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The holidays often involve lots of time in the kitchen preparing grand feasts for family and friends. With extra people in the kitchen and so much food going into the oven and simmering on the stovetop, accidents can happen.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires, followed by Christmas and Christmas Eve. Some of the most common culprits are scalding burns from spilling or being splashed by grease or boiling liquids. These cooking-related burns are often deep and severe, so it’s important to take special care to avoid injury.
During the flurry of holiday activity, you may be tempted to rush or cut corners. But by following a few simple steps and knowing what to do if accidents happen, you’ll be able to focus on family—and food!—without the need for a trip to the hospital.
5 tips to avoid burns in the kitchen.
While some of these tips may seem like common sense, we all could use a reminder from time to time.
1. Watch out for children and pets.
Be mindful of where they are, and keep them out of the kitchen if they’re too young to understand the dangers. Don’t try to prepare or handle hot food or beverages while holding a child, and make sure hot items and pot handles are well out of their reach.
Furry friends can pose a hazard in the kitchen, too. For their safety and yours, monitor your pets’ whereabouts—or keep them out of the kitchen entirely. Tripping over the puppy with your hands full of hot food is a recipe for disaster.
2. Wear proper clothing.
Before you start making that delicious meal you have planned, look at what you’re wearing.
Do you have shoes on? If you spill something hot or grease begins spattering, you’ll want your feet protected.
Are you in short sleeves? Long, close fitting sleeves will protect your skin from grease splattering. However, don’t wear baggy or loose shirts, as they can catch fire when reaching over the stove or into the oven.
Do you have oven mitts handy? This may surprise you, but we often see people who were burned by grabbing a hot item with bare hands without thinking. Mitten types are best for taking things out of the oven because they also protect the back of your hands.
3. Use your kitchen equipment properly.
Before you use any new kitchen gadgets, read the instructions so you know how to use them correctly.
When putting a pot or pan on the stovetop, make sure the handles are turned inward and not hanging over the edge of the stove. This will keep you and others from bumping into it and sending a pan full of hot food flying. And don’t underestimate the danger of steam. Stand back from a hot pot when you remove the lid, and be careful when you pour hot liquids into a bowl or colander.
Keep hot pads, oven mitts or towels near your stove, but make sure you don’t set them on or near a burner where they can catch fire.
If you’ve ever eagerly reached into the microwave, you know the result can be grabbing—and dropping—a dish that’s hotter than you expect. This can be particularly dangerous when the microwave is mounted overhead, leading to splatters and burns. Use care, and oven mitts, when removing food from the microwave.
Pressure cookers like the popular Instant Pot can be dangerous, too. Be sure to wait for the steam pressure to fully release before opening the lid. Impatience can result in scalding your face with steam—and potentially a trip to the hospital.
Thaw meat or poultry completely before adding it to the smoker. This device uses low temperatures to cook, so partially frozen meat that lingers in the smoker can develop harmful bacteria.
Aluminum foil pans are popular and convenient, but best avoided. Flimsy, single-use bakeware can collapse in transport from the oven to the countertop, spilling turkey grease on your legs and feet causing severe burns. Choose a sturdy baking dish instead. If you choose to use foil, place a baking sheet or rigid pan underneath and use it to carry your hot turkey.
Take care with springform pans, too. These essential tools for delicious treats like cheesecake can be hazardous if they are used carelessly or are mechanically unsound.
Do you have a fire extinguisher in or near the kitchen? Make sure it’s in working order and that you know how to use it. And don’t forget to change the batteries in your smoke detectors.
4. Be mindful of hot beverages.
A warm cup on a chilly autumn day is a delightful treat, but carelessness can spoil a relaxing moment.
If you have children at home, be sure to avoid multitasking. Carrying a squirming child in one hand a hot cup of tea or coffee in the other too often results in kids with burns from scalding liquids.
If you need to leave the room, be sure your hot drink is left high enough so curious hands can’t reach to spill it.
When you’re making that hot cocoa for the kids, add some cold milk too. Achieving a “child-safe temperature” of less than 130 degrees Fahrenheit will help avoid scalding your tot’s mouth and tongue.
5. Handle the turkey with care.
Just about any way you prepare a turkey comes with a risk of burn injuries.
Deep frying turkeys has become popular, but it can be dangerous. Before starting, read the safety instructions that came with your fryer. Set the fryer on a level spot a safe distance from your home and trees. Make sure the turkey is thawed because dropping a frozen turkey into the vat of hot oil can cause a flare-up and make the oil boil over. After the turkey is cooked, let the oil cool overnight before disposing of it.
Another common burn culprit is greasy turkey drippings. The drippings pan will be heavy, and if it’s not solidly supported underneath, it can fold and spill everywhere when you pick it up.
There also are occasional reports of turkeys catching fire in the oven, which is why it’s important to know what to do in the event of a kitchen fire.
How to put out a kitchen fire.
First, let’s discuss what you absolutely should not do with a kitchen fire:
- Do not open the oven if there is a fire inside.
- Do not throw water on it.
- Do not try to put a burning pot or pan in the sink or take it outside.
If something catches fire in the oven, shut the oven off and back away. Fire needs oxygen, and you’ll only fan the flames if you open the door. The fire should eventually die down on its own. Once it’s cooled, you can open the oven and clean things up.
If there’s a fire on the stovetop, you want to cut off its oxygen. You can do this by covering the pot or pan with a lid. If this doesn’t work, pour baking soda on it or grab the fire extinguisher. Don’t try to smother the fire with a towel unless it’s soaking wet.
If an oven or stove fire doesn’t die down within a few minutes or it begins to spread, call the fire department immediately.
What to do if you get a burn.
Hopefully, you’ll never need to treat a burn. But accidents happen, so it’s best to be prepared.
The biggest mistake I see people make is using cold water or ice on a burn. Instead, run the wound under room-temperature tap water for 10 minutes. Then apply a first aid burn cream or petroleum jelly and a bandage.
If your clothing catches fire, don’t forget the old saying: Stop, drop and roll.
Some burns may require medical treatment. If the burn is bigger than the palm of your hand or there is blistering, seek help. You also may want to consider seeking treatment at a specialized Burn Center like ours.
The American Burn Association recommends you receive treatment from a burn center if you have:
- Burns that involve the face, hands, feet, genitals or major joints
- Third-degree burns, which can appear whitish, charred or translucent with no sensation in the burned area when pricked with a pin
- Burns that cover more than 10 percent of total body surface area
- A pre-existing medical condition that can complicate recovery, such as diabetes
You can always call the emergency department or urgent care center if you're unsure whether you should seek medical treatment. At MedStar Health, burn specialists are available 24/7, 365 days a year—even on holidays—to evaluate your burn and provide treatment.
Slow down—the family will wait for the food. Don't spoil the meal and the day by not paying attention, hurting yourself or others, or starting a fire. By following these simple safety tips and remaining mindful in the kitchen, you’ll be able to spend your holidays at home enjoying all that wonderful food you made, not at a burn center.