Dangerous Things You Do in the Kitchen — Without Realizing It!
Unless you're a professional chef, you probably don't know all there is about cooking and kitchen safety. As a result, there's a lot you're doing in the kitchen that isn't too good for you — or the people around you. The good news? You don't have to enroll in a cooking class to get on the right track. Just read our list of the most common cooking mistakes people don't realize they make, and you'll be back in the kitchen with confidence.
Not Thawing Your Food Properly
It's tempting to leave a frozen chicken on the countertop to thaw — or, if you're running low on time, to throw it in hot water. Sorry to tell you, but these methods are not safe for your food. Instead, they're a good way to invite bacteria growth; letting raw meat sit at room temperature creates prime conditions in which germs can thrive.
The best way to thaw foods is in the refrigerator. Two slightly faster options are in cold water (and sealed in plastic) or in the microwave. Just be certain you're using the microwave properly — incorrect thawing can lead to food poisoning.
Slow-cooking Frozen Foods
Similar to incorrectly thawing ingredients, putting frozen foods in a slow cooker increases the risk for bacteria growth. This is because a slow cooker, as the name implies, cooks meat too slowly to bring it to a safe temperature fast enough. Instead, your meat hangs out in the 40- to 140-degrees-Fahrenheit range — what some call the "danger zone."
At this temperature, bacteria can comfortably multiply, and you could end up getting sick (along with everyone else at the dinner party). Why not err on the side of caution and thaw your meat before putting it in the pot? Your guests will thank you.
Not Wearing Correct Clothing
You probably don't have a chef's hat and uniform lying around, but that's not what we mean by "correct clothing" — it's a lot simpler than that. You just need to cover the areas that need some extra protection. For example, it's common for oil to splatter during cooking, so it's a good idea to wear long sleeves over your arms.
Second, pull that hair back! Long hair is a fire hazard in the kitchen — not to mention a less-than-appealing addition to your food. You'll also want to wear shoes that protect your toes from falling objects like knives, pots and hot water.
Not Preparing Your Kitchen for Cooking
A huge part of cooking is the kitchen itself — you need the correct dishes and the correct appliances. Something that people often overlook, however, is what they put on the floor. Let's face it. Spills happen, and a lot of people put rugs down so that those spills don't stain their floors.
If you choose to do this, you must get a non-slip rug. If your rug isn't staying firmly in place, it's only a matter of time before you slip and are sent flying with a plate of hot steaks in your hand.
Assuming You Know How to Cut Your Vegetables
We hate to tell you you're doing it wrong, but you just might be. There’s a specific method for using a knife that’s the safest for your fingers. Unless you've been lucky enough to have someone teach you, it's not necessarily instinctual.
Your non-cutting hand should be curled so that your knuckles guide the knife — it's harder to cut a finger this way. Your other hand should have the knife handle in your pinky, ring and middle fingers with your index finger holding the spot where the handle meets the blade. Your thumb should sit along the side of the blade itself.
Not Washing Your Hands
Okay, maybe this one seems like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how many people don't wash their hands before cooking. Especially if you're simply whipping together dinner for yourself, you may think, "They're my hands and it's food for me, so it's not that important, right?"
Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. You come into contact with countless germs throughout your day just by leaving the house. You don't need to have dirt under your fingernails to need to wash your hands. Instead, make it a routine every time you cook, and you'll be protecting yourself from getting sick.
Improperly Using the Microwave
It seems pretty straightforward. You type the length of time you want to heat something, and then press the start button. This is true to a certain extent, but you have to be sure you're cooking things well, especially with a microwave.
It's common for a microwave to heat the outside of something and leave the inside cold. (Ever made a chicken pot pie in the microwave?) This can be dangerous because foods need to reach a certain temperature to ensure bacteria can’t survive. Always make sure your foods are thoroughly cooked and the microwave’s power level is on the right setting.
Causing Cross-contamination Galore
One of the most important precautions in the kitchen is guarding against cross-contamination. This happens when, for example, you cut raw chicken on a cutting board and then slice veggies in the same spot without cleaning it. This allows bacteria from raw meat to transfer to other foods and can lead to illness.
Always wash your cutting board well after prepping raw meat. That goes for any utensils you use too, like a knife or a fork. If someone in your group has a food allergy, keep that food separate from everything and sanitize any utensils before they come into contact with it.
Putting Water on a Grease Fire
This crucial bit of knowledge is becoming more and more well-known, but it's not the easiest to remember. After all, the first thing most people think when they see a fire is "water!" If your cooking oil catches fire, absolutely do not head for the sink sprayer. Instead, cover the fire with something (like the pan’s lid) or pour salt or baking soda on top.
You must be careful to only use salt or baking soda. Other substances like baking powder or flour can make the situation worse. As a good rule, your first instinct should be to smother the fire with a non-flammable object.
Not Caring for Your Shopping Bags
If you've started using canvas bags instead of plastic bags, that’s great! This is a fast-growing trend that helps make everyone’s efforts more sustainable. Just be sure, however, that you're regularly washing those bags, because this is a place where cross-contamination can occur.
