Kitchen Safety Tips: Avoid Kitchen Hazards With Strategic Design, Layout, and Habit Changes
Kitchens, both residential and commercial, can be a dangerous place. Equipped with a stove and oven, kitchens are a space where fires can start and burn injuries can occur. Water and other liquids spilled onto the floor can result in slips and falls, leading to broken bones and serious injuries. Just the use of a knife during the cooking process can lead to bandages or stitches.
While kitchens can be dangerous, they don't have to be — especially with strategies put into place. Smart kitchen design and well-conceived safety practices can keep one's household or workplace safe during kitchen usage. People can avoid kitchen-related injuries and property damage like a house fire or a workplace fire by learning the following tips. From residential to commercial settings, kitchen safety should be critical.
Table of Contents
- Common Kitchen Hazards
- Kitchen Fire Hazards
- Kitchen Cooking Safety
- How to Child-Proof and Pet-Proof a Kitchen
- How to Design a Safe Kitchen Layout
- Remember These Kitchen Safety Tips
Common Kitchen Hazards
Kitchen hazards are varied, and unless one knows and is familiar with all the hazards, it's difficult to keep themselves and members of their household or workplace safe. From equipment and appliances to tools and cleaning products, kitchens are full of potential for accidents. The following kitchen hazards are detailed below and include steps that people can take to mitigate that potential.
The most dangerous pieces of kitchen equipment include gas and electric stoves, small appliances, and garbage disposals. In fact, over 40,000 people were injured using stoves annually in the years between 1990 and 2000. While many people assume these pieces of equipment are most-dangerous for children, they can be dangerous for everyone, if used incorrectly.
Gas and Electric Stoves
Gas and electric stoves are a source of fires and burn injuries in the kitchen, and mitts are just one way to protect people from burns. Mitts should be kept nearby in a place that is easily accessible and used whenever people lift lids from pots or remove items from the oven.
When selecting mitts for their kitchen, people should consider slip resistance, heat tolerance, and flexibility. The more heat-tolerant the mitts are, the less likely people are to burn themselves when cooking. Flexibility is important for gripping cooking utensils, and slip-resistance helps ensure that heavy dishes will not slip when lifted. Commercial kitchens should keep mitts on hand for employees to use. Some mitts look more like gloves, while others are large and mitten-shaped. Some additional tips include the following:
- It is recommended to replace oven mitts periodically, especially when they develop burn spots.
- Oven mitts should be high-quality.
- Oven mitts should be purchased in-store rather than online, so people can test their flexibility and feel their grip in person.
Ovens should be secured to the wall. Every year, about 38,000 people are admitted to emergency rooms because of appliance or fixture tip-overs, including ovens. Many people tend to use the bottom drawer of their oven as a stepping stool, and sometimes, children use this drawer to access items on the counter. Therefore, a safety device like a stove bracket should be used to keep ovens positioned upright against the wall.
Ovens should be turned off when not in use, and food should not bake overnight. However, if something must bake for a long time, then it should be done during the day when the oven can be monitored. Additionally, devices can be added to shut off an oven or stove if people often forget to do so on their own.
Hands should always be kept away from a garbage disposal. However, if someone needs to reach into their garbage disposal to retrieve something, they should always unplug it first. All members of a household and every kitchen employee should know how to use a garbage disposal safely and correctly and should familiarize themselves with safety recommendations made by the garbage disposal's manufacturer.
Small appliances should be kept away from the edges of countertops, as vibrations during use can cause them to fall. Additionally, power cords of small appliances should be kept away from the sink and plugged into GFCI outlets during use.
If not stored properly, kitchen tools like knives can present a hazard, even when they're not in use. Many high-quality knives come with covers to protect users from injuries. These covers or a wooden knife block should be used to protect the tips of butcher's knives and other specialty knives.
Loose knives should be stored with their tips facing the back of the drawer, handles forward for easy reaching. All loose knives should be kept in one compartment of a utensil organizer.
