Cooking with a Dash of Caution

Cooking is fun and creative-and demands your full attention to avoid some common kitchen injuries.

(Chris was in a hurry and figured that the frozen cake would thaw faster if he cut it into pieces. On the fourth slice, the knife slipped and made a deep cut in his hand.

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“Seeing your bone is really gross,” he remembers.

A woman saw smoke coming from her neighbor’s house and immediately called 911 since she knew no one was home. Fire officials said food left cooking on the stove caught fire and spread to the cabinets, causing more than $2,500 in damage.

The kitchen is a favorite and most frequently used part of most homes. It’s also one of the most dangerous rooms in the house. Look around–knives, flames, hot grease, boiling liquids, hot pans. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, every year more than 60,000 fires are caused by food left unattended on the stove. Emergency room workers see so many knife wounds to the palm of the hand that they call them “bagel injuries.”

Answer the true/false questions below to see how savvy you are in the kitchen.

The Cutting Edge

1. You get fewer cuts with a dull knife than you do with a sharp one.

2. Never soak sharp knives in a pan or sink of soapy water.

3. Cutting toward you is safer because it gives you more control over the knife.

The answers:

1. False. You have to put more pressure on a dull knife, and there’s more chance of it slipping and cutting you.

2. True. You can’t see a knife under the soapy water, and when you reach in, you may cut yourself. Wash sharp knives individually and rinse them right away.

3. False. If the knife blade is pointing away from you, there’s less danger of being cut if the knife slips.

Tips for using knives:

* If you drop a knife, don’t try to catch it. Step aside and let it fall to the floor.

* Don’t leave sharp knives loose in a drawer. Store them in a knife holder instead.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat …

1. You can save time by making a quick phone call while waiting for a pan to heat up.

2. If a fire starts in an oven, closing the oven door is the best way to put out the flames.

3. If grease in a pan catches on fire, quickly extinguish it with a glass of water.

The answers:

1. False. You can easily get involved in the phone conversation and forget about the pan on the stove until the smoke alarm goes off.

Firefighters hear the comment, “I put the pan on the stove and then the phone rang and I forgot.” If you have to make or answer a quick phone call while cooking, use a cordless phone if you have one. Bring it to the stove, and don’t let your conversation distract you from the job.

2. True. The oven is designed for high heat. Closing the door cuts off the oxygen supply and the fire will be suffocated.

3. False. Throwing water on a grease fire causes the grease to splatter (it may hit you), and it spreads the fire. The best way to put out a grease fire is to put a lid over the pan.

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Tips for using the stove:

* Never carry a pan of hot grease or oil to the sink or outside. It will get too hot to carry. You could drop the pan and burn yourself.

* If you do suffer a burn, put the burned area under cool running water. Don’t cover the bum with butter; try treatment with aloe vera (see sidebar) instead.

*If you leave a hot lid on the counter, put a potholder on it so others will know it is hot.

Mastering the Microwave

1. You don’t need a potholder for handling dishes used in a microwave oven because they remain cooler than in a regular oven.

2. Any glass container can be used in a microwave oven.

3. Let foods cooked in a microwave cool for a few minutes before eating.

The answers:

1. False. The oven itself doesn’t heat up, but the container usually does. Many people have received severe burns after touching a hot container in the microwave.

2. False. Before you use a glass container in a microwave for the first time, test it by microwaving it for one minute. If it is warm, it is probably unsafe for microwave use.

3. True. Moist parts of food, such as the jelly in a jelly doughnut, heat more quickly than other parts. Letting the food sit for a minute or two allows the heat to be distributed evenly throughout the food.

Microwave tips:

* Don’t use the microwave for deep-fat flying or heating baby bottles.

* Open the lid of a microwave container away from you to avoid a steam burn.

Spills, Trips, and Other Hazards

1. It’s more efficient to clean up spills after you are finished cooking.

2. Leaving the dishwasher door open while you cook is no problem.

3. Young children should never be in the kitchen.

The answers:

1. False. That pat of butter you dropped could become a slippery hazard as you move about the kitchen.

2. False. Tripping over the door of the dishwasher will not only give you a nasty cut on your shin, it also may destroy the dishwasher door.

3. True and false. If you can’t supervise them or provide for their safety, young children should not be in the kitchen. If there is a safe place for them to watch, most children love to see what’s going on and to take part by doing such things as tearing lettuce or buttering rolls.

Remember: Have fun cooking, approach the kitchen with respect, and don’t get distracted. Focus your full attention on the masterpiece you are creating!

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