As families spend more time at home this holiday season, it’s important to beware of the hidden dangers in the kitchen. Christmas is the second most likely day of the year for home cooking fires, preceded by Thanksgiving. In fact, cooking is the leading cause of all home fires and fire injuries, with nearly half (44 percent) of reported home fires igniting in the kitchen, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
The prevalence of kitchen fires makes sense, as there are few other places in a home with an open flame. But don’t blame stove tops and ovens—people are the major reason why fires ignite and worsen. Unattended cooking is the primary reason for most cooking fires.
These days, with more people working or distance learning at home, it’s easy to become distracted by events outside the kitchen. A one-minute exit to handle a familial issue stretches to five minutes. In the meantime, the pork chop frying on the stove top catches fire, triggering the smoke alarm.
In the mad rush to put out the grease fire, water is poured on the flames. Since oil and water don’t mix, the water vapors instantly carry flaming grease particles across the kitchen and set curtains, loose-fitting clothing, food wrappers, wooden utensils and dish towels on fire. Even a fire extinguisher discharged into a grease fire can spread the flames. A bad situation can easily become much, much worse.
Other causes of kitchen fires and injuries include toasters and microwaves that don’t turn off while in use and ignite. Frying pan handles that extend beyond the stove top where kids accidentally run into them and knock the pan off the stove can generate a fire and severely injure children.
Fortunately, there are many ways to cook safely every day of the year. For one thing, always stay in the kitchen while cooking. If you must leave the kitchen for an urgent reason, turn off stove tops, ovens, microwaves and toasters. If young children are present, designate a kids-free zone of at least three feet away from the stove top to limit mishaps. Keep all flammable items away from the stove top and turn pot handles away from the edges.
If a small fire ignites in a frying pan, leave it in place and use a cooking mitt to slide a lid over the top to snuff out the flames. In case of an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed until the temperature cools. If the toaster or microwave catches fire, use a cooking mitt to turn them off and unplug.
Other suggestions include keeping a Class C-rated fire extinguisher in the kitchen, which can snuff out oven and stove fires and those produced by appliances that catch fire. The U.S. Fire Administration recommends proper training and education in the use of the equipment.
Automatic stove top fire extinguishers are another safe idea. The equipment attaches inside range hoods and releases fire suppressing powder when flames reach the actuation device. Storing a fire-retardant blanket in the kitchen to smother small kitchen fires is another good practice.
Certainly, having smoke detectors to alert homeowners to the presence of a possible fire is not just smart but is highly suggested by federal fire agencies. The problem is that homeowners sometimes disable smoke detectors located near the kitchen, as they may activate during normal cooking procedures. A heat detector is a better choice for the kitchen area because it activates only when unusually high temperatures or fast-rising temperatures are discerned by the device. Heat detectors should be placed at least 10 feet from cooking appliances.
What else? Never cook if you feel sleepy, have taken a medication that causes drowsiness, or consumed alcohol. Save the wine for the dinner table. And always exercise caution. When in doubt about putting out a kitchen fire or any other home fire, leave the premises immediately, ensure others are evacuating, close doors to help contain the fire, and call 911.
Lastly, make a commitment to do what is needed to ensure your kitchen is the safest place in the home. Your family’s health and safety depends on it.
Hugo Del Toro is a senior risk consultant with Chubb.
The opinions and positions expressed are the authors’ own and not those of Chubb. The information and/ or data provided herein is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Insurance coverage is subject to the language of the policies as issued.