However, knives are not the only sharp tools that can be found in a utensil drawer. Other sharp objects may include skewers, fondue forks, pizza cutters, and peelers. Sharp kitchen tools in a household should not be stored low enough that a toddler could reach them and should not be left in drawers without a secure cover.
Cleaning products may keep people safe from germs, but they can also be a hazard all their own. Cleaning products can be dangerous during use and also when being stored. However, people can prevent accidents by storing their cleaning products properly and in safe conditions, away from food, children, and pets.
Cleaning products should be stored in their original containers, as some cleaning products can warp unsuitable plastic containers over time. New containers can also lead to mix-ups, if someone forgets the type of cleaning product stored in that container.
Cleaning products should be stored upright and in an organized way. Products that contain bleach should never be combined with products that contain ammonia, so bleach products will need to be placed separately from ammonia products. This can help people remember which products can never be combined.
Those with a young child or a pet should keep their cleaning products in a cabinet where the child or pet cannot access them. Baby-proofing devices can also be useful to keep these cabinets locked.
Slips and falls are especially common in the kitchen. Fortunately, because they are such a problem, there are many options available to prevent this kind of accident.
Install Non-Slip Flooring
The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that floors and flooring material contribute to two million slips and falls every year. During a kitchen remodel or when building a new construction home, it is recommended for homeowners to install non-slip flooring in their kitchen. Some types of synthetic material, cork, and laminate are all non-slip.
Clean Spills Immediately
Paper towels, rags, and other materials should be kept on-hand to clean spills as soon as they develop. Employees and all members of a household should be familiar with how to properly clean spills as soon as they happen.
Transport Liquids Safely
Liquids in containers should be secured with lids to prevent them from spilling on the floor. Additionally, young children shouldn't transport full containers of liquids by themselves.
Wear the Right Shoes
Non-skid shoes should be worn when people work in the kitchen at all times. They should avoid walking on their kitchen floors in socks, as it can impact their traction.
Use Non-Slip Mats
Slip-prevention mats should be installed in areas where spills are common such as in front of food preparation spaces and in front of any and all sinks. Rugs that are not designed to prevent slips should be avoided, as the wrong kind of rug can present a safety hazard.
Keep Clutter Off the Floor
The kitchen floor should always be clear of clutter, including step stools. Items should be kept out of the way in places where they are unlikely to become tripping hazards. Members of a household or workplace should know where everything goes, and they should put things away when they're done using them. Chairs, step stools, moveable kitchen islands and so on should not be placed in kitchen walkways.
Install Proper Lighting
Not only does the proper kitchen lighting create a safer cooking environment overall, but spills can be noticed more frequently. Kitchen curtains should be open to encourage as much natural light as possible. Lighting should be flexible and varied with track lighting, recessed lighting, task lighting, and overhead lighting.
Kitchen Fire Hazards
Cooking in the kitchen requires the use of a stove, oven, and sometimes the microwave. However, these appliances can present a fire hazard in different ways. Fire hazards while cooking can be prevented with well-maintained, modern appliances, proper safety procedures, and by never leaving food unattended. It's also important for people to familiarize themselves with the various ways that kitchen fires begin.
Cooking oils like olive oil, vegetable oil, and animal fat all have flash points, the temperature at which the fat or oil will catch fire. Before oils reach their flash point, they first reach their smoke point (the point at which oils start to smoke), making it easy to identify when an oil is getting too hot. Oils heated to a hot enough temperature can start a fire. Therefore, when people are deep-frying something, the temperature should be monitored at all times to avoid a grease fire. Other ways people can avoid starting a grease fire include:
- Taking the oil off the heat if it starts to smoke.
- Placing the lid on oil that is at risk for catching fire and allowing the oil to cool naturally.
- Heating oil slowly when cooking.
Faulty electrical equipment can be another source of kitchen fires. Countertop appliances can become fire hazards if their cords are accidentally melted in flames from the stovetop. Sometimes, pressure cookers lead to instant pot explosions, and stoves themselves burn out their own heating elements due to repeated exposure to high temperatures.
