10 Kitchen Hazards

10 Kitchen Hazards

Safety tips you might not have heard about

By Roxanne Webber

Rinsing Raw Meat and Poultry
Rinsing Raw Meat and Poultry

Overloaded Circuits

Overloaded Circuits

Bad Storage Habits in the Refrigerator

Bad Storage Habits in the Refrigerator

While we’re not alarmists, we still think it’s good to be aware of safety in the kitchen beyond “Don’t cut yourself.” After consulting experts and safety recommendations, we’ve put together this list of unexpected kitchen hazards (and some suggestions about how to prevent them).

1. Rinsing Raw Meat and Poultry. Dean Cliver, PhD, an Institute of Food Technologists spokesperson on food and kitchen safety, says the USDA has backed off the idea that meat and poultry should be washed or rinsed—in fact, the organization’s website says there’s no need to do so. “Sometimes you may buy a chicken, and it has salmonella. If you cook it thoroughly, it would kill it,” Cliver says. “Washing it might spread the salmonella around.”

2. A Greasy Range Hood and Filter. Captain Peggy Harrell of the Plano Fire Department in Texas says grease that has accumulated under your range hood and on the filter is “just the kind of thing that can start a grease fire.” Keep the underside of your hood clean, and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for changing the filter regularly.

3. Radon Gas. Radon is a radioactive gas generated in rock soil that causes lung cancer—and sometimes collects in homes. The EPA says that radon is often found in water (people using wells rather than municipal water systems are at a higher risk), and is released when the water is agitated, as when washing dishes. The New York Times also recently investigated radon emission from granite countertops and cited studies that found some levels to be unsafe. The gas is not detectable by sight, smell, or taste, so the EPA suggests testing for it. Hardware stores sell inexpensive kits you can use to check the radon levels in your home.

4. No Fire Extinguisher. Do you have a fire extinguisher near your kitchen? Captain Harrell says you should (she even suggests that you give extinguishers as housewarming gifts). Look for an extinguisher that works on class A (ordinary combustibles), B (flammable liquids), and C (electrical fires), often called a multipurpose dry chemical extinguisher.

5. Dirty Sponges. Sponges harbor disease-causing bacteria and spread those bacteria around kitchens. A study by microbiologist Carlos Enriquez at the University of Arizona found salmonella in about 15 percent of the sponges examined. Dean Cliver says that research shows that microwaving sponges for about one minute sterilizes them. But, he says, “There’s a caveat: The sponges should be wet. It never occurred to me that someone might microwave the sponge when it’s dry.” A dry sponge can catch fire in a microwave.

6. Carbon Monoxide (CO). CO is another invisible, odorless gas that could be hanging around in your kitchen. The EPA says at moderate levels it causes headaches, dizziness, nausea, and fainting—and at high levels it can be fatal. The gas is emitted anytime combustion appliances (such as gas stoves) are used, but dangerous levels occur only when these appliances are misused or misadjusted. To be safe, the EPA suggests that you have your gas range and oven inspected annually by a professional; never use a gas oven to heat your home; and never burn charcoal indoors. You can pick up CO test kits and alarms/detectors at hardware stores.

7. Mold. The EPA says that mold exposure can cause allergies, asthma, and other respiratory problems. Mold grows in areas where moisture accumulates, such as near leaky plumbing (check under your kitchen sink). The organization says that water-damaged areas should be dried “within 24 to 48 hours to prevent mold growth.” If you have a mold problem, the agency recommends decreasing indoor humidity by fixing leaks, using dehumidifiers, and turning on exhaust fans whenever cooking or using the dishwasher.

8. Overloaded Circuits. The U.S. Fire Administration says that in urban areas, faulty wiring accounts for 33 percent of residential fires; many avoidable electrical fires are caused by overloaded circuits. Older apartments often have few outlets, so tenants use extension cords or power strips. But this isn’t safe, according to the FEMA publication Residential Building Electrical Fires. Because heat-producing cooking appliances use a lot of power, you should be particularly careful where you plug them in.

9. Bad Storage Habits in the Refrigerator. “The fridge is one place we ought to be paying attention,” says Dean Cliver. “Don’t put drippy raw stuff over the salad bar.” The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service suggests placing raw meat, seafood, and poultry in sealed containers or plastic bags to prevent their juices from contaminating other foods.

10. Leaving High Heat Unattended. Peggy Harrell says that the most important thing you can to do be safe in the kitchen is to stay close when using high heat on the stovetop. If you must answer the door or the phone, she suggests keeping a spoon or a potholder in your hand so you have a visual reminder to get back to the kitchen ASAP.

Roxanne Webber is a former editor at CHOW.