The modern kitchen is central to American life, so much so that Julia Child’s actual kitchen from her Massachusetts home is a permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. As we get older, however, the kitchen can become an increasingly dangerous place, where a senior’s physical or cognitive impairments inflate the potential for fires, accidents and food-borne illnesses.
Fortunately, there are simple steps that seniors and their loved ones and caregivers can take to help reduce or eliminate the common dangers posed by the kitchen. Here are important kitchen safety tips.
Avoiding kitchen fire hazards:
- Do not leave cooking food unattended. Doing so is a primary cause of kitchen fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association, whose recent statistics indicate that unattended equipment was a factor in one-third of home cooking fires and roughly half of the associated fatalities.
- Keep ovens and stovetops free of food residues, which can ignite. If necessary, have someone periodically clean the oven for you, as it can be a difficult chore, especially for seniors.
- If the oven has an exhaust hood and duct over it, see that they are kept clean as well.
- Never allow dish towels and other cloth items to hang or sit near the burners.
- Avoid loose-fitting clothing when cooking so that no part of your garments can come in contact with flames; long sleeves are especially vulnerable to catching fire.
- Unplug countertop appliances, including the toaster, when they are not in use.
- Never cook while feeling drowsy, or in a state of confusion, or after taking medication that might make you sleepy.
- Do not let the handles of pots and pans extend out beyond the stovetop, where you might accidentally bump them and spill the contents; always turn them facing in, instead.
- Use a timer to automatically remind you that the oven and/or stovetop are in use.
- Make a habit of checking the kitchen every time you finish cooking to be sure everything is turned off.
Avoiding common accident traps:
- Keep the kitchen uncluttered and brightly lit when occupied.
- Heavy items, such as dishes, pots and pans, should be stored at waist level.
- Do not use cabinets that are out of easy reach or require stepping stools.
- Use unbreakable plastic for glasses, cups and dishes.
- Beware of liquid spills that create a slippery floor; check the refrigerator for water leaks.
- Be certain that electrical cords do not present tripping hazards, or dangle from the counter to the floor.
- Protect your hands and wrists with mitts.
Avoiding food-borne illness:
Anyone can catch food poisoning, but according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, seniors tend to be more susceptible because of “changes in our organs and body systems.” For example, the FDA notes, “our stomach and intestinal tract may hold on to foods for a longer period of time; our liver and kidneys may not readily rid our bodies of toxins, and our sense of taste or smell may be altered.” To lessen the chance of catching a food-borne illness and endangering others for whom you may be cooking, be aware of the following.
- Keep the temperature inside your refrigerator at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
- Do not let leftover foods sit on the table after you have eaten; put them in the refrigerator immediately.
- Use separate cutting boards for meats and vegetables.
- Store meats and vegetables in separate sealed containers.
- Understand that spoiled food does not necessarily look or smell bad, so discard it if you have any reason to suspect spoilage.
Keeping it a happy kitchen, however, means keeping it safe as we grow older.