How safely do you use your kitchen?
No matter how it’s been designed or how old or new it is, the kitchen is a place where it pays to be safety-conscious.
JMI Bathrooms and Kitchens of Bristol brings you a commonsense guide to the safe use of your kitchen space. Please feel free to share widely!
According to an oft-parroted adage of British folklore, most accidents happen in the home. However, a study of 26,310 patients admitted with injuries to an Oxford hospital between January 2012 and August 2013 found that only 41% of the patients had suffered their injuries in accidents at home. That’s not a majority, but it’s still two in every five, and statistically the most frequent single setting for serious accidents, with accidents during leisure outside the home coming second at 25%, and road accidents third at 15%.
There are potential injury hazards throughout the average home, but the kitchen affords some of the more obvious ones.
In this article, we explore ten potential danger areas in your kitchen. While some may feel that common sense is enough to use a kitchen safely, experience shows that not everyone is equally careful.
Being aware of what can potentially go wrong may be the best way to be forearmed by ensuring that you take appropriate precautions against everything from minor accidents to catastrophic outcomes.
Top Ten Kitchen Safety Tips
1. Electrical safety in the kitchen
Make sure that there are no bare live wires in your kitchen or cooker. If you come into contact with them, either directly or via water that has got onto them, a serious electric shock could result.
You should also make sure you have a proper residual current device installed on your electrical consumer unit.
2. Good food hygiene practice in the kitchen
2.i: Hygienic Preparation of Raw Meat and Fish
Be mindful of the fact that raw meat, fish and shellfish carry some very dangerous bacteria that can cause severe food poisoning or even death. If you prepare them in your kitchen, anything they have come into contact with, including your hands, the sink, chopping boards, knives and the kitchen worktop, and anything else onto which juices from the meat or fish could potentially have splashed, will need to be thoroughly cleaned and sterilised before it is safe to use again.
2.ii: Storing and Reheating Meat, Fish, Seafood and Rice
Also be careful with storing and subsequently reheating meat, fish, seafood and rice you have cooked. It is generally considered safe to reheat them only once, and then only if they have been placed in the refrigerator at a maximum temperature of 5 degrees centigrade as soon as they have cooled to room temperature after cooking. You should not keep them refrigerated for more than 48 hours before reheating. After that time, any remaining should be thrown away in your compost.
2.iii: Hygienic Washing of Hands
Always wash your hands thoroughly before you prepare or serve food, and after touching the bin lid, door handle or other potentially dirty items during the time you are preparing meals, even if you already washed them once before you started.
2.iv: Hygienic Use of Dishcloths and Rinsing of Dishes
Think carefully about your hygiene when washing up. Dirty dishcloths, sponges and scouring pads can be stores of bacteria and transfer them readily to items you are trying to clean with them. You should rinse them thoroughly with hot water between uses, and preferably replace them once a week. Always rinse items you have washed with a dishcloth under the tap, before you leave them to dry (it is surprising how many people don’t bother to rinse).
2.v: Pet Food Hygiene
Do not keep open pet food containers in your fridge above or alongside human food, or in the door – there is a risk of contaminating human food with ingredients that do not meet human food safety standards. Don’t feed your pets on plates and dishes that are also used by your family – always use dedicated dishes or feeding containers that everyone in your household knows are only for the pets. It’s also a good idea to wash them with dedicated dishcloths separate from the ones you use for human food, and if you have a separate sink in a utility room, it’s safer to wash them there rather than in your main kitchen sink.
2.vi: Food Packaging Hygiene
Rinse any sealed, water-impermeable food packages, especially around the opening, e.g. around the metal lids of tins and cans, and around the tops of bottles and cartons, before you open them – either as soon as you bring them home from the grocery store or supermarket (in which case they will need time to dry before you store them in your cupboards), or, perhaps more practically, immediately before you open them and start to use their contents. They may have been handled by multiple individuals with dirty hands before you picked them up in the store, or even warehoused in unhygienic conditions before they reached the store. If you don’t rinse them before opening them, there is a risk of transferring impurities and germs into the contents as soon as you open them – or onto other food you are preparing via your hands. It is also advisable either to rinse sealed food packages before you place them in your refrigerator so that they can’t contaminate food stored nearby without coverings – or to make sure that all open food in your fridge is kept fully enclosed and covered.
2.vii: Keeping Refrigerators Clean
Refrigerators can be a fertile breeding ground for harmful bacteria, including E.coli, listeria and salmonella. They should always be kept no warmer than five degrees centigrade, and you should empty and clean them out thoroughly with hot water at regular intervals (ideally once a month) to make sure that they are kept properly sanitised.
2.viii: Keeping Kitchen Worktops and Kitchen Sinks Clean
Worktops used for preparing food, and your kitchen sink, should be regularly and thoroughly cleaned, preferably every day before you start cooking.
3. Gas cooker safety in the kitchen
Natural gas can be toxic and cause loss of consciousness if inhaled in large amounts following a gas leak. It can also explode when it comes into contact with a flame from any source, potentially causing serious burns or even death.
You should take care to ensure that the gas taps serving your gas hob or oven are fully off whenever you or others in your home have stopped cooking.
When you turn on the supply of gas to a gas ring or oven, start it at a low level, and be sure then to ignite the gas immediately and safely.
