Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Kitchen Safety

I'm exhausted.  Bedtime took stupidly long tonight.  I didn't start writing until 10:30.

I know this is still quite rough.  Mom is going to look over it tomorrow to help me pin down what's missing.  Ugh, this part is tedious.

Cooking Safely

The kitchen is a fun place, and a source of full bellies and tasty treats. But it is also a dangerous place, as a source of burns, cuts, fires, and food-borne illness. This information can be tedious, but if you are new to cooking, please read this section, and save yourself a trip to the emergency room.

Knife Safety

Knives are safest when kept sharp, because dull knives often slide in unpredictable directions. You can use a sharpening steel at home to keep your knives sharper for longer, but eventually all knives need to be taken to a professional knife sharpener to be restored to optimal sharpness.

Protect your knives and counter top by using a cutting board.

In general, cut away from yourself, and towards a cutting board. When cutting a rounded vegetable, first carefully cut off one side. Then set the vegetable so that the cut side is down on the cutting board. This will prevent the vegetable from rolling while you cut.

When using a paring knife for peeling potatoes, or making other small and controlled cuts, it is safe to cut towards your thumb, and no cutting board is needed. Hold the knife in the fingers of your dominant hand, with the blade facing your thumb. Use your thumb to guide the food to the knife.

Heat Safety

Kitchens are full of hot surfaces, and every cook gets burned on occasion by grabbing a hot handle by mistake. Keep several pot-holders stationed around the kitchen where you can grab them in a hurry.

Don't reach into a hot stove. Instead, use a pot holder to pull the oven shelf out.

Keep all pot handles turned so that they aren't hanging over open space. This is particularly important if children are present. With children present, do as much cooking on the back burners as you can, and never leave a young child unsupervised near a hot stove.

Appliance Safety

Keep toasters and other counter-top appliances unplugged when not in use. Read all appliance directions thoroughly.

Fire Safety

It's a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher in your kitchen. Read the instructions carefully, so that you know how to work the extinguisher in an emergency. After being used, even just a little, most extinguishers will either need to be recharged (refilled) or replaced. Aim at the base of the fire, not at the tops of the flames.

Do not use water to put out a grease fire! A grease fire must be smothered. Use a wet towel, a pot lid, or baking soda, or salt to smother a fire. If the fire is in the oven or microwave, close the door and turn off the device. If the oven continues to smoke as if there is still a fire inside, call 911.

Toasters accumulate crumbs, and these crumbs must be cleaned out regularly to prevent fires. If you have a toaster fire, unplug the device if possible before putting out the fire.

Test your smoke alarms every month to make sure they are in working order.

The Danger Zone

Food rots quickly between 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and 140. This is the “danger zone”. With the exception of sealed canned goods and dry foods like crackers, food must be kept below 40 or above 140 to keep for any length of time. Cooked dishes can be left at room temperature, I.E. the “danger zone”, for a maximum of two hours. Food left at room temperature for longer than two hours must be thrown away. On a hot day, food should be thrown away after just one hour.

Animal Products

Most animal products have the potential to be carrying bacteria or parasites which are dangerous to humans. This is why meats and eggs typically have a minimum temperature that they must be cooked to in order to be safe to eat.

When in doubt, cook all hot dishes to 165 degrees. Some foods are safely cooked at lower temperatures, but the majority need to be cooked to 165. Exceptions are eggs (160), whole beef (140), ground beef (160), fish and shellfish (145), and uncooked ham (145). Leftovers should be reheated to 165 degrees.

Never eat an egg that has been damaged.

Milk and milk products are typically pasteurized, which eliminates bacteria and parasites from them. Milk and milk products must be refrigerated to prevent spoilage.

Cooling Hot Foods

When you need to put a hot food into the refrigerator or freezer, avoid leaving it out to cool at room temperature to cool, because this extends the time that the food will spend in the danger zone. You can cool some foods quickly (such as boiled grains) by putting the food in a colander and running cold tap water over it. Ice is a good tool for cooling food. Or clear a space in the refrigerator to allow air to circulate freely around the food. (Note, however, that hot glass cookware should not be cooled quickly, because it could shatter.)

