

Have you ever had anyone, like, fall face first onto the griddle?” He asked the instructor, slamming his entire torso down onto his desk in physical demonstration.

The girls in the class gasped, the guys chuckled; the face of our petite, five-foot-zero instructor didn’t move above her starched white chef’s coat and she disinterestedly informed him that, no, they hadn’t.

He wasn’t finished.

What about blenders?” He brandished an invisible knife, “Has anyone ever, like, thrust a big knife into a running blender?”

The teacher wasn’t fazed by his dramatic demonstration; however, I made a mental note to stay far, FAR away from this thrill-seeker. Fortunately, I didn’t have to worry about him for long; he left the program after a few weeks.

I guess it wasn’t exciting enough for him.

It certainly emphasized why we were starting our module with “Safety” and was a disturbing reminder that, yes, kitchen injuries can be gruesome.

Essential safety tips

It’s no secret that the kitchen is a zone filled with objects that can burn, cut, and seriously injure the body. Fortunately, by adopting good work habits such as those listed below as well as being attentive and cautious at all times, these kinds of injuries can be avoided.

Steps to take as soon as possible

  • Keep a small fire extinguisher handy.
  • Keep a first-aid kit handy and keep it well stocked.
  • Install a child-proof latch for cleaning products under the sink.
  • Invest in a sturdy stool to reach high shelves and out of the way places. We love Bekväm from Ikea.
  • Keep a list of emergency phone numbers posted in a visible place.

Begin by implementing what you can immediately, such as compiling a list of emergency phone numbers or assembling a first-aid kit. Then look through the rest of the list and make a note of items to purchase. Make it a priority to pick up a sturdy stool, a latch for the cupboards or whatever you are missing and don’t put off installation.

Actions to integrate into daily cooking

  • Keep fridge/freezer organized and not overly stocked to prevent objects from falling when the door is opened. Same for the pantry and cupboards, especially the upper shelves.
  • Keep the underside of your stove range hood clean, and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for changing and/or cleaning the filter regularly to avoid a grease fire.
  • Always chop on a stable, non slip surface. Professional’s TIP: Place a damp dish towel or rag under your cutting board to prevent it from shifting about on the counter.
  • Position pot & pan handles inwards and not protruding out from the stove, where they could be bumped or grabbed by little hands.

Assess your cupboards, fridge and stove the next time you open them and follow these suggestions for safety. It will only take a minute!

Safety tips to remember at all times

  • Clean up spills the moment they happen.
  • Always check that small appliances are switched to ‘Off’ before plugging in.
  • Unplug appliances as soon as you are finished using them.
  • Never try to catch a falling knife. EVER.
  • Use equipment for its intended purpose only.
  • Position oven racks correctly before preheating the oven–it’s much easier to do when they are cold.
  • Never adjust an oven rack while there is a casserole or tray of food on it.
  • Never place a dirty knife in soapy dishwater where it becomes hidden and can be a hazard for the dishwasher’s hands.
  • Stay close to the stove when cooking over high heat.
  • Keep a pot-holder or towel over the handle of a pot or pan that has just come out of the oven in case you forget the handle is hot and try to grab it.
  • Keep knives and other sharp objects away from the kitchen counter’s edge where they can fall or be reached by children.
  • If you must walk with a knife, keep it tip down, at your side.

Print this list and keep it visible for a few weeks in the kitchen as a reminder. Share the list with anyone else who is regularly in the kitchen, such as older children or your partner.

Implement, Practice and Share

By incorporating these safety practices into your daily life, they will eventually become habit and your kitchen will be a safer place because of it!

Which habits do you practice to ensure that your kitchen stays safe?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites.

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Comments

  1. Great tips, Aimee. Now that my children are getting older and more active in the kitchen I’m becoming more away of practicing good kitchen safety in order to be a good model for them. My almost ten-year-old is interested in making some foods that require a knife, so we’re working on how to do so properly. I forgot about putting a damp cloth under the cutting board, so I will pass that trick on to him next time we’re in the kitchen together.
    .-= Jan (Family Bites)’s last blog: Orangettes =-.

  2. A good set of insulated oven mitts and/or pot holders are a must have in every kitchen. Never use to remove hot pans if they are damp. I know from experience that the heat transfers from a damp oven mitt right to your hand. Ouch! Remembering to lift the lid from a boiling pot away from your face will prevent unexpected and painful steam burns and long sleeves, if must be worn, should be rolled up when working around a hot oven or stove.

  3. I have cut myself on a knife hidden at the bottom of soapy water and every time I think of my home-economics teacher lecturing us on not doing this. I would have to add if you have a mandolin slicer always, always, always use the safety holder, don’t hold the food with your hands.
    .-= Marci’s last blog: Flashlight Walk =-.

  4. Jenni @ My Web of Life says:

    Your description of the morbid classmate reminds me of a series of workplace safety commercials that ran up here in Canada last year.One showed a chef walking with a large stockpot of boiling water, slipping on some grease on the floor, and scalding her face and arms. It was a shocking commerical and her screams alone were horrific (the Candian government knows how to get a point across), but it absolutely caught my attention and is one of the things I am extremely cautious of in the kitchen. We have a firm rule in our house of no running through the kitchen while mom is cooking. I have a phobia that I will be carrying a pot of steaming pasta to the sink and trip over someone.
    Thanks for the safety tips. I personally have sliced my hand open with a knife hiding in the soapy sink water. That is a mistake I will not repeat!
    .-= Jenni @ My Web of Life’s last blog: Has Your Family Been Outside Today? =-.

