In the picture-is-worth-a-thousand words department, the photograph that went with a story about children's cookbooks in the New York Times was a doozy. It was a little girl, in checkered chef's pants and oversize chef's jacket, standing on tiptoes on three cookbooks in front of big pot on the edge of a restaurant-size stove.
To make matters worse, the child was reaching into the pot with a whisk. As you can imagine, the picture set off alarm bells from the papers readers, who had more on their minds about kitchen safety than cookbooks.
Which started me thinking about some of the things I do to be a safe cook. I know enough not to try to catch a falling knife and am pretty good about wearing shoes and wiping up spills when they happen, but I probably could do a better job when I'm actually standing in front of the stove and cooking.
I try never to reach across an open flame and whenever I use a match, I run it under water before tossing it into the garbage. I can't remember the last time I made a recipe that said, "Stand back until flames die down," and would never even think about using a blowtorch to melt the tops of crème brulée. There have been a couple of touch-and-go incidents with pot holders and paper towels catching fire, so that when my husband says he smells fire, it can be more than just blackened catfish or cherries jubilee.
I'm not sure where our homeowners' insurance kicks in on kitchen fires, but it's not the kind of thing I want to test. In the meantime, we keep a fire extinguisher under the sink, just in case. It was a present from my husband, my live-in fire marshal, who knows what it takes to make a safe kitchen.
Here’s a few more safety tips to follow and pass along to kids when practicing kitchen safety:
- Keep an eye on the stove. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, the leading cause of kitchen fires is unattended cooking.
- Keep your distance. Make sure flammables like pot holders, grocery bags, aprons, tea towels and plastic containers are stored a safe distance from the stove.
- Keep it clean. Regularly clean cooking surfaces to ensure stove safety.
- Get the 411 on 911: Teach kids old enough to use it where the fire extinguisher is kept and how to operate it. Also teach them how and when to call 911.
- Put up your mitts: Make sure children pulling pans of cookies out of the stove know to use oven mitts, not pot holders. Oven mitts are safer for little hands and arms.
- What's your handle?: Or more importantly, what's your 20 on your handle, i.e., where are handles located? The answer: Pot handles on a hot stove are always turned inward for safety.
—By Jean Kressy