Visible cords and wires should be checked for damage before a cooking appliance is used. Unusual smells while cooking, like the smell of rubber burning or plastic melting, should be a warning sign. Stove and appliance wiring should be inspected periodically to avoid accidents. If the wiring does become damaged, people should discontinue use of that appliance and make repairs as soon as possible.
Clutter, Storage Boxes, Clothing, and Jewelry
Clutter, storage boxes, clothing, and jewelry can all become safety hazards in the kitchen. For example, clutter and storage boxes are more than just tripping hazards; they can also block one's evacuation route if a fire breaks out.
Kitchen fires can spread fast, and when kitchen fires occur, time is of the essence. Therefore, people should maintain safe and clear evacuation routes throughout their kitchen. They shouldn't install anything in their kitchen that blocks windows or pathways.
Loose clothing and jewelry can both catch fire during cooking activities. Long sleeves and dangly necklaces should not be worn while cooking. Long hair can catch fire while cooking too, so it should always be pulled back before someone begins cooking.
How to Prevent Kitchen Burns
Burn prevention in the kitchen requires simple mitigation steps such as:
- Using oven mitts.
- Standing back when removing a lid from a hot liquid.
- Never blending hot liquids in a blender.
- Standing back when draining hot pasta.
- Positioning pots on the stove so the pot handles are positioned over the stove or counters, not over the open air in front of the stove.
A first-degree burn is a relatively superficial burn that will go away in a matter of days with proper care. To care for these minor burns, people should run the affected area under cool water and keep the area clean and covered with a sterile, non-adhesive gauze.
Second-degree burns may cause blisters, which can pop and become infected. Second-degree burns are treated similarly to first-degree burns, but medicated ointment can be used to treat the blisters. People should consult with their physician if they get a second-degree burn.
Third-degree burns are very serious and require immediate medical attention that should be received as soon as possible.
How to Put Out Kitchen Fires
The best method for people to use when putting out a kitchen fire depends on where the fire is and what started the fire. They shouldn't forget that fire needs oxygen and fuel to keep burning, so the methods for putting out fires usually involves denying fire oxygen or fuel.
A fire extinguisher (rated B for grease fires) should be placed in kitchens to put out any unexpected fires. Large commercial kitchens should have multiple fire extinguishers on hand. Fire extinguishers should be mounted to the wall, and employees should know where to find them if they're needed. All members of a household should be familiar with where a fire extinguisher is located and how to use it. Fire extinguishers can expire with time, so they should be checked regularly. The dial can also indicate when a fire extinguisher needs to be replaced.
Oven and Broiler Fires
If a kitchen fire starts in the oven or broiler, then the oven or broiler should be turned off and anyone in the kitchen should back away. They should not open the oven, as this can provide oxygen for the fire, which could cause it to expand rapidly.
People should not leave the room unless the fire starts to spread; if this happens, they should call the fire department and leave the area immediately. If the fire remains contained in the oven, they should stay there until the fire has burned out. When everything has cooled off, they can open the oven door and start the cleaning process.
Stovetop fires are more dangerous than oven fires because they're not contained. People should keep a lid by the stove in order to extinguish a stovetop fire. When a fire begins, they should use the lid to contain the fire immediately, as lack of oxygen will put the fire out. If there is no lid to use, they can try pouring a whole box of baking soda on the fire or using their fire extinguisher. They should not use water on a grease fire. Water may spread the fire around and will also waste time.
Kitchen Cooking Safety
Because cooking in the kitchen involves fire, heat and careful timing, it can be a dangerous process. Grease left over heat for too long can reach its flash point, items left in the oven accidentally can catch fire, and stirring or cooking hot liquids can lead to burns. Cooking safely can be done if people follow basic rules.
Microwaves tend to be very safe. However, many people worry about exposure to radiation when using their microwave. While problem can occur on rare occasions, it is not usually a problem if the microwave is working properly. Burns relating to picking up hot foods from the microwave are more common.
Microwave-safe dishes should always be used in the microwave. If something is left to heat in the microwave for several minutes (like a potato that is cooked for 5 minutes), an oven mitt should be used to lift the food out.