    • SO many kitchen injuries happen as you describe, Jenni. I always holler ‘HOT!’ before I more a pot. It’s habit from my restaurant days.

  5. If you have small kids around, use only the back two burners on your stove top. Those little hands then have to reach much further to make contact with a hot pot or element.

  6. Thanks for the sensible reminders, Aimee. Because I have a little dog who is very interested in what’s cooking in the oven (he’ll stand up to look in the oven door window to monitor the progress of cookies :) ), I got into the very bad habit of opening the oven door just enough to stick my arm in and grab whatever pan was inside and pull it through the narrow opening. Needless to say, this resulted in numerous painful skin contacts with the top element. So, my tip is to always open the oven door all the way when you’re removing or tending to a pan. (Just make sure curious pets–or toddlers–are busy elsewhere.)

    • Oh my, ouch! It seems every time I go to open the oven, my toddler is hovering by my elbow (looking for cookies, perhaps?). I’m working on ways to distract him.

  7. I’ll never forget the Thanksgiving when my aunt ended up in the ER after cleaning up–she did cut herself on a knife hidden in the soapy sink water. Not fun!

    These tips are especially helpful for those of us teaching little ones how to stay safe in the kitchen-thanks!

    Jamie

  8. Ashley @ Just Another Mom of 2 says:

    Oh my goodness about the thrill-seeker in your cooking class. I guess it’s not surprising he didn’t last! These tips are great, especially about cleaning up spills immediately. It is all to easy to forget about that, especially with little ones around. I am no whiz in the kitchen, but I have quickly learned with two young children the importance of safety!
    .-= Ashley @ Just Another Mom of 2′s last blog: Aloha Friday- and Friday Follow! =-.

  9. A couple of things:

    - Always unplug an immersion blender before cleaning it. (It’s very tempting to just give it a swish while it’s plugged in, but it’s very easy to accidentally hit the switch — so UNPLUG even if you’re going to use it again right away.)

    - When kids are around, always point pot handles inwards so the tykes won’t be able to reach up and grab them.

    - Wash knives by hand without dropping them into a watery sink, and store in a knife block not a drawer. This is not just for safety, it’s to preserve the sharp edge of the blade.
    .-= Blork’s last blog: Ripped Off? =-.

    • Great point about the immersion blender, Blork. That could get ugly.

    • I learned this one the hard way! The immersion blender was plugged in and I stuck my finger into it to scoop something out, only to hit the on button with my other hand. Carnage in the kitchen. To this day I have almost no feeling around the bottom of my nail bed on that finger, due to nerve damage.

      Kitchen safety seems so obvious… until you make one stupid mistake! :) Great post.
      .-= Hilary’s last blog: Be mine =-.

      • 1 week ago today I did the unthinkable and was cleaning out creamed cheese from the blades of my immersion blender and must have accidentally hit the on button with the thumb of my other hand. I heard and felt the blender hit my left index finger and thought I had broken my finger. But when I looked down it was much worse. I amputated my finger between the first and second joint and it could not be reattached. Hoping the stitches will come out tomorrow and the splint will be off. In over 50 years of baking I have never done anything this foolish. So please! If you are using an immersion blender, UNPLUG it before getting anywhere near the blades. The power and sharpness can cut through bone, and in my case they did. At least 3 months expected for recovery as well as physical therapy.

  10. Great tips, Aimee!

  11. Great tips! Thanks for the fire extinguisher reminder. I so need to get that done!

  12. I’d like to add the suggestion for an oven lock. My daughter (who is almost 2) tries to open the cabinets (all locked), dishwasher (locks by nature) and the oven. We have this one from Safety First… http://tinyurl.com/ykrt7hk and it works great!!

  13. Great posts and all. But c’mon, now, where’s the FOOOD! I thought this was a food blog. Am I wrong?

  14. Could you give advice on how to keep the underside of the stove range clean? Given the position I find it very difficult since cleaners just drip off.

  15. When an appliance has a safety guard – use it. I know several people who have used their mandolin without it and gotten fingertips chopped and had to go to ER. Open the oven all the way when removing items so it doesn’t come back and hit you. This happened to me and I got a seriously bad burn.

  16. Great post Aimee. I would add be appropriately dressed when working in the kitchen. No dangling sleeves or jewelry. Close-toed slip resistant shoes.

  17. In my kitchen I spend a lot of time looking down. Our kitchen is poorly designed and often ends up with a lot of traffic. I’ve taken to announcing any moves I plan on making and looking down and around me before I move. Too many small bodies around, sneaky ones that easily trip you up!
    .-= Cheryl Arkison’s last blog: Chocolate And Friendship Day =-.

  18. Speaking of safety, please be mindful of the ongoing threat posed by accidentally turning on kitchen garbage disposals. Children (and even absent-minded adults) unintentionally flip wrong switches, thinking they switched on a light or some other device instead. It’s so common, fingers being caught in whirling disposal blades during the holidays is more prevalent than many realize (or choose to disclose). Toggle switch identifiers, such as those in safety products like “Which Switch?” can minimize this problem – and save energy and appliance life by positively identifying the right switch for the right appliance.

    Have a Safe Day!
    CP

  19. Trying to get the last little nub of a potato through my mandolin slicer, I cut my thumb. It looked like a very minor injury, but soon began throbbing to the point that it required a dose of prescription migraine medicine to get it to ease off. A week later it is still sore. Why would such a small injury hurt so much?

  20. I never think this much kitchen safety. In my house 2 kids so your tips useful to me.

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