Many older gas cookers require the use of manual ignition methods such as by using a portable spark-generator or cooks’ matchsticks. These should be handled with great care to make sure that you don’t accidentally burn your fingers. Most modern gas cookers have built-in ignition facilities that can be activated repeatedly at the press of a button.
Ideally, any gas cooker should be switched off completely when not in use, especially if you live with children who could otherwise reach the gas taps and might be tempted to play with them. You should always switch off your gas cooker and other conventional gas appliances such as heaters before you go to sleep or leave the house.
4. Safety with kitchen knives
Kitchen knives are designed to be very sharp, so as to handle all the demands of chopping and cutting hard vegetables and tough meat.
Large kitchen knives pose a potentially fatal stab hazard, and should always be stored out of the reach of children and any other individuals who could be a danger to themselves or to you.
Kitchen knives with serrated blades can very easily and severely cut your fingers, and should never be used to cut vegetables or fruit while they are held in your hands. Always use them with a chopping board if you must use them at all. Small kitchen knives with flat blades are much safer for these tasks.
Be very careful when carrying sharp knives around your kitchen or dining area not to drop them, not to trip or fall, and not to pass closely by other people with the knife facing them. In any of these situations, a single unexpected movement or loss of grip or balance could cause a serious injury.
5. Safe high storage in your kitchen
For the sake of optimally using your available kitchen space, you may be tempted to store heavy or fragile items of kitchen equipment, glass storage jars, sharp knives, or miscellaneous boxes high up towards the top of your cupboard or shelf space, or even on the very top of your cupboards. This kind of storage arrangement presents a potential hazard every time you move or replace one of these items.
If the item is heavy and you have to climb on a chair to reach it, you might fall, sprain your neck, injure your spine, or drop it.
If it is fragile, you might drop it in such a way that it falls onto your worktop and shatters. If a heavy item falls from high in your kitchen, it could also displace and smash fragile objects it falls onto, potentially causing you indirect injury.
Try to store only light and non-fragile items high in your kitchen, to minimise the risk of these kinds of unfortunate accident.
6. Safety with glassware and porcelain in the kitchen
Glass and porcelain cookware and drinkware are beautiful elements in our kitchen inventories whose practicality we largely take for granted. They are also essentially fragile, however, and when they do smash, it can be sudden and explosive, with shards of very sharp glass flying in all directions, potentially causing serious injury and bleeding to your hands, face, neck, feet, or other exposed parts of your body.
It is advisable always to wear socks and shoes or slippers when active in the kitchen, so as to protect your feet in the event of an accident.
Do not allow children to handle fragile items without very close and constant supervision.
7. Safe lifting and moving of heavy kitchen fixtures
Cookers, and white goods such as dishwashers, washing machines, tumble dryers, refrigerators and freezers are extremely heavy, and you should not attempt to lift them alone or if you have any weakness in your spine or any heart condition.
Even if you handle these items together with a friend, partner or family member, if one of you moves unexpectedly it could cause a serious back injury to the other. Unless you are very experienced and confident with moving heavy items, it is generally safest to hire teams of professional installers and removals people to move these fixtures.
8. Safety with ovens and electric hobs
When you heat up an oven to bake food, the temperature inside can typically reach 180 to 230 degrees centigrade. This is a very dangerous level of heat, and you should bear in mind these precautions:
Keep your face a safe distance from the oven door when you are opening or closing it, and do so slowly, so you do not receive an uncomfortable blast of hot air in your face.
Always wear thick, high-quality padded oven gloves in a good state of repair when placing food dishes in the oven or taking them out from it. You can still get seriously burned through old, thin and threadbare oven gloves, so inspect them carefully first to make sure they are safe.
When placing food in the oven, removing it from the oven, or moving it within the oven, be slow and careful in your movements, and watch your hands at all times to make sure that you do not accidentally touch any part of the oven or its trays, as they will be extremely hot and quick conductors of heat to your skin, potentially causing you serious burns.
Grip any vessel you remove from a hot oven firmly to make sure that you do not drop it, but once it is out of the oven space, move it relatively quickly to a mat or heat-safe worktop and put it down. The longer you hold a hot dish from the oven, the more time the heat has to penetrate through to your hands, even if you are wearing very good oven gloves.
Also be mindful of the fact that electric rings and hobs run very hot and are highly conductive of their heat to fingers, elbows or anything else that comes into contact with them. Depending on the design, they also tend to stay hazardously hot for some time after you switch them off, even when they are no longer visibly red. Make sure you keep toddlers and young children safely out of the way.
9. Safety with frying pans and chip pans
Cooking oils and fats fried on your stove can in some circumstances catch light.
Chip pans have a particularly poor safety record, with over 10,000 chip pan fires recorded every year in the UK, almost half of them leading to injuries, and about fifty to fatalities. Fully enclosed deep fat fryers are a safer alternative.
Whenever you are frying, you should constantly monitor the oil to make sure that it doesn’t dry up or catch light.
Always have a fire blanket at the ready in your kitchen so that any cooking oil fire can be smothered out fast.
10. Avoiding slips and falls in your kitchen
You should take care to ensure that any liquids spilled on the floor are cleared up immediately. It can be extremely dangerous to slip and fall in the kitchen.
Also make sure that when you wash the kitchen floor, you open the window and allow it time to dry thoroughly before the next time someone uses the kitchen.