Cooking is the number one cause of home fires and home fire injuries, and the second leading cause of home fire deaths.
Since most cooking fires happen in the kitchen, we reached out to Andrea Vastis, Senior Director of Public Education at the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Andrea shared with us an abundance of simple kitchen safety tips (at least 21!) that can help prevent a home fire from happening in your cooking space.
Simple kitchen safety tips to prevent a cooking fire
“The number one cause of cooking fires is unattended cooking,” says Andrea. “It’s usually a scenario where someone will say afterward, I left something going on the stove and forgot about it I left the water overflowing and boiling, I left my pan for just a minute.”
To prevent a cooking fire, Andrea suggests following these simple tips:
- Staying in the kitchen while you are cooking.
- Staying alert while cooking and not being distracted in any way.
- Keeping children and pets at least three feet away from the cooking area.
- Double check your timer to make sure you set it for the right time.
“Did you do three minutes or 30 minutes or 30 seconds?” asked Andrea.
Simple kitchen safety tips to prevent cooking appliance fires
Before ever buying a cooking appliance, check to see that it was listed by an independent testing laboratory.
“You want to make sure that what you are using a product that has been tested to approved safety standards,” says Andrea.
Then, you want to use it safely. This means you should:
- Plug the appliance into a wall properly and never use an extension cord.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Place your product on an appropriate surface.
“Most products are safe for most countertops,” says Andrea, “but you need to think – if I have a laminate countertop, should I be using a granite base or a marble base, something that doesn’t conduct heat and doesn’t have the risk of melting?”
Also, replace appliances that become hazards with frayed wires or irregularity in performance. Of course, big appliances should be left to the professionals.
“If it’s an appliance like your range top or your oven, get it serviced by a qualified professional who can either repair it or help determine if it’s time for a new one,” says Andrea.
Use your appliance properly
If you fail to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, you can create a dangerous situation in your kitchen. This is especially important with cooking temperatures.
Explains Andrea, “If you have a slow cooker and the recipe calls for it to be on low and you’re putting it on high, you’re risking burning the food. You’re also creating the potential for something that can happen, including contact burns.”
Electric range tops manufactured after 2015 are required to have temperature-limiting controls.
“If you have an old coil stove top that was manufactured before then, you can actually retrofit it with a burner that is temperature limiting,” says Andrea.
That is important because “the majority of [cooking fires] are on the range top, and the majority of those are actually on electric range tops,” says Andrea.
Keep your appliances clean
Kitchen appliances – whether they be cooktops, microwaves, crockpots, etc., – all require proper cleaning.
“Leftover food – grease, oil, any kind of spills – can heat up and catch fire,” says Andrea.
Leftover oils, butters, food remnants, etc., can create dangerous situations, especially during the holidays or big family dinners.
“This is why we also talk about the times of the year where there are the most cooking fires – like Thanksgiving,” says Andrea. “You have all these dishes going in the oven. Maybe you didn’t clean the oven beforehand, and there’s all this leftover stuff that’s now overheating and is just very easily ignitable.”
When cleaning any appliances, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. If you didn’t keep your appliance’s manual, like most homeowners, there’s one easy solution.
“If you know what make and model it is, you can just very easily find [the manuals] online,” says Andrea.
Simple kitchen safety tips to prevent home fire injuries
One of the easiest ways to prevent cooking home fire injuries is to wear appropriate clothing.
“It’s important that when you are doing the cooking, you’re not wearing any loose clothing,” says Andrea. “You’re either wearing short sleeves or tight sleeves. You’re not wearing anything that’s billowy that can come in contact with the range and catch fire.”
You should also use tools designed to keep you safe, such as oven mitts. Also, avoid creating dangerous situations by placing an appendage or your face where it doesn’t belong.
“We have this weird tendency to always want to stick our face into things, right?” says Andrea.
Home chefs should be careful as heat from an oven or heat from steam can burn. Even just opening a bag of hot popcorn can cause injury.
“The number one burn injury for children, especially under the age of five, are scalds and burns from things like hot foods and liquids,” says Andrea. “That’s why we really stress the three-foot zone – no kid, no pet. Also, no coffee in one hand, kid in another. Just take your time.”
What if the worst-case scenario happens – a fire in your kitchen
Andrea runs down easy-to-remember steps to help you remain calm and stay safe in the kitchen if a fire happens.
If an article of clothing catches fire
Smother it quickly. Perform the stop, drop and roll technique by stopping where you are, covering your face with your hands and rolling back and forth or over and over until the flames are out.
“Stop, drop and roll really can make a tremendous difference in reducing the risk of burns,” says Andrea. “It’s about smothering the flames.”
For older home chefs who may not be able to stop, drop, and roll, try smothering the fire with a blanket.
“It’s all about getting rid of any oxygen for that fire to be able to take hold and get to you to burn.”
If your pan catches fire
“Grease and frying pan fires make up a large portion of the home cooking fire problem,” says Andrea.
To prevent a grease pan fire, NFPA suggests remembering and practicing these catchy phrases – stand by your pan; keep an eye on what you fry.
“Always stay with what your frying, poaching, and braising,” says Andrea.
It’s also a great idea to have a heavy lid or a cookie sheet nearby.
“Having a lid nearby can help quickly and effectively put out a grease pan fire,” says Andrea. “Carefully slide the lid over the pan, turn off the heat, step away and just let it cool down completely.”
Andrea notes that if the fire, at any point, starts to get bigger where you can’t safely slide a cover over it to extinguish the flames or the flames continue to grow, immediately get yourself and anyone else at home outside and call the fire department for assistance.
If your oven catches fire
Shut the door, turn off the oven, and call the fire department.
With a microwave oven – shut the door, turn it off, and unplug it. If any sign of fire remains call the fire department.
When in doubt, get takeout
One of the most important kitchen safety rules is knowing when not to cook. There are times when you should play it safe and order takeout.
“It doesn’t even matter if you’re using the microwave or other small appliance,” says Andrea. “If you’re using medication that makes you sleepy, if you’ve had a few drinks, that’s not the time to be cooking or using electrical equipment. Just get takeout.”
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