Here are some tips for avoiding cooking disasters
According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires, followed by Christmas Day and Christmas Eve. It’s not uncommon to hear on the 10 o’clock local news during the holidays that someone was seriously injured while deep frying a turkey or roasting a pig in the backyard.
It doesn’t matter what time of year you get your Jan D’Atri on. What’s important is following safety measures when cooking.
Stick to the recipe
There are cooking disasters that have nothing to do with fire, expect the fire that may develop in your digestive system if the recipe isn’t followed. Holiday dinners are not the best time to try a recipe the first time. Work a recipe in advance to find out how complicated it will be and how much time will be involved. Do you have the right cooking accouterments? How did it taste? Any digestive distress eight hours later?
Cooking fire facts
Cooking can be great fun and a family bonding experience. But there is very important safety information to keep in mind. Per the NFPA, 66% of home cooking fires start with the ignition of food or other cooking materials. For more statistics, visit the NFPA’s Home Cooking Fires and Home Structure Fires reports.
Home cooking safety
- Never walk away from an active stove.
- If you are sleepy or have consumed alcohol, don’t use the stove or stovetop.
- Stay in the kitchen while frying, grilling, boiling or broiling food.
- If you are simmering, baking or roasting food, check it regularly and use a timer to remind you that something is cooking.
- Keep anything that can catch fire — oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging, towels or curtains — away from your stovetop.
What to do in case of a cooking fire
- Get out! Close the door behind you to help contain the fire.
- Call 911 after you get outside to a safe area.
- If you fight the fire, call 911 first so they can help or inspect the area. Be sure others are getting out of the house and you have a clear way out. (Note: Three out of five people are injured by fighting the fire.)
- Keep a lid nearby when you’re cooking to smother small grease fires. Smother the fire by sliding the lid over the pan and turn off the stovetop. Leave the pan covered until it is completely cooled. Do not remove the cover because the fire could start again.
- Use the fire extinguisher. (See below.) No extinguisher? Sprinkle baking soda or salt on the fire.
- For an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed.
Safety when cooking with oil
Vegetable oil by itself is not flammable. However, once it reaches a flashpoint — around 600 degrees Farenheit — it releases vapors that can catch fire and burn intensely. Autoignition can occur when the oil reaches a temperature of about 700 degrees.
- Always stay in the kitchen when frying on the stovetop.
- If you see wisps of smoke or the oil smells, immediately turn off the burner and carefully remove the pan. Smoke is a danger sign that the oil is too hot.
- Heat the oil slowly to the temperature you need for frying or sautéing.
- Add food gently to the pot or pan so the oil does not splatter.
- Again, always cook with a lid beside your pan.
- Never throw water on an oil/grease fire.
- If the fire does not go out or you don’t feel comfortable fighting it, get everyone out of the house. Call 911 when you are outside.
Fire suppression tools
Keep an extinguisher in the kitchen. Extinguishers are rated by UL as A, B, and C. Tom Louis, retired Green Valley Fire District battalion chief and now business development analyst with Emergency Reporting, notes that it is very important to look at the rating on the extinguisher. “A and B rating is for home use,” he said. “The number that accompanies the letter is the expected square footage the fire can handle.”
For example, an extinguisher with a 10B rating can cover roughly 10 square feet. An extinguisher with a 20B rating can cover 20 square feet.
Fire extinguishers range from $20 to $155 depending on the type and size and can be found at the hardware store. Louis suggests taking an extinguisher usage class which many fire departments offer.
Louis recommends Tundra Fire Extinguishing Spray. Due to its strength and ease of use, it works on household fires involving paper, fabric, wood, cooking oils, electrical appliances and equipment. “This is a great extinguisher for older homeowners because it is so light at easy to use,” he said.
Hood canisters will protect a stovetop from grease fires, even when no one is in the kitchen. The tuna-can-sized canisters are magnetically attached under the hood or microwave and deploy automatically when the flames from a cooking fire make contact with the fuse on the underside of the canister. The canisters open and drop a fine, dry powder over the flames below, suppressing the fire. StoveTop FireStop products range from $56 to $200 and can be found at the hardware store.
Overhead fire suppression systems are not just for commercial facilities. Scottsdale-based Kitchensafe offers a salt- and water-based system that is UL-tested. Its stainless-steel monitor is mounted directly on the wall or closet, near the cooktop with the canisters under the hood. A series of lights indicates the system’s status. An alarm sounds when the heat gets too hot. If the heat is not reduced and fire erupts, the system will deploy in about five seconds and will cut off the power to the stove. The system will also alert the fire department if it is connected to a security system. City permits and inspection are required. Product and installation generally run less than $2,000 according to Kitchensafe owner Tom Coffin. He also suggests adding a relay to shut off gas or electric. Be sure that the installer of the system is appropriately licensed by the Arizona Registrar of Contractors.
Guardian Safety Solutions International Inc. develops and manufactures residential rangetop fire protection systems. Find Arizona distributors.
Whether the stovetop can be used after a fire depends on the severity of the fire, how much cleanup needs to be done and if the appliance is damaged. Have a reputable appliance repair company inspect the appliance to ensure it is safe to use.
The most fool-proof way to avoid cooking disasters in your home is to eat out! Find terrific local restaurants at Local First Arizona.
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