Just imagine that you use a bag to carry raw meat one week and then use it again to carry produce. That's a worrisome combination that can lead to unwanted (germy) outcomes. Just like you’d wash a cutting board after prepping, you should throw those bags in the laundry between uses, too.
Obsessing Over Olive Oil
This cooking mistake isn't as critical as some others on our list, but it's still a common one. Lots of people use olive oil instead of canola or vegetable oil because they think it's healthier for them, but it doesn't always work as well as it should.
For one thing, olive oil smokes and burns faster than the alternatives, and this leads to nasty food and damaged pans. It has a pretty strong flavor, too, so if a recipe calls for lots of oil this can mean a bad-tasting end product. Don't be afraid to use canola oil sometimes.
Not Cooling Leftovers ASAP
If you're accustomed to cooking up a batch of food and leaving it on the stovetop for later, consider changing this pattern. Food — especially meat — is safest when very hot or considerably cool. If you leave things out until they reach room temperature, then bacteria can very easily begin to grow.
It's best not to wait to store extra food in the fridge. If your food is really, really hot, put the container in ice water for a time to speed up the cooling process, and then put it in the fridge. Bottom line: Don't let your meals sit out at room temperature.
Not Eating Those Leftovers ASAP
Once you get those leftovers in the fridge, it's also best not to leave them there for very long. Generally, cooked meat is only good for a couple of days, and non-meats are fine for only a week. You can check out a full chart of items and their lifespans here.
If you really want to make your food last, try putting some in the freezer instead of the refrigerator. Food stays good for much longer when frozen and usually tastes better, too. And hey, you'll open up a ton of room in the fridge for the more important items.
Not Taking Care of Your Glassware
It may seem like the thick casserole dish your mom gave you for your birthday can withstand anything. After all, it's made to be durable. Just like everything, however, glass cookware has a weakness: rapidly changing temperatures.
If you move hot glassware onto a cold surface, or vice versa, the temperature shift can cause the glass to crack. If the change is extreme enough, it may even send shards flying everywhere, so you must be careful. Always let a dish cool before washing it, and never put a dish straight from the fridge into the oven.
Mixing Hot and Cold
Any instance in which something extremely hot comes in contact with something extremely cold can lead to dangerous consequences. In fact, a common cause of burns is when people try to put frozen foods into hot or boiling water (or oil). This is because the food expands so quickly in the heat that it causes the liquid to splatter.
Sometimes you simply can't avoid it; there are certain recipes that call for frozen foods or ice to be added to boiling water (like dumplings). This is where appropriate clothing comes in. Make sure you have long sleeves on, and don't lean too close to the pot.
Forgetting to Replace Your Sponge
It's one of those things that you think about when you're doing the dishes, and then promptly forget once you leave the kitchen, but buying new sponges is necessary when it comes to kitchen safety. Just think about all the different ways you use your sponge every day.
It touches a lot of different foods and sits out for long periods of time. This can lead to unwanted bacteria growing. Then you might use it to wipe down your counter, and suddenly your counter is contaminated. Replace your sponge regularly. You can also microwave it or throw it in the dishwasher between uses.
Failing to Keep an Extinguisher on Hand
Everyone should have a fire extinguisher in or near their kitchen. In a pinch, it can mean the difference between a house fire and a stovetop fire. One of those is a lot less dangerous (and a lot less expensive to repair).
It's important to have an extinguisher because not all fires can be put out with water — a grease fire being a prime example. Even if you can put it out with water, an extinguisher is a lot more efficient in an emergency than standing at the sink with a container. You'll be happy you made the extra effort.
Thinking You Need to Wash Your Meat
It's a common misconception that you need to wash raw meat before cooking it. Sure, it's good to wash fruits and vegetables, but when it comes to meat it's sadly a lost cause. Running a chicken breast or other raw meat under the faucet will actually just spread bacteria around, getting it on your hands and potentially on your sink as well.
The only way to ensure your meat is safe is to cook it to the required temperature. So the next time you open up a bag of pork chops, skip the rinse. It’ll save you time and keep everything cleaner.
Letting Meat Marinate on the Counter
If your recipe requires that you marinate the meat, whatever you do, don't leave it out on the counter. It may seem easier to set it aside while you start on other dishes or while you clean the kitchen, but it's a mistake that can prove dangerous.
Leaving meat out is never a good idea, and even if there's a lot of lemon in the marinade, it doesn't make the countertop option any safer. Go ahead and put your ingredients together and then slide everything back in the fridge until you're ready to cook. It's only one extra step.
Running to the Mailbox (or Anywhere Away From the Kitchen)
Have you ever been in the middle of cooking when the doorbell rings? Or you remember you forgot your phone in the car? Often, people leave their pots and pans unattended on the stove, and it has led to disaster on more than one occasion.
