Save your holiday feast (and home) from being overcooked with these essential holiday cooking safety tips!
Cooking fires are the number one cause of home fires and home fire injuries in the United States. Fire departments respond to an average 158,000 cooking fires annually. Unsurprisingly, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day are the peak days for home cooking fires.
"On Thanksgiving Day you're cooking probably more than you normally do," says Andrea Vastis, Senior Director of Public Education for the National Fire Protection Association. "You have more going on around you. Sometimes more eyes mean less eyes on the cooking."
Many of these home fires are preventable, so while you’re in the kitchen for the holidays, make sure to follow these essential cooking safety tips to keep your celebration festive and fire-free.
1. Clean your area before starting to cook
"If you don't clean the stove top, there's a lot of residual grease and oil," says Andrea. "That can ignite and cause a fire."
Two-thirds (66%) of home cooking fires start with the ignition of food or other cooking materials, and it can happen on the stove top or in the oven.
Oil, juices, and other materials can fall out of the pan and lay on the bottom of your gas or electric oven. These can ignite, too, so clean your space before you begin preparation for the feast.
2. Beware of the range top
The range top is where most home fires happen.
"Electric stove tops are more likely to cause fires than gas stove tops," says Andrea. "It sounds counterintuitive because you think flame must equal fire, but the electric coil range tops can reach 1,000 degrees."
In fact, range top fires account for 53% of the overall cooking fires, 88% of the deaths, and 74% of the injuries.
This is why you should –
3. Never place kitchen towels or anything flammable near the range top
Be mindful of oven mitts, wooden utensils, food wrappers, curtains, and anything that's flammable in your cooking area. This includes your clothes. Home chefs who wear bell sleeves or bathrobes can quickly find themselves in a dangerous and potentially deadly situation.
"We're talking about burns and clothing that can catch fire," says Andrea. "Wear short or tight sleeves when you cook."
4. Keep an oversized lid near you
Says Andrea, "If there's a flare up, quickly slide the lid on it, turn off the ignition, and step away until it dies out."
Also, have an oven mitt nearby, so you don't burn your hand as you slide the lid over the flame.
This is why you absolutely must -
5. Stand by your pan
Thirty percent of cooking fires are due to unattended cooking. These fires occur when a home chef leaves a pot or pan on the stove for braising or frying, and gets distracted. Some home chefs even start cooking, forget they're cooking, and fall asleep.
"We like to say, 'Stand by your pan. Keep an eye on what you fry,'" says Andrea. "Whatever you have to do - ban SnapChat from your kitchen cooking, so you're not constantly doing that."
6. Don't try to fight a fire yourself
"Many cooking fire deaths occurred because people tried to fight the fire themselves," warns Andrea.
Homeowners panic when a fire ignites, throw their pans in the sink, and do other reckless behaviors. Instead, Andrea stresses that homeowners need to get out, stay out, and call 9-1-1.
"Let the professionals take care of the firefighting."
7. Have a hand-off station
One of the best things you can do is designate a place – a counter, a table, etc. – where guests can drop off their Tupperware. This way people won't set something on the stove or an area where it can catch fire, and the home chef can be in control of the situation.
Offers Andrea, "If you're hosting, think of other jobs you can give people, so you can keep them out of your cooking."
8. Create a "kid-free zone" of at least three feet around your cooking area
"Pulling things on top of themselves and knocking into things are still sending so many kids to the emergency room and causing major burns," says Andrea. "The kitchen is not a place for kids."
9. Set a timer
Timers are a great way to keep home chefs attentive. Of course, if you're grilling, boiling, braising, or frying, stay right there at all times. For longer cooking times, like simmering, baking or roasting food, you should set a timer on your phone or use the one on the oven.
"When it's going to be two hours, set your timer for every 15 minutes to check on it," says Andrea. "People get distracted. They fall asleep. So many things can happen."
10. If you have to step away, turn it off
Says Andrea, "You think, 'Oh, I have it here. It's fine. I'm going to step here to grab something.' But inevitably, something distracts you and it takes longer."
Better to be safe than sorry, so if you ever have to leave a cooking pan or pot, just turn the range off.
11. Never cook without working smoke alarms
You should absolutely have working smoke alarms in your home as they can mean the difference between life and death.
"People are twice as likely to die in a fire where there isn't a working smoke alarm," says Andrea.
The best protection is interconnected alarms that are installed by a licensed electrician. This way, if a fire breaks out on one side of the home, you'll be alerted quickly on your side of the house. If you don't have interconnected smoke alarms, then you need to make sure your smoke alarms have working batteries in them.
Says Andrea, "Like you need your spacesuit to breathe on the moon, you need your smoke alarm to be safe in your house."
Test your smoke alarms at least once a month, perhaps on "Smoke Alarm Saturday," or the first Saturday of the month.
In the spirit of giving thanks
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