Cold Food Safety

Strictly speaking, leftovers should only be kept for a couple of days. However, pre-cooked ingredients such as boiled grains, boiled beans, or baked chicken, if handled carefully, and cooled and refrigerated promptly, will be good for at least five days.

Food can be frozen once after you buy it. Once a frozen food has thawed, it must be refrigerated and cooked within 24 hours. Do not refreeze a thawed food. When you buy frozen food, if it thaws too much before you can get it into your own freezer, then it cannot be refrozen, and should be cooked and eaten within 24 hours.

Some foods, such as cream sauces or cheese, cannot be frozen because the quality of the food deteriorates. This doesn't make the food dangerous to eat; it merely makes it unappetizing.

Food must be sealed tightly when frozen, or it will become “freezer burned”. Freezer burn isn't dangerous, but it tastes bad.

Frozen foods keep from a month to several years, depending on the type of food, and weather the freezer is opened regularly or not. If a frozen food is kept in the freezer for too long, it will slowly become less nutritious, and the quality will become less good. Empty your freezer once a year, and label everything you freeze with the date and what it is.

Thawing Safely

The safest way to thaw frozen food is in the refrigerator. Smaller quantities of frozen food can be thawed safely in a bowl of cold water, or in the microwave. Never leave food to thaw at room temperature.

Canned Foods

Sealed wet foods, such as canned foods and sealed jars, can be kept on a shelf at room temperature until their expiration date. Do not eat or taste foods from cans that have swollen, rusted, become leaky, that are badly dented, or if the food looks or smells unusual. Do not eat food from a jar that is no longer safely sealed.

Most canned or jarred food must be refrigerated after opening, and after opening must also be used or thrown away within seven days. This information will be printed somewhere on the label in small print. This especially applies to things like juice and applesauce that children will be eating. This does not necessarily apply to condiments, such as catchup or pickles. When in doubt, throw it out.

Dry Foods

Dry goods such as cereals, crackers, cake mixes, spices, and flour, can be kept on a shelf at room temperature in their original packages or in tightly sealed airtight containers, until their expiration date. When dry goods are not sealed, the food will absorb moisture from the air, causing the food to become stale. This is not dangerous; it is merely unappetizing.

When a food has a “use by” date, or a “best if used by” date, the food can be used within a reasonable amount of time after that date.

Cross Contamination

Cross Contamination is a major cause of food poisoning. I.E., the raw meat dripped on the top of the beer can, or the cooked meat was placed on the platter that had held raw meat, or someone didn’t wash their hands after handling raw egg, etc. Prevent cross contamination by washing your hands immediately after handling raw animal products, and always wash your hands before cooking, before handling clean dishes, and after using the restroom. Wash promptly anything that touched raw animal products. Store raw animal products so that they can't drip onto anything in the refrigerator.


  1. Thanks for this information! I'm never quite sure how to tell when food has spoiled.

    Could you further enlighten us as to the proper way to store fruits and bread? I've heard conflicting information about whether refrigeration is necessary, and have often heard it can be detrimental.

  2. Hi,

    I hope you're having a great week! I saw you wrote about kitchen safety here and thought you might be interested in an infographic I helped build. It's about all the scary statistics around kitchen accidents and has tips on how to avoid them. Here's the infographic.

    If you think your readers would like it too, please feel free to use it on The Pantry Cookbook. There's code at the bottom of our post that makes it super easy to post on your blog. It's all free (of course), we love sharing our content! If you have any questions about posting it, let me know and I'll try to help.


    ~ Melanie

  3. Hi Melanie! Thank you very much for your offer! Your graphics are fantastic, but sadly they aren't a great fit for this book. This will be printed in black and white to keep costs down, and I am trying desperately to keep the page-count down, too. Thanks again!