Make sure safety is on the menu this year

The holiday season is in full swing, which means many of us will find ourselves in the kitchen prepping for upcoming celebrations. In the associated rush of gearing up for holiday get-togethers, cooking safety can sometimes be put on the backburner, no pun intended.

Inattention and electrical appliances don’t mix well, which is why it’s important to keep your focus on the delicious dishes you are preparing. While it might seem like a good way to kill two birds with one stone by starting a dish on the stovetop or in the toaster oven then moving on to other tasks, reports from the National Fire Prevention Association state that unattended equipment is cited as the leading cause for 32 percent of home cooking fires.

When frying, grilling, boiling or broiling food, always remain in the kitchen, and keep anything flammable – oven mitts, food wrappers, towels or wooden utensils – away from the stovetop or cooking surface. Another aspect of cooking safety that’s often overlooked is the condition of the appliances being used. Check that they are still in good working condition, and never use an appliance that’s in obvious disrepair or one that’s already had an over-extended cooking career.

Ask yourself just how many Christmases has that crockpot seen? The lifespan of small appliances greatly depends on how often they are used, how well they are maintained and how well their quality holds up. Generally speaking, the average life expectancy of most small kitchen appliances ranges from five to 10 years. For example, mid- to high-end toasters can last six to eight years, and a toaster oven works an average of five years. If you’ve celebrated your 15th wedding anniversary and you’re still regularly using the crockpot or toaster you received as a wedding present, it might be time to add a new one to your Christmas list.

To stay safe while cooking, keep the following additional tips in mind when you begin your food prep:

  • Make sure your appliances are plugged into a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlet. When working properly, the GFCI senses any power flow imbalances and in turn trips the circuit.
  • Make sure all electric cords are in good working condition: do not use appliances with cords or plugs that are frayed, cracked, taped, wire-exposed or otherwise questionable.
  • If you use extension cords, make sure they are in good condition and that the correct type of cord is used for the job (for example, don’t use an everyday, thin extension cord for a high-powered appliance). Use them as a temporary solution, not a permanent one.
  • Although often a task that gets skipped, read the appliance’s operating instructions prior to use.

When not in use, always unplug small appliances to prevent any unnecessary energy consumption, especially if the appliance has LED displays or any other standby features that consume energy.