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5 Rules to Prevent Burns and Fires in the Kitchen

An open flame in a cooking plan utilized in a Kitchen setting

While a kitchen disaster might translate to burned chicken or a chewy risotto, firefighters and emergency responders understand that the worst kitchen disasters can lead to fires that destroy homes and extreme burns to adults and children.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, in 2021, 170,000 kitchen fires warranted emergency service. More than 130 people died, and thousands were injured from these fires. How can individuals stay safe when cooking or preparing food in the kitchen? Here are 5 rules to prevent burns and fires in the kitchen.

  1. Never leave burners unattended.

  2. Ensure grease-heavy foods have safe space to drip and drain.

  3. Always use mitts or protective hand coverings when handling hot pots, pans, and cooking sheets.

  4. Do not overstuff pots and pans.

  5. Keep fire extinguishers easily accessible.

Kitchen Pot on a burning burner

Never Leave a Lit Burner Unattended

While the adage advises that “a watched pot doesn’t boil,” an unattended pot or pan can wreak far greater havoc and harm. While stepping away from boiling water or a pot simmering on low heat is common for many cooks, never leave that pot unattended for a long duration.

A pot or pan placed on an active burner for too long could result in the contents boiling over or overcooking. Food that drips onto the burner could start a fire; this is especially true if the pot or pan contains grease-laden foods like meat or cooking oils.

A ‘lit’ burner typically refers to a stove that operates via natural gas. Leaving a gas burner unattended presents a fire risk, as a flame heats the burner. However, those who cook with electrical appliances should not lull themselves into thinking that active burners are safer simply because they don’t require gas or a flame. Electric stoves present a fire risk, too. Again, if food boils over, the burner could start a fire.

Check food regularly. If the pot or pan needs to simmer, turn the heat low. This ensures the food doesn’t overcook and burn.

Use a Grease Tray to Ensure Grease Has Room to Drip Safely

A grease tray or grease pan looks similar to a standard cookie sheet; this tray is used during grilling or baking to collect grease that drips down from food. Grease and food drippings can land on a heating element within an oven. The grease mixed with the extreme heat can lead to a fire.

Cooks can minimize fire risk when cooking grease-heavy foods by placing a grease tray beneath their cooking dish. The tray captures the grease so it doesn’t land on the heating element.

Grease pans are inexpensive. Purchase a pan at a local retail store like Walmart or Target; Amazon and other online outlets also sell them. Use this protective cooking tool to help prevent oven (and grill) fires.

How to Put Out a Grease Fire

A grease fire can ignite suddenly. Once grease drips or pops onto an active burner, the flammable substance combined with the extreme heat leads to a kitchen fire. A grease fire can happen to the most experienced and safe cooks; don’t be caught by surprise, and know how to extinguish a grease fire before it spreads.

There are a few ways to put out a grease fire. If the fire starts in a pan or a pot, immediately cover the container. This removes the oxygen source. Typically, this solution works well for small fires.

If the fire is larger and cannot be contained by covering it, use either salt or baking soda to extinguish it. Cooks should have salt and baking soda nearby for this reason.

Never use water to extinguish a grease fire; this will spread the fire. Remember that oil and water do not mix. Grease repels water, so water will not extinguish a grease fire.

How to Put Out an Electrical Fire

Electrical fires can start in an outlet or within a power strip. Like grease fires, an electrical fire cannot be extinguished with water. Turn off the electricity source when and if possible in an electrical fire.

To quell flames from an electric fire, use a fire extinguisher or douse the fire with baking soda or a Class C fire extinguisher. This type of extinguisher emits carbon dioxide, which safely puts out electrical fires.

Two Oven mitt hands taking out freshly baked muffins from and oven

Wear Oven Mitts to Prevent Burns

When cooking near hot pans and pots, protect your hands against the heat. Oven mitts provide a thick covering that insulates the hands against hot metal and scorching temps.

There are many different types of materials used to make oven mitts. The most popular type of mitt features a heavy quilted material insulated with batting. These mitts are available in various colors and patterns.

Never grab a pan or pot unless your hands are protected. Keep several pairs of mitts in the kitchen to protect against burns and injury.

Don’t Overstuff Pots and Pans

Always choose an adequately sized pot or pan for cooking. Never overstuff pans or pots. When the liquid within a pot boils, it needs room to expand. If the pot or pan is overfilled, the contents boil over. Grease or other liquids could fall onto heating elements or active burners and start a fire.

Choose larger pots and pans when doubling a recipe or cooking a meal for a large group. Always make sure that the food has room to simmer and expand.

A Fire Extinguisher

Keep a Fire Extinguisher in the Kitchen

Fires can start unexpectedly. When cooking, though, individuals must be proactive about safety and understand fire risks. A grease fire happens quickly; a few popping grease particles can drop onto an active burner and ignite. Cooks need to be prepared to act and extinguish the fire.

Panicking and being ill-prepared could lead to acting without thinking; a fearful cook could throw water on a gas fire, making the fire spread. Learn how to extinguish different types of fires and discover the fire extinguisher codes.

What is the Best Kitchen Fire Extinguisher?

Always have numerous fire extinguishers in the home in case of emergency. A fire extinguisher should be kept in the kitchen and stored in an easy-to-reach location. What is the best type of kitchen fire extinguisher?

Fire extinguishers are labeled with a letter that correlates to the types of fire it extinguishes. Again, a Class C extinguisher is ideal for electrical fires and emits carbon dioxide to extinguish these fires. A Class A extinguisher puts out the most common types of fires–e.g., wood, paper, plastic, etc. Class B extinguishers are used for “combustible liquids,” which include gasoline, paint thinner, alcohol, etc.

A Class K extinguisher might be an ideal option for the kitchen. This type of fire extinguisher is designed to put out fires started by animal fats and greases. The Class K extinguisher is designed for kitchen fires; all cooks should have one.

What to Put on a Burn

Even the most cautious cook could still make a mistake and get burned. When a cooking mitt comes loose or a hot pot sears the skin, here’s how to care for the burn.

Types of Burns

Burns are categorized into different levels of severity. A third-degree burn is considered the most severe type; these burns look leathery or even white. The Mayo Clinic explains that treatment might necessitate a skin graft.

Second-degree burns are a common burn type. Searing the skin with a hot pan or pot could result in a second-degree burn. This type of burn could result in slight scarring.

First-degree burns are painful but do not scar or cause significant damage. A sunburn is a common first-degree burn; the skin might be red and tender.

How to Heal a Burn

Aloe Vera

For the most common types of burns (second and first-degree), individuals can use remedies at home to heal their burns. Aloe or other soothing salves can minimize the hot feeling of a first-degree burn.

Bandages and some Q-tips

For second-degree burns, use cool water to soothe the burn. Apply a healing ointment and a bandage. Kaiser Permanente offers a detailed care plan for treating minor, second-degree burns at home.

A medical Professional

Third-degree burns require immediate medical attention. These severe burns should not be treated at home.

Stay Safe in the Kitchen

Cooking delicious dishes should be a mouth-watering experience, but kitchen fires can lead to a first responder emergency. Stay safe while cooking. Don’t leave active burners (or lit burners) unattended, use a grease pan, keep hands protected, don’t overstuff pots and dishes, and always keep a Class K extinguisher nearby. Knowing how to handle a fire when it starts safely is the most essential cooking skill!


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