Needless to say, leaving food cooking unattended isn’t a good move. If you're not around, you won't be able to see when the mix boils over or when the oil catches fire. Not only can you spoil a perfectly good meal, but you can have a really bad accident, too. Whatever it is, it can wait.
Eating Raw Mixes
This is more of a baking mistake than a cooking one, but it applies all the same. Perhaps you've just mixed up the batter for the Thanksgiving brownies or are rolling dough into cookies with your nephew, and you can't resist sticking a finger in for a taste.
Most of us can admit that we've eaten raw dough or batter. It's just so delicious! Unfortunately, it puts you at risk for contracting serious foodborne illnesses. Salmonella, anyone? Next time you’re making something yummy, consider whether a quick taste is worth the possible consequences, and wait for the dish to fully cook.
Grabbing a Wet Oven Mitt
It's important to be vigilant when handling hot objects. You must be wary not to slip or fumble, and you have to steer clear of anyone else who’s around. There’s another danger, however, that lurks in the kitchen. It's your oven mitt.
But wait! Isn't an oven mitt a good thing? Won't it keep you safe from burns? Well, yes, it will, but only as long as it's not wet. Using a damp cloth or mitt to hold something hot will likely burn you quickly. That's because water conducts heat and can render the protection of your oven mitt useless.
Not Using a Meat Thermometer
You're probably aware by now that the safety of your meat depends largely upon its temperature. When you cook meat, it must reach a specific internal temperature to be safe to consume. The only way you can truly monitor this is by using a meat thermometer, so it's time to get one if you don’t already have one.
Meat thermometers don't have to be expensive — you can find simple ones for $10 — and they really bring your cooking up a notch. Guests will feel safe eating your dinner, and you'll feel pretty professional using it. Not sure what temperature things should be? Just consult this chart.
Using Unsharpened Knives
This one is easy to forget about. A brand-new knife might be perfectly sharp, but over time it’ll grow dull on you and stop slicing foods as well. When this happens, you need to have a knife sharpener on hand to keep it chopping through onions like butter.
You may be wondering, isn't a dull knife safer? While it's true a dull edge won't cut you as easily, it also won't cut your veggies as easily. This means you have to exert more force while cutting, and it increases the potential for the knife to slip and hurt you.
Letting Your Pot Handles Stick Out
If you're used to having kids around, you know how much they like to grab things. Imagine a child seeing a mysterious handle sticking out above them — how can they not give in to temptation by reaching out and grabbing it? Because of this, always keep handles turned inwards when you have pots on the stove.
Even if you don't have kids, a protruding handle can easily get bumped while you're walking around the kitchen. The last thing you want is for your stir-fry to end up on the ground, or for boiling water to fall on your feet. Keep those handles in and away from danger.
Letting the Kids Make Messes
Teaching your kids how to cook is a wonderful thing — just make sure you take the necessary precautions. Not only are kids wizards at making messes, but they can also easily hurt themselves. With all of the heat and sharp objects in a kitchen, kids must be supervised whenever they're in this space.
As adults, we often don't think about all the ways in which we're practicing safety in the kitchen — they’re simply second nature. If children are around, you have to consciously teach them what things to avoid doing. (And maybe don't let them take that hot dish out of the oven.)
Leaving the Oven Door Open
On a chilly winter evening, it might seem like a good idea to crack the oven open and let it heat up the house. This is especially appealing if you're struggling with sky-high heating bills, but don't be fooled. It's not very safe to leave the oven on with the door open, and it’ll still cost you money.
If you have a gas stove, the heat coming out can carry carbon monoxide with it, and this is fatal in high doses. The worst part is that you won't be able to smell or taste the carbon monoxide gas.
Using Super-old Kitchen Appliances
It's easy to keep an old appliance around even when you know it's falling apart. Who wants to spend money on a new toaster when you could spend it on a night out? The truth is, though, that the older the appliance is, the more likely it’ll be to malfunction — and some malfunctions could prove dangerous.
If a toaster is sparking regularly, it's not a good sign. Also, any appliance with fraying cords should go to the dump. If issues arise with your oven, you're obviously not going to buy a new one right away, but get someone in to check it out ASAP.
Talking on the Phone While Cooking
Everyone likes to chat with friends. It can be dangerous, however, when you combine chatting with friends and handling hot or sharp objects in the kitchen. Just like when you’re driving a car, talking on the phone distracts you from focusing on what you're doing. Even worse, it limits you to just one hand.
If you're going to talk on the phone anyway, at the very least you should put it on speakerphone and set it aside. The best option is to postpone the phone call until later — have a nice conversation while you're eating the delicious food you made.
Cleaning Your Kitchen With Too Much Bleach
When all of the cooking fun ends and the time comes to wipe down the kitchen, many people turn to a bleach solution for cleaning. This is generally a good idea — bleach will effectively kill the majority of bacteria. The danger comes when people don't adequately dilute the bleach.
This problem is especially important in the kitchen because the foods you consume touch the countertops, sink and other areas, and consuming residual bleach can be harmful to you. Check out these instructions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to learn what your water-to-bleach ratio should be.