Sometimes, microwaves can heat water to the point beyond boiling, without the water ever boiling at all. When the water is disturbed, it can erupt from its container, leading to serious burns. Therefore, water should not be heated too quickly at a high temperature. Additionally, the water should be allowed to cool before someone attempts to move it.
Finally, if a microwave appears to function even when the door is open, it could be a sign that the sensor in the microwave is not working. If this happens, the microwave should be repaired or replaced as soon as possible.
Oven and Stovetop
Food should never be left unattended on a stovetop or in an oven. People should avoid taking naps, walking into their yards, engaging in conversations, or leaving the kitchen for any reason while they're actively cooking. However, they can use timers to remind themselves when to take the food out of the oven.
People should pay attention to smells such burning, melting, or smoking while they are cooking, as these could be a sign that something is wrong. They should never put a pot or pan in their oven for storage.
Back burners should be used first on a stove, and front burners should only be used when back burners aren't available. Pots that are too small or too big for the burner should be avoided. An empty pan should never be left on an active burner.
Children should be kept out of the kitchen when a stovetop is being used. If an oven door needs to be opened, any children in the immediate vicinity should either move to the other side of the kitchen or leave altogether. Curious pets should be kept out of the kitchen while cooking appliances are being used as well.
All racks in the oven should be positioned before pre-heating to help avoid burns. Fire extinguishers should be nearby and not expired before people begin any high-risk cooking such as deep frying. Items baking at a high temperature should be monitored very closely.
An oven should not be lined with foil, either on the rack or underneath. People should make sure to clean up grease pools and stains after cooking and should also invest in a carbon monoxide detector. Ovens can have carbon monoxide leaks, which can lead to terrible accidents if they are not caught quickly.
The self-cleaning oven process should always be supervised. People should scrape away any leftover ashes in their oven and follow all manufacturer recommendations when using the self-cleaning function.
Kitchen knives are one of the most useful tools in the kitchen, but they can also be one of the most dangerous. These tips can help keep all members of a household or kitchen workplace safe when using knives.
Keep Knives Sharp
Sharp knives are safer to use than dull knives. They're less likely to slip when cutting, require less pressure for cutting, and people are generally more careful when using them. Sharp, high-quality knives should be taken to a professional sharpener regularly. Additionally, a high-quality knife sharpener can be used at home or in the workplace.
Choose the Right Knife for the Job
People should use a knife that is up to the task of cutting the item they need to cut. Serrated knives work best for pulpy, slippery foods like tomatoes. Large butcher knives work best for cutting large vegetables, and bread knives work best for cutting tough loaves. People should keep a range of knives for cutting every type of food they might need to slice.
People should never cut food when their fingers are close to where the blade may fall and should always cut slowly and deliberately.
Clean Knives Safely
When cleaning a knife, the blade should be kept facing away from the person cleaning it, and a rag or sponge should be used to slowly remove foods. Knives should be cleaned between foods being cut to prevent germs from one food spreading to another food.
Don't Perch a Knife on the Edge of a Countertop
A falling knife can cause deadly cuts. Therefore, it should not be perched on the edge of a countertop or balanced in a large pile of dishes on a drying rack. If a knife does fall from the countertop to the floor, people should not try to catch it.
Walk Across the Room With a Knife Safely
If someone needs to walk from one side of the kitchen to the other, they should hold the knife down at their side with the sharp edge of the blade facing behind them. They should not run while holding knives or hold them high, and they should not walk with a knife pointing outward.
Always Use a Proper Cutting Board
The palm of one's hand is not a safe surface for cutting anything, even something small. If a cutting board is unavailable, people can use a paper towel, a plate or even a bare counter (carefully).
How to Child-Proof and Pet-Proof a Kitchen
For those with small children or pets, maintaining a safe kitchen should be a priority. Pet-proofing and child-proofing a kitchen can help keep them safe.
