Nine kitchen safety tips for the holidays

Unattended cooking is the #1 cause of kitchen fires, but that’s not the only thing that can go wrong in the kitchen. Considering how easy it is to get distracted while preparing food, especially in the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it’s important to practice kitchen safety.

We want to make sure you and your family have a happy and healthy holiday season! Here are nine holiday safety tips to ensure you and your family stay safe, and can enjoy all the delicious food you prepare together.

1. Don’t rinse a raw turkey

It’s a good standard practice to wash fresh produce before you eat it, but the same rule does not apply to meat. In fact, doing so may actually increase your risk for foodborne illness and infection. 

Many people think that if they rinse the turkey before they cook it, they’ll wash away harmful bacteria like Salmonella that poultry can contain. However, this practice actually causes bacteria-containing droplets to splash across the sink, cooking surfaces, utensils, and nearby food, contaminating the entire kitchen. This leads to bacteria in more areas than before you started, posing risk for cross-contamination. 

Instead, experts recommend patting the turkey with a paper towel before cooking and then washing your hands with soap and water. 

2. Stay organized

The holiday season often means that there are lots of ingredients in the kitchen, perhaps multiple ovens cooking at once, and sometimes many hands involved. This can easily lead to things being forgotten, misplaced and potentially mixed up. That’s why organization is key. 

Before you get all of your ingredients and kitchen equipment out, it’s important to first decontaminate all cooking surfaces, appliances and utensils. This ensures that harmful pathogens don’t contaminate the food you’re preparing.

It’s also important to wash your hands with soap and water for at least twenty seconds before cooking, and before you handle each new ingredient.

Focus on cooking one recipe at a time. It’s helpful to pull out all of the ingredients you need for a recipe and lay them out together, with the measuring tools needed. Then, when you’re done with one ingredient, you can put them away one by one without missing a step. This is also a good time to put used utensils in the dishwasher or the sink to wash for the next recipe.

3. Keep children, pets, and guests out of the kitchen

Ever heard the saying, “too many cooks in the kitchen?” This applies not only to those doing the cooking but also to just how many people may be present in the kitchen at one time. Too many people can be a hazard waiting to happen.

Why is this a kitchen safety rule? Every year, half a million people in the U.S. sustain a burn injury requiring medical treatment. Children are particularly susceptible to burns due to curiosity. Because of this, it’s important to either keep small children out of the kitchen or closely supervise them while you’re preparing a holiday meal -- especially when the stove is in use.

It’s also wise to keep pets out of the kitchen while you’re cooking, since they can pose a tripping hazard, and can accidentally knock hot ingredients off of the counter or stovetop.

4. Sharpen knives before use

Some of the most important kitchen safety guidelines involve utensils like knives. Lacerations (cuts) from knives are the most commonly sustained kitchen injury, affecting thousands of people in the U.S. every year. Many knife cuts require a trip to urgent care for stitches

To avoid ruining your holiday with a knife injury, take extra care when you’re handling these potentially dangerous utensils. Dull knives can be more dangerous than sharp ones. Sharpen your knives before using them to ensure they’re ready for slicing and dicing. 

Furthermore, safe knife handling is important. When you’re walking with a knife, hold it blade-down. Use a knife appropriate for the ingredient you’re cutting. Cut all food on a flat surface (like a cutting board). You'll be surprised how avocado hand injuries take place when people are careless. And when you set the knife down, make sure it’s a safe distance from the countertop’s edge.

5. Don’t leave appliances unattended

Kitchen safety means not leaving your cooking appliances unattended while they’re in use. 

By keeping a close eye on stoves, ovens and fryers, you’ll be able to intervene in the case of a faulty appliance, excess smoke, or fire. And you’ll also be able to ensure that pets and small children don’t sustain burn injuries due to lack of supervision.

6. Avoid cross-contamination with different cutting boards

Foodborne illnesses sicken millions of Americans each year, and cross-contamination is a major vehicle for germs in the kitchen like Salmonella and E.coli.

Cross-contamination occurs when you prepare something raw, like chicken, on a surface, and then use something else on that same surface without cleaning it between uses. For example, prepare raw chicken on a cutting board and then chop your veggies on that same board.

