Ask John: Cooking Safety
Thanksgiving and Christmas are the number one and two days of the year for cooking fires
Cook your holiday feast without incident (save for maybe a disappointingly dry turkey or lumps in the gravy) and you can add one more item to your gratitude list as you sit down around the table: You didn’t set the house on fire.
Thanksgiving is the number one day for home cooking fires in the United States, followed by Christmas, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). On Thanksgiving Day in 2013, 1,550 cooking fires broke out.
Here, John Drengenberg, consumer safety director at UL, answers your holiday cooking safety questions.
To submit a question to John, email firstname.lastname@example.org with "Ask John" in the subject line.
Dear John: How can I avoid a cooking fire on Thanksgiving or Christmas?
Cooking is a leading cause of home fires — in fact, there are more than 50,000 fires in ovens and ranges every year — and many happen because of unattended cooking. You don’t have to sit there and watch your Christmas cookies bake. But if you do leave the kitchen for a moment — maybe you’re cooking dinner and your guests arrive — take an oven mitt or hot pad with you to remind you to go back into the kitchen. Greet your guests, get them seated, and say: “I’m going to go check on dinner.” They won’t mind because they want to eat. That’s why they came over.
Also keep excess food wrapping like bread wrappers and Styrofoam meat trays away from the gas flame or electric burner on your stove. And don’t cook wearing loose-fitting clothes that could dangle over the stove.
Dear John: How do cooking fires usually happen, and what should I do if a fire does break out in my kitchen?
What usually happens is a pan or pot will boil over and get grease down into the gas, or even electric, burner. The heat ignites the grease, and the fire burns up the side of pan, then into the pan and you end up with a pan fire.
If that happens, don’t pick up the pan and run outside with it — that’s the most dangerous thing you can do. As you’re running with the pan, whatever is in it spills, and you’ve got a little fire on your kitchen floor, a little fire in your hallway, a little fire by your back door. Now you’ve got three or four fires to deal with, and that’s when you need to call the fire department. When fire isn’t contained, you’ve got to call 911.
Instead of running with the pan, turn off the stove, put the lid on the pan and let the fire die out from lack of oxygen. If you don’t happen to have a lid for the frying pan, slide another lid or a metal cookie sheet over the pan, being careful not to get your hands near the flames.
If you see a fire in the oven, don’t whip open the oven door. Instead, turn off the oven and keep the door closed. If you can keep the fire from getting more oxygen, you’ve got the problem solved.
Dear John: What’s the most unexpected holiday cooking blunder you’ve heard of?
It may sounds strange, but don’t use your oven for storage. People say, “Oh, I’ve got all these cookbooks, and I’ve got company coming, I’ll just stick them in the oven.” But you forgot you asked Aunt Sally to bring over her sweet potato casserole, and she needs to warm it up, so she turns on the oven. Nobody expects to find cookbooks or paper plates or bread stored in the oven, but people do it.
This time of year, pretty much everyone is in a hurry. It might not be on your list, but taking a few minutes to think about safety can make your holidays much happier.