Oven and stove knob covers prevent children from turning on or turning up a stove. Additionally, oven locks keep the oven door closed. Other useful tips include:
- Babies should not be held when the stove or oven is in use.
- All pot and pan handles should be turned inward so children cannot reach them.
- Children should be taught the ways that a stove can be dangerous to promote a healthy sense of caution around the stove.
A latch can be added to refrigerators and freezers to prevent children and pets from accessing food, ingesting something dangerous, or climbing into a space where they could become trapped.
Children who are able to open the dishwasher can access breakable dishes and may climb onto the door, causing it to break. Latches can be used to keep dishwashers locked. Additionally, dishwashers should be emptied promptly after each use.
Countertop appliances should be kept away from the edge of counters. Cords should not hang down where children could reach them.
While table cloths are a great addition, they can be a hazard for a baby just learning to walk. Place mats can be a great substitution while a child is learning to walk and then toddle around a home.
Broken chairs can also be a hazard for children. They may stand on the rungs, causing them to break further. Chairs should be kept in good repair and replaced if they become broken.
How to Design a Safe Kitchen Layout
A kitchen's layout and design plays a crucial role in safety and includes everything from appliances to overhead lighting. A kitchen remodel is the perfect opportunity for homeowners to make a safe and efficient space for cooking.
If designing the kitchen from scratch during a home construction, homeowners can work with a professional to ensure that their kitchen is properly outfitted with the latest safety-focused kitchen products. A contractor or professional kitchen designer will also be able to help layout the furnishings in a kitchen for optimal design.
Appliances should be positioned in convenient locations where they will not present a hazard. Members of a household should familiarize themselves with traffic patterns in their kitchen and anticipate behaviors that could cause a potential accident or problem.
For example, stoves should not be placed under a window where blowing curtains or breezes can fan the flames. Stoves can also be a hazard when placed too close to a doorway, because doorways are places where people typically gather in groups. Anyone entering the kitchen may accidentally knock a pot off the stove, brush their skin against the heated metal, or even catch their sleeve on fire.
A sink and stove should be kept separate from one another to prevent water from splashing greasy pans. When water lands on a greasy pan, it can cause grease to splatter in a way that can burn someone or could even land in their eye. A stove should not be within 24 inches of a sink.
Finally, a stove and refrigerator should be kept far enough from one another that anyone transferring hot things from the oven will not run into someone else who is getting food from the refrigerator. People often act quickly in kitchens to prevent foods from burning or to prevent hot pans from burning their hands, and this can lead to accidents if the kitchen is not set up properly.
When remodeling a kitchen or designing a kitchen from scratch, homeowners should work with a contractor who is familiar with local building codes.
Lighting plays a big role in kitchen safety. With the kitchen being an area of the home where people spend time chopping foods, heating things over the stove and taking things out of the oven, it's important to create a well-lit work surface where people can see properly.
Light in Layers
Lighting a kitchen in layers eliminates shadows and helps ensure a safe work surface. The key to lighting in layers is to install light fixtures in a variety of places, including the ceilings, under cabinets, inside cabinets, over kitchen islands and in the form of pendant lighting.
Install Different Types of Lighting
Installing different types of lighting is another way to light in layers. Different types of light fixtures point light in different directions, which ultimately helps ensure kitchen surfaces are properly lit. Different types of light fixtures found in the kitchen include:
- Pendant lighting
- Recessed lighting
- Track lighting
- Task lighting
- Under-counter lighting
Some of these types of lighting are easy to install, even without a full remodel.
Capitalize on Natural Lighting
Multiple windows in the kitchen can help achieve natural light, and installing large windows can help with this as well.
Work With an Expert
Design-build contractors usually keep experts on-hand who know from training and experience what type of lighting is needed for kitchen spaces and where those light fixtures need to be installed. Homeowners should work with a contractor to design their kitchen with safety in mind.
There are a multitude of flooring options that are designed to be slip-resistant and safe for kitchen use. Every flooring type has its own characteristics and qualities that make it desirable, so homeowners can choose the type of flooring that works best for their needs.
Cork is a softer flooring material compared to others like engineered hardwood. It is also somewhat slip-resistant because its surface has a little give. Best of all, the slightly soft surface of cork may make falls in the kitchen less painful and less likely to result in injuries.
This material can have some drawbacks, however. It's not the most water-resistant material, so cork needs to be sealed periodically to maintain its water resistance. It can also be vulnerable to puncture damage from points of pressure like high heels.
Engineered hardwood is similar to hardwood, but it's assembled in layers that make it slightly less likely to warp in a high-moisture environment. Engineered hardwood is as slip-resistant as any standard hardwood floor. Engineered hardwood is naturally very beautiful and matches nearly all forms of interior decor, so it's popular in kitchens.
There are some drawbacks to engineered hardwood. Like cork, engineered hardwood can be vulnerable to scratches and damage from high heels, pet claws, and other sharp surfaces.
Vinyl is generally non-slip and also beneficial in the kitchen in a variety of other ways. It can come in many colors and textures, be made to resemble hardwood, is nearly waterproof, and lasts for a very long time.
Lower-quality types of vinyl don't add as much value to a home or business as some other material types. Therefore, people should be selective about the type of vinyl they choose.
Linoleum is a low-cost, synthetic flooring material that is slip-resistant and fully water-resistant, so it's a very practical flooring material for kitchens. While it may not be a preferred material for homeowners and business owners with high-end kitchens, it does get the job done.
The position of kitchen countertops, the sharpness of the edges and also their cleanliness all make a difference when it comes to kitchen safety. There are many adjustments people can make to their kitchen counters to make them safer overall.
Countertop heights are standardized, so unless someone is specifically aiming to install a counter that is either extra low or extra high, the countertop should be about 36 inches high. If someone needs a countertop that is low or high because of a special need, they should try to stay within the range of 28-34 inches. Counters should not be installed lower than this, as they may become harder to see and easier to bump into.
Sharp countertop edges can cause painful injuries. People can avoid bruises and other injuries by installing countertops with rounded edges. If the counters in a kitchen are already installed and their corners are sharp, padding can be placed on the corners to prevent small children from injury.
The cleanliness of countertops also play a role in their safety. People should keep their counters clean by spraying them with kitchen-safe antibacterial cleaner at the end of each day and after preparing raw meat for cooking. If the counters are made from a porous material, they should be sealed properly to keep them easy to clean.
Cabinets and pantries should be kept organized to avoid pulling items down when trying to reach things at the back. When accessing areas that are out of reach, people should use a secure step ladder or stool. Additionally, they should declutter their cabinets regularly to make it easy and safe to reach the things they need.
People should avoid placing heavy items high above their head, and avoid stacking heavy bowls together, as this makes them harder to lift and easier to drop when pulling them into and out of cabinets.
Bowls should not be stacked so high that the stacks themselves become unstable. Some bowls fit so neatly together that they can be put into stacks of ten or more without destabilizing. Other bowls should be stacked no higher than three bowls at a time to be stacked safely.
Remember These Kitchen Safety Tips
When it comes to kitchen safety, the above tips can help everyone use their kitchen without injuries or property damage. Below are some general kitchen safety rules to always remember:
- Wash hands before cooking, mixing ingredients, and after handling raw meat.
- Use graters and zesters slowly to avoid cutting skin.
- Wash knives after using them to cut raw meat; they should not be used to cut other types of food without be cleaned first.
- A stove should never be left unattended while being used to cook.
- Warn nearby people when pulling a hot dish out of the oven.
- When teaching a child to cook, check their clothing to ensure it is not too loose, and ask them to tie their hair back.
- Use a meat thermometer to ensure the meat is properly cooked.
- Refrigerators should be kept below 40 degrees, and freezers should be kept below zero.
Commercial kitchens should be designed to ensure proper kitchen safety. Additionally, homeowners should review safety rules of using their kitchen with people in their household periodically. Following these tips makes it easier to stay safe in the kitchen. Everyone should stay diligent and pay attention to prepare their meals safely.