Instead, use two different cutting boards in this instance. If you don’t have two available, be sure to wash and dry the board well between the two different uses to prevent the spread of germs. 

7. Know fire safety

Four of the most common days for house fires in the U.S. fall on holidays: Thanksgiving, the day before Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Christmas Eve.

To improve safety in the kitchen, make sure you take precautions that ensure the safety of you and your loved ones. As mentioned before, never leave kitchen appliances unattended while they’re in use. Keep matches, lighters, and electrical cords out of children’s reach. Make sure your smoke detectors are in working order. Do not leave lit candles unattended. And keep a fire extinguisher nearby whenever you’re cooking.

8. Wear closed toe shoes

If you’re used to following a no-shoes-in-the-house rule, you may want to consider an exception when it comes to holiday cooking and kitchen safety rules. When toes are exposed, they’re more likely to sustain an injury in the kitchen.

Walking around the kitchen barefoot while preparing food can put your feet at risk for injuries from dropped utensils and knives, slipping on wet surfaces, or being burned by boiling water or hot oil. 

Consider wearing tennis shoes, sneakers, or slip-on with a rubber bottom to help you move around the kitchen quickly, safely, and with your toes and skin protected.

9. No metal utensils on non-stick pans

If you want to maintain the quality of your nonstick pans, and protect the safety of the food you’re preparing, don’t use metal utensils on them. 

This is because the metal can actually scrape off the nonstick surface of these pans over time. This removes the nonstick ability from the pan, and the material can also end up in your food while cooking, which can be toxic. Instead, use plastic, wood or silicone utensils on these pans as part of their regular care. 

Kitchen fires: what to expect

Nobody wants to experience a kitchen fire. But even when practicing safety in the kitchen, a kitchen fire can happen in the blink of an eye, whether it’s the result of grease, a faulty appliance or burning food. That’s why being prepared for emergencies is always a great holiday health tip. 

There are three main types of kitchen fires. 

  1. Grease fires, start when hot oil or fat comes in contact with something flammable.
  2. Electrical fires, which may occur when there’s faulty wiring or damaged appliances. 
  3. Combustible fires, which are flare-ups that occur when materials like fabric, plastic or paper easily light.

Always keep a fire extinguisher in or near your kitchen. If you have a fire in the kitchen, this is generally your first go-to tool to help put it out. Additionally, remove combustible materials from where you cook and keep a lid handy for any pots and pans. When cooking, pay attention to what’s on the stove or in the oven and don’t overheat your oil.

If a fire breaks out, turn off the stove or oven, cover the fryer or pan with a lid and douse the fire with either your extinguisher, salt or baking soda. Never use water to try and put out a kitchen fire as this can actually make it worse.

When cleaning up a kitchen fire, it’s a good idea to wear rubber gloves, goggles and a face mask to reduce the amount of carbon the air that you’re being exposed to. Additionally, if there’s fire damage, you will need to call a professional to help assess and make a cleaning and repair plan.

Kitchen burns

When working with hot liquids, steam or surfaces, there’s always a risk for kitchen burns. If you experience a burn, it may be mild to severe. While a first-degree burn is red but doesn’t blister, second-degree burn blisters and third-degree burn burns to the muscle and bone. 

If you get a mild burn in the kitchen, the first thing to do is run it under cool water or wrap it in a cool, damp cloth. Over-the-counter medication can help alleviate pain. Then, be sure to dry the burn with a clean sterile dressing. 

Generally, anything worse than a small, blistered second-degree burn requires immediate medical attention. If you’re unsure whether your burn needs attention, it’s always best to err on the side of caution.

Visit urgent care for any kitchen injury

Kitchen safety is important and accidents happen. We are prepared to help examine and treat any kitchen injury you may experience. Come visit us at any time! We want to help you heal up and return to enjoy the rest of your holiday season.

If you need help assessing and treating kitchen injuries, come see the experts at one of our urgent care locations. You can walk in without an appointment, or you can check in online. We’ll have you back to feeling better in no time.

Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant