5 Hidden Dangers Lurking in Your Kitchen

5 Hidden Dangers Lurking in Your Kitchen
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The kitchen may be the center of hearth and home, but not everything that happens there is happy. The kitchen, along with the bathroom, is one of the most accident-prone spots in the house.

Here are five dangers that even safety-conscious cooks may overlook:

1. Dishtowels left on the stovetop

Most home fires take place in the kitchen. And it's not always burning food that's at fault. Many fires begin because something has been left on the top of the stove, which is then turned on, either on purpose or by accident (perhaps by a young child or someone with dementia).

Dishcloths and potholders near burners are common fire-triggers. So are dishtowel covering other objects, such as bread rising in a bowl. The Home Safety Council recommends keeping anything flammable at least three feet from the stove.

Related danger: Long-sleeved or wide-sleeved robes, especially those made of flammable synthetics, can easily catch the flames of a gas stove. Many older adults dismiss this danger ("Oh, I've always worn this old robe") without realizing that they may be less attentive than they once were. Paper bags and plastic bags or wrap are other common flammables to handle carefully.

2. The fire extinguisher that isn't

Few of us think much about fire extinguishers -- until we need one. Baking soda is a handy alternative for dousing a grease fire (never use water, which can spread the flames). But if there's a fire that's quickly getting out of control, only a fire extinguisher has the force and range to snuff it out. Be sure you have a portable fire extinguisher hung within easy reach of the stove, and that you -- and anyone else who cooks in the kitchen -- is familiar with how to use it. Check also that it has been inspected and serviced at least once a year.

Related danger: Lack of smoke detectors, or one that isn't working. Get in the habit of automatically replacing batteries, whether they need it or not, in both spring and fall on the day you reset your clocks.

More hidden dangers lurking in your kitchen

3. Grease fires waiting to happen

Grease triggers more kitchen fires than anything else. But grease fires don't only happen when you're deep-fat-frying. Oil, butter, or shortening that has dripped on the stove or been picked up on the bottom of a pan from an earlier cooking session can catch fire during a later use.

The safest approach is to always wipe up grease drips, spills, and splatters as soon as they hit the stovetop. Check the bottoms of pots and pans before setting them on a burner to make sure they're clean.

Related danger: A cooker hood filter that hasn't been cleaned in a while. The cooker's hood filter helps absorb airborne grease. But if the grease builds up for years, it can present its own fire danger. Clean regularly, or replace it if it's very dirty.

4. Extension cord jungles

Kitchens tend to house more appliances -- microwaves, toasters, blenders, coffee makers, mixers, and more -- than any other room in the house. And they're often crowded onto a relatively small stretch of countertop. Enter the extension cord, as a way to give all those appliances electric juice where there are limited outlets. Unfortunately, the cords pose several hazards. They may get wet and cause electric shock. Over time they can fray. And if they run along the floor, curious little hands can yank them, dogs can chew them, and anyone, especially older adults, might trip.

What's safer: Unplug appliances after each use so they all share the outlets. Or ask an electrician to install a junction box that allows added outlets. Another option: Use a power strip up on a counter (not along the floor) to provide extra outlets.

Related danger: Appliances with frayed connector cords or wires or with faulty plugs. If an appliance isn't in perfect working order, get it repaired or replaced. It's never worthwhile to take a chance on electric gear in the kitchen, which is often used in a rush by teens or older adults who may not pay close attention.

5. Wet hands

Busy cooks or hungry family members often fly around the kitchen doing several things at once. Skipping the step of thoroughly drying hands after washing them or otherwise getting them wet, though, can get you in trouble. For example, using an appliance or unplugging one with wet hands can cause an electric shock. Wet hands also make it harder to hold onto glassware, ingredient jars, or other breakable objects.

Related danger: Not washing hands while cooking spreads bacteria. Especially when handling raw meat or eggs, wash hands before touching appliances, cupboard knobs, or fresh produce.

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio