Unit 1 – Food Safety

1.2 Safety in the Kitchen

Great news!  More people are cooking at home than they did thirty years ago with the largest increase in men.   [1]    This increase  parallels the number of  television cooking shows,  the plethora of  online recipes, and  variety of step-by-step  recipe  tutorials available. The problem with these shows and websites is they overlook the need for safety –both to prevent accidents and fires as well as safe food handling practices to prevent foodborne illnesses. [2]
Image of man in kitchen cooking
Image by Jason Briscoe Unsplash
The kitchen has the potential of being the most dangerous room in your house– knives may result in a loss of fingers,  hot liquids and pots may cause skin burns, and frying might start a grease fire.  More accidents occur in the kitchen than any other room in the house, and the same can be true in school  foods labs.

Kitchen Fires 

According to the National Fire Protection Association, almost 500 kitchen fires occur each day in the United States.  In fact, most home fires begin in the kitchen.  These fires can be fatal as described below.

A fatal fire in a Maine single-family home began when a male occupant fell asleep in an adjacent room while cooking oil was being heated on the kitchen stove. Investigators believe that when he woke to the burning oil, he threw water on the fire. This caused the fire to spread. The victim was found in the kitchen with burn and smoke inhalation injuries.

An elderly Oklahoma woman phoned for help, stating that her clothing was on fire and she could not get out of her home. When the fire department arrived, the fire was already out. The severely burned woman was found in her living room. She told the firefighters that she had been making coffee when her clothes were ignited by the gas burner on the range. The victim was transported to the hospital where she later died. [3]


Kitchen Safety Rules 

Whether  you’re cooking at home and in the school foods lab, be sure to follow these kitchen safety rules to prevent accidents. The rules below are adapted from Taste of Home‘s   “Top 10 Kitchen Safety Do’s and Don’ts” [4]

Rule 1. Learn how to extinguish a fire.

 Cooking is the leading cause of home fires. Before using the oven or stove,  locate the fire extinguisher and review the dirctions on how it works.   It takes only seconds for a fire to get uncontrollable.  Kitchen fires are typically from  grease or electricity. Never pour water over any kitchen fire –the water makes the fire spread. Instead,  use a fire extinguisher,  baking powder, or cover the pan.   The fireman in the video below demonstrates what occurs when you put water on a fire, which is NOT recommended. He also  describes that the word to remember when using a fire extinguisher is  “PASS.”  It’s an easy way to remember to:  Pull the pin, Aim at the fire, Squeeze the trigger, and Sweep across the fire.

A fire inside your oven is best put out with an extinguisher, and a microwave fire can be put out just by turning off the appliance and keeping the door closed.   For a stove-top fire, if you don’t have a fire extinguisher,  try suffocating  it by covering the flames with a large lid.


VIDEO:  “How to Safely Put Out a Kitchen Fire.”  Inside Edition.   May 7, 2018.  (1:55 minutes)

Rule 2. Learn how to use knives.

A dull knife is more likely to slip and cut you than a sharp one. Keeping your blades sharpened is one of the easiest ways to ensure safety. Also, it would be best if you chose the appropriate knife for the task at hand. In other words, do not use a meat cleaver to slice strawberries. The “Basic Knife Skills” video demonstrates how to hold and use knives properly.

VIDEO:   “Basic Knife Skills.”   By Tasty.co site.   September 24, 2017.     (6:33 minutes.)

Rule 3. Wear safe clothing and tie back hair.

Do not wear long, baggy sleeves in the kitchen. Can you imagine your sleeve catching fire from the flame of a glass stove? In general, tops with fitted sleeves or no sleeves work best. Also, avoid wearing anything flammable or synthetic; these fabrics can melt onto your skin when overheated.

None of us wants to have someone else’s hair in our food. Even freshly washed hair contains bacteria. Tie back your hair to avoid stray strands from contaminating food. For hair too short for tying back, use a hair covering such as a net or a hat.

Rule 4. Wear shoes with closed toes and rubber or leather soles. 

Have you ever dropped a knife, broken a plate, or accidentally spilled hot liquids? Imagine any of these falling on your foot. Always wear close-toed shoes with low heels while cooking. Leather is the best choice. Not only will the shoes protect you from sharp falling objects, but they will also protect you from other kitchen mishaps such as broken glass and hot water or oil spills.

Rule 5. Prevent burns.

When cooking, make sure to turn your pots and pans handles inward. And use the rear burners if possible. This combination will help prevent someone from knocking into the pans, resulting in hot food spattering on your skin. When handling anything on the stove-top or in the oven, always have potholders or oven mitts within reaching distance. Do not use wet potholders or dish rags because they will not keep the heat from burning your hands. And steam can for from the heat/water combination resulting in a steam burn

Rule 6. Always stir and lift away from you.

Lift the lid on a pot of hot foods away from you. A hot pot will collect steamy condensation under the lip. This condensation can drip onto your skin when lifting off the lid toward you, causing burns. The same goes for stirring. Make sure you always stir away from your body.

Rule 7.  Don’t set a hot glass dish on a wet or cold surface.

Glass expands when it gets warm and shrinks when it cools down quickly, which causes the glass to break. The best place to set hot glass lids and pans is on a trivet, cutting board, or potholder to avoid breakage.

Rule 8 . Don’t use metal utensils on nonstick, Teflon pans.

Avoid using metal utensils on Teflon or nonstick pans. The metal might cause flaking or chipping of the Teflon. This not only damages the nonstick surface, but the flakes will contaminate your food. Some people believe that these flakes might be toxic. A better solution: Use wooden or plastic spoons on Teflon or other coated pots and pans.

Rule 9. Don’t use the same cutting board for raw meat, fruits and vegetables.

We all want to avoid washing extra dishes, but this is one area in which you shouldn’t take shortcuts. Using the same cutting board for meats, fruits, and vegetables might result in Salmonella poisoning and make everyone who eats your food sick. The FDA advises using two separate cutting boards: one for raw meat, poultry, and seafood, and a second one for fresh fruits and vegetables. If you must use the same board, it’s safest to prepare your fruits and vegetables first, wash the cutting board thoroughly with soap and hot water, and then prepare the meats. This practice also reduces cross contamination.

Find the kitchen and food safety violations in this 1964  photo of  Thanksgiving dinner.




  1. Taillie, L.S. Who’s cooking? Trends in US home food preparation by gender, education, and race/ethnicity from 2003 to 2016. Nutr J 17, 41 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12937-018-0347-9
  2. Maughan C, Chambers E & Godwin S. Food Safety Behaviors Observed in Celebrity Chefs across a Variety of Programs. Journal of Public Health. Published online April 2016 DOI:10.1093/pubmed/fdw026.
  3. Marty Ahrens. “Home Cooking Fires.” National Fire Protection Association. July 20, 2020. https://www.nfpa.org//-/media/Files/News-and-Research/Fire-statistics-and-reports/US-Fire-Problem/Fire-causes/oscooking.pdf Accessed July 3, 2021.
  4. Jennifer Schafer. "Top10 Kitchen Safety Do's and Don'ts."  August 14, 2018.  https://www.tasteofhome.com/article/kitchen-safety-tips/  Retrieved July 5. 2021.


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Introduction to Nutrition and Wellness Copyright © 2022 by Janet Colson; Sandra Poirier; and Yvonne Dadson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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