Tomorrow (June 13) is National Kitchen Klutzes Day. While I’m not a klutz in the kitchen, there have been a few times when I have brushed against something hot and burned myself or, while working with a knife, I have nicked myself. Nothing serious mind you (I still have all my fingers), but sometimes it does require a band-aid and wearing a glove while I continue to prepare food. I did have to go to the emergency room once in college when I sliced open the end of my index finger on the sharp edge of a can lid. It required a couple of stitches and a tetanus shot. I still have a small (1/2-inch) scar.
Where I do tend to “get” myself a lot is when working with a grater. I have to be very careful when the piece of cheese or the vegetable starts to get small and my fingers get close to the grater. I always have to remind myself to move slowly and carefully and pay attention to my finger placement.
Following are some of the most common types of injuries that occur in the kitchen and how to prevent and treat them.
We all like to joke that it wouldn’t be camp food if something wasn’t at least a little burnt, but you can burn more than just your food in the kitchen. One of the most common kitchen injuries is damage to the skin from hot liquids such as hot water, grease, or other substances; or by touching or brushing up against something that is hot like a hot pot or hot coals. While causing the same type of injury to the skin, contact burns are more severe than liquid burns because the heat is more direct, causing a more painful and serious burn. However, if the liquid is thick or sticky like a cheese sauce, it will cling to your skin and continue to burn until you get it rinsed off.
Caution is the best practice for avoiding burns. Always be aware of hot substances and hot surfaces, and keep the flame at a reasonable level to avoid splatter burns when frying food. When moving things, instead of hot pads, use oven mitts because they cover more of your hands and wrists. Keep the handles of your pots on the stove-top facing in or toward the back to avoid knocking them over.
Whenever you burn yourself, run your injury under cold water for as long as possible. The cold water cools the skin and stops the burning from causing more damage to the skin tissues. Harder burns to treat are grease burns, because they can be hotter than water, and other liquids such as caramelized sugar, because they stick to your skin and are harder to remove. If there are no open blisters or wounds, you can probably avoid a doctor’s visit, but make sure to treat it with ice and Neosporin. Remember to keep the wound clean and to change your dressings regularly in order to avoid infection.
This simple treatment can be a challenge in camp because water is not always readily accessible. If the water spigot is not close to your camp or your cook shelter, fill a bucket and keep it close by just in case. If an injury occurs and the water isn’t cold enough, have someone grab some ice from a cooler and throw it into the bucket.
Believe it or not, but eyes are at risk when working in the kitchen, especially when working with ingredients such as chile peppers or spicy ingredients. When substances with heat get into the eye, it can cause irritation and sometimes even infection.
Always be conscious of the food you’re working with when you’re in the kitchen, and never rub your eyes if you’re handling hot spices or pepper seeds. After working with those ingredients, wash hands really well. When frying food, be sure to keep your face as far away from the hot grease as possible, to avoid getting grease splatter in your eyes.
If there is irritation caused to your eyes, flush them out immediately with water and have someone take you to the emergency room as soon as possible, where you can be treated for possible infection.
Cuts are probably THE most common type of kitchen injury and can range from small nicks to deep lacerations. And, you can cut yourself with more than just a knife. I’ve caught myself with cheese graters, vegetable peelers, sharp edges on can lids, and Cuisinart blades, which are wicked sharp.
Always be your most serious and most focused when working with a knife or other sharp tool. Never be casual and don’t allow yourself to be distracted. Always hold your knife with a firm grip to prevent it from falling out of your hands and keep the tips of your fingers curled while holding something in place to be cut. And, always use a cutting board. We’ve all held the roll or bagel in our hand and sliced it. Don’t. Use a cutting board.
As soon as you cut yourself, wash the wound immediately — no matter how painful — in order to prevent infection to one of your body’s most important assets. Dry and apply a dressing and hold pressure directly to the wound. Do not elevate or use a tourniquet unless the bleeding is very bad, in which case you should go to the emergency room immediately. You should also visit an emergency room if the cut is large or deep, is on the palm or underside of the fingers, or if you think you will need stitches; and it’s very important to visit one within the first 12 hours of cutting yourself.
Because the hand is such a complex structure, it’s important to be aware of where you’ve cut yourself and how deep because you may have punctured a tendon or an important muscle. Cuts on the tips of fingers and tops of knuckles will not cause too much serious damage, whereas anything to the palm or finger could be detrimental to your hand movement and have long term effects.
After the bleeding has stopped and you’ve applied a bandage, if you need to continue working, use a food handling glove to ensure that food you are handling will not become contaminated. Also, throw away any food that came in contact with blood and thoroughly wash and sanitize your cutting board, the tool that caused the injury, work surfaces, and anything else that might have come in contact with blood.
Bumping Your Head
With cooks constantly on the move in the kitchen, it’s easy to catch a lantern hanging in the cook shelter or stand up and catch the edge of a table, which can lead to blunt force trauma to the head.
Slow down. Everything will get done and out on the picnic table on time, so take the time to look where you’re going and pay attention to your surroundings.
If you think you have a concussion, you should have someone take you to the emergency room right away, otherwise, a good old ice pack to the head will do the trick.
Tripping & Slipping
As silly as it sounds, tripping in the kitchen can lead to some pretty serious consequences, some of which we’ve already discussed.
Never allow small children in the kitchen while working, as they tend to linger around the cook who often forgets they’re there, and while the pooch may serve as a great sous chef in the form of clean up, best that they stay out of the kitchen as well.
Cooks can be a bit messy in the kitchen and we’re not blaming them but spilled liquids or food on the ground or the floor can lead to falls which can lead to bone fractures and concussions. If something spills, clean it up right away, no matter how big of a hurry you’re in. A burnt piece of chicken is way better than having a broken arm.
If it’s raining, the ground in your camp kitchen can become muddy and slippery, so watch your step.
Tripping usually leads to minor injuries that can be treated with an ice pack or a couple of aspirin, but it can also be compounded by a burn, cut, bump to the head, etc.
While not an injury, food poisoning can still lead to a trip to the hospital. Dirty sponges, not washing cutting boards and knives, not keeping hot foods hot or cold foods cold, and more can contaminate your food. Always be sure to use proper food handling in the kitchen to avoid food contamination.
The biggest way to prevent injuries in any kitchen is to simply slow down and eliminate distractions. Be aware of your surroundings and stay focused on the task at hand.
And, always carry food handlers gloves in your chuckbox. In the event of an injury on your hand, clean and bandage the wound and slip on a glove to prevent contamination. Food handlers gloves are also great for messy jobs like making meatballs, handling raw chicken, and handling spicy peppers.
When you’re in the kitchen, stay focused and stay safe.
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