November begins the ‘busy’ season in the kitchen, and also when the number one cause of home fires sees a few notable upticks in frequency. The highest daily number of home cooking fires occur on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
While the majority of reported cooking fires are relatively small on average, it is wise not to let your guard down. Data from the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) reveals just how common they are (several hundred every day). This also pretty much tells us that we can all take steps to help reduce them, and reduce the damage and injuries that can occur as a result.
The data also shows the leading cause of fires in the kitchen is unattended cooking and most cooking fires in the home involve the kitchen stove. Unattended cooking, involving the stove – seems simple and easy to avoid a fire ignition. But when the kitchen gets busy, things get overlooked, even by the most seasoned kitchen veterans.
Here’s a quick list of things to keep in mind as you work your magic in the kitchen:
Be alert. First and foremost, if you’re not up to the task – if you are sleepy or have consumed alcohol, it is safer to let someone else take the helm in the kitchen.
Stay organized. Keep anything that can catch fire – utensils, paper, packaging, and oven mitts away from your stovetop.
Stay close. Don’t leave the stovetop unattended, especially when using high heat, or when using oil. If you have to step away, even for a brief moment, turn off the burner (unless you have an attentive helper to assist, of course).
Keep track of time. Set timers (either using your smartphone or the cooking appliance itself) as a reminder to check things.
Warm food safely. When entertaining a larger crowd there’s sometimes a need to keep food warm. Keep these in mind:
- If you are ‘keeping food warm’ in the oven, be sure to set a timer to remind you about it.
- If you are using a plug-in crockpot or griddle, these are handy but they heat food using the same approach as electric space heaters and blankets. In other words, they can draw a lot of current, so don’t use an extension cord, make sure the plug is plugged in ‘snug’ to the outlet, and make sure you have a timer set. (Related: See safety tips here regarding electric heating devices. Also, minimize the length of cord on top of the serving surface, or hanging in a high activity area, to minimize the risk of it being snagged and spilling its hot contents.
- If you are using those little silver canisters (chafing dish warmers) to keep food warm, you’re likely experienced with them – but here’s a short but very informative video on handling and lighting them safely.
Fry with care. It can produce a ‘tasty bird’, but deep-frying a turkey is not for the faint of heart. Just search for “safety tips for deep frying turkey” online, there is a multitude of safety tips available.
In case of a fire. It is good practice to have a fire extinguisher readily accessible in the kitchen area in case of a fire; find out more here from the NFPA if you don’t have one in the kitchen and are looking to get one, or if you simply want to learn more about where to place them and how to use them. Importantly, NEVER throw water on a grease or oil fire. If you can’t contain flames from a pan by placing a lid over it or properly using the correct extinguisher for this type of fire, don’t mess around – dial 911.
One final but important item – please don’t ever turn off your smoke alarms, even if one goes off as a result of your cooking in the kitchen.
Whether you are early in your cooking career or a self-proclaimed chef, we strongly encourage you to remember these tips – and to share them with others helping you craft your holiday meal.