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.