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Cooking Up Some Kitchen Safety

Nutrition and food preparation are an essential part of our daily routines. Mealtime with friends and family represents a time of enjoying a meal, sharing conversation, and being with people we value. Whether we are cooking for one person or 10 people, getting the meal safely to the table, represents a combination of good habits, planning, and awareness of cooking “Do’s and Don’ts”.

Here are the Facts:
The National Fire Protection Association reports that from 2014 -2018 that there were an estimated 172,900 home fires a year in the U.S. related to home cooking fires requiring a response from Fire Departments. These fires were responsible for 550 civilian deaths, and 4,820 civilian injuries per year. The yearly property damage was estimated at $1 billion. The most common cause of cooking fires was unattended cooking. While the number of fires peaked on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, the national average of home cooking fires was 470 home cooking fires a day. Interestingly, electric ranges have a higher incidence of fires than gas ranges. Of note in the NFPA report was that more than 25% of fatalities due to cooking occurred when people were asleep. More than 50% of non-fatal injuries occurred when people attempted to control the fires themselves.

Cooking Safety Tips

Little child playing with pan and electric stove in the kitchen
  • First and foremost, do not leave a lit stove unattended. Turn off the stove if you need to leave the
  • Do not use the stove if you are sleepy, or judgement may be clouded by medication or alcohol.
  • Do not leave combustible material near the stove. Examples are mitts/potholders, food, food packaging, towels. Maintain a three-foot clutter free zone around your stove.
  • Keep children and pets three feet away from stove.
  • Do not use the oven as storage
  • Wear snug fitting clothes when cooking. Loose garments like bathrobes, can lean into burner and ignite. Wear short sleeves or roll sleeves up if there is a chance of catching in the burner.
  • Turn the handles of your pots and pans inward to prevent tipping or spilling.
  • Clean all grease from stove. Grease, oil, or fat that meets up with flames will heat up and ignite. There is no cooking oil that is available that will not ignite if the temperature is high enough.
  • Grease fires burn very hot and can spread quickly. Grease fires are liquid and can splash as they Signs that may alert you that the grease you are cooking may ignite, include the grease starting to boil or smoke (another reason to not leave your stove unattended)
  • Never try to put out a grease fire with water. This potentially increases splashing and spreading the fire. Do not try to move the pot or pan that is the cause of a grease fire.
  • Keep grease to a minimum when you are cooking. Empty excess grease from the pan before you start to cook. Wipe grease off edges of pan and bottom. If grease is spitting from the pan, turn off the heat, wipe the pan bottom and edges as well as any stovetop surfaces.
  • Stove tops are statistically at greatest risk for kitchen fires, but don’t forget to clean crumbs from toaster, and to remove dust from other appliances. These can also contribute to a kitchen fire.

What to do in the event of a kitchen fire:

DHFD Kitchen Safety 3

As with any fire safety discussion, having functional smoke detectors, fire extinguishers that all members of the household know how to use, and a fire escape plan are critically important. Review of these key fire protection methods with the entire household. If you need more information, it is available from your local fire department and from organizations such as the National Fire Protection Association, FEMA, CDC and NIOSH.

Do not attempt to control a fire that is large, spreading rapidly and that you are not comfortable you can extinguish immediately.

Do not hesitate to call 911. The quicker a fire is extinguished the less chance of injury or death or property damage.  Below are suggestions for a small, controlled fire. It bears repeating: Do not attempt these measures for a fire that is not small and readily controlled. Remember the statistic of 50% of all cooking fire involved people who tried to extinguish the fires themselves.

Fire requires three elements in order to burn: 1) A heat source, 2) fuel (material that burns) and 3) Oxygen. If any one of these elements is not available, the chance of the fire being controlled and put out improves.

To deprive a fire of heat: Turn off the heat source. If it is safe to approach the stove, turn off the burner. If it is safe to approach your oven or broiler turn these off. If it is not safe, call 911.

To deprive a fire of oxygen: If an oven fire, leave the oven door close. If a pot or pan on the stove top has a grease fire, cover with a metal lid or baking sheet. Glass and ceramic lids can shatter when exposed to high heat, so do not use these. Do not place a lid on a pot or pan on fire by using a flammable oven mitt. Metal Tongs are recommended if you can control them and are not risking a burn of your upper body. Again, call 911 immediately if putting a lid on presents a hazard to your safety.

Common kitchen supplies that may help douse a small grease fire are Baking Soda and Salt. Baking soda in large quantities when heated causes carbon dioxide to be released and thus smothers a fire. Salt in large quantities forms a barrier between fire and air which has oxygen and thus oxygen deprivation can help put out a fire.

Note: Not all powdered kitchen supplies will put out a fire and some can worsen a fire. Baking powder and flour can cause an explosion if they are exposed to extreme heat.  

If the above steps are not successful in extinguishing the fire, but the fire is still controlled, use a fire extinguisher. If the fire is still not controlled, leave the house and call 911 quickly from a neighbor’s house if possible.

What you need to know about fire extinguishers:

Kitchen Safety Fire Extinguisher DHFD

Fire Extinguishers are classified according to the fire they are intended to put out:

Class A Fire Extinguishers: Ordinary combustibles such as paper, wood, fabric, cardboard and most plastics. Note Class A extinguishers are water based. A Class A extinguisher by itself should therefore not be used on a kitchen fire. Remember kitchen fires are primarily grease and oil based, and water is contraindicated for a grease/oil fire.

Class B Fire Extinguishers: Flammable liquids such as kerosene, grease and cooking oil.  Class B is the type of extinguisher that should be used in a kitchen fire.

Class C Fire Extinguishers: Electrical from appliances, circuit breakers and outlets. 

Class D Fire Extinguishers: Metallic fires.

Class K Fire Extinguishers: Really intended for industrial kitchens used for cooking fires.

The all-around fire extinguisher for home use combines Classes A, B, and C. The Class A component when it is combined with Class B and C is safe for grease fires and thus:

An ABC Fire Extinguisher will cover most home fires.

Where to locate the fire extinguisher and smoke alarm for your kitchen:

Both the fire extinguisher and smoke alarm are advised to be located just outside of your kitchen. If you need a fire extinguisher because the kitchen is on fire, you need to be able to reach it. Smoke and flames from the fire may prevent you from entering the kitchen to grab a fire extinguisher if it is inside the kitchen. Smoke alarms that are inside the kitchen tend to go off from ordinary kitchen heat, vapors and smoke from cooking, not associated with a kitchen fire. Remember 25% of fatalities that occurred from kitchen fires happened while people were sleeping. A functional smoke alarm just outside the kitchen that is hooked up so that all alarms in the house go off in sync when any alarm is triggered is safest.

Highlighting that a stove should never be left unattended when cooking, we end the topic of kitchen safety with a
quote from the New York City Fire Department:

“Stand by your pan.”