Whenever you’re cooking, you’re going to be dealing with hot temperatures. This is important to make sure the food you make is good to eat, but does carry a risk to us as cooks. However, as long as you follow some basic safety guidelines, you needn’t worry too much.
Aside from the obvious (don’t play with fire or a hot cooker), here are my top 5 rules for heat safety:
1. Pay attention to your cooking
Carelessness in the kitchen can cause burns and even fires. When you’re cooking it’s best not to leave it unattended, especially if it’s on the hob or on a high heat. Some slow cooking methods can be left for a short time, but make sure to set a timer and check up on it every so often.
2. Be patient
It’s best to start with slower cooking methods; they take longer because they use lower temperatures, which makes them safer. Don’t try and jump right into something like deep-frying – this is pretty much the most dangerous way to cook food.
Remember too that ovens and pans will take a little while to get to the right temperature. Be patient rather than cranking the heat all the way up – it’s better for dinner to be a little bit late than for it to be burnt. If your pan does get a bit hot, I find that the best way to cool it down is to surround the outside with cold water – the sink is usually the best place to do this. Adding water to the inside can ruin your food and if there’s oil in there it’ll hiss and spit at you horribly.
3. Know how different materials respond to heat
Heat conductors like metal get hot really easily and can easily transfer heat to you too, but they also cool down quickly. Heat insulators like plastic, fabric, and glass take much longer to heat up but also take longer to cool down than conductors.
Flammable materials like fabric, paper, hair, oil, and some plastics, can catch fire if exposed to too much heat or (if you have a gas stove) an open flame. Make sure all hair and clothing is tied back, and keep things like tea towels, oven gloves and packaging materials away from the stove. Try not to use a lot of oil, and never mix hot oil and water.
4. Be aware of the heat sources in your kitchen
The rings on a hob and the inside of an oven will of course get hot, but the areas around these can too. Any pans that you’ve been cooking with can stay hot for a surprisingly long time, and electrical appliances like kettles and toasters will get hot too. Make sure you turn your cooker and electrics off after use, and take extra care if you’re not the only person using the kitchen.
If you’re not sure how hot something is, try feeling the air around it to see if that’s hot. Never touch something that might be hot with the palm of your hand – this can trigger your grip reflex. Instead, you can use the very tips of your fingers or the back of your hand. It’s a good idea to use your other senses too – if you can hear a sizzling sound, see steam or smoke, or if something smells hot, it’s probably too hot to touch.
5. Be prepared
Although I hope none of you ever have to deal with one, there is a risk of fires in the kitchen. Make sure your smoke alarms stay in good working order (more information here), and have a plan in case something goes wrong (link).
You might also want to consider investing in safety equipment like a fire extinguisher or a fire blanket (more information here). Don’t be afraid to call the emergency services, and always value your safety over your stuff.
These five tips should help keep you safe in the kitchen, but even following best practices accidents can happen. You can find great first aid advice from organisations like the Red Cross (link) and the NHS (link), or you can read on for basic first aid for the kinds of burns you might get in the kitchen.
Most burns are only minor, and you can easily treat them at home.
As soon as you’ve turned off the heat, the first thing to do with any burn is to try and cool it down. The best way to do this is with clean, slow-running water, such as from a tap or shower. It’s best not to use ice directly on the skin, and try to make sure it’s just the area around the burn you’re cooling. You should spend at least 10 minutes cooling the burn before you do anything else.
It’s tempting to put cream on a burn to try and soothe it, but this actually does more harm than good. You may also want to cover the wound to keep it clean, but any kind of fabric or plaster can stick to the burn and make it worse. The best thing to use to cover a burn with is actually a clean piece of clingfilm, although doctors can prescribe specialised types of plasters for burns.
If you’re worried your burn might be more serious, here are 5 questions to ask yourself:
1. What caused the burn?
If the burn was caused by something electrical or a harsh chemical, you will need medical attention. But most of the time in the kitchen you’ll be dealing with simple burns caused by hot water or cooking equipment
2. Is there anything on/in the burn?
If there is anything stuck on (or even in) the burn, don’t try and remove it yourself. You need to get medical help, otherwise you can actually cause more damage.
3. How big is the burn?
Any burns bigger than the injured person’s hand should be checked out by a doctor. Remember that everyone’s hands are different sizes, and be extra careful in treating small children and infants.
4. Where is the burn?
Kitchen burns are most likely to affect your hands, but there is still a risk to the rest of your body. If you’ve been burned somewhere sensitive (like your face or your crotch), you might want to get it checked out by a doctor.
5. Is there blistering or black or white discolouration of the skin?
These are signs that the burn is more serious. It may have gone through the top layer of your skin, so it might not hurt as much as a shallow burn, but it definitely needs medical attention.
Everyone, please take care in the kitchen and look after yourselves!
This post draws on my own lab safety training and first aid experience, as well as the references below. While I make every effort to provide accurate information, I am not a medical professional. If you’re worried about your health, please consult with a licensed medical professional. :