A few years ago, a friend of mine (a young mother of two) had a terrifying moment in her kitchen. She’d turned on the water to boil a pot of eggs and went to change a diaper in the next room. She smelled something burning and ran to the kitchen to discover that a tea towel that had been hanging off the door of the oven was on fire. She was able to douse the flames, which seem to have ignited from a spark that came from something burned onto the element, but let me tell you, she no longer keeps towels anywhere near the stove when she’s cooking!
Here are some tips that you can start making use of right this minute to help prevent a kitchen fire:
Be aware of flammables. Stop putting those oven mitts and kitchen towels anywhere near the stovetop. You might think you are safe because you don’t leave flammables next to your element, but remember what happened to my friend, when a spark caused a tea towel to catch fire . . . a tea towel that was hanging off the oven door (where many of us often place these things!). Curtains, appliance cords, and anything else that can melt or catch fire should have a safe amount of distance between it and the stove.
Dress appropriately. Loose-fitting clothing can catch fire. When you’re cooking—especially over propane burners—keep baggy shirts tucked in or tied back with a well-fitting apron. Avoid wearing long, flowing sleeves when you’re at the stove, too.
Don’t leave the kitchen. If you have something cooking in the kitchen, stay in the room. If you absolutely have to step out of the kitchen while you’re cooking, take the pots and pans off the heat or turn off the boiler. Unattended pots and pans are the most common cause of kitchen fires.
Know your smoke points. Become familiar with the smoking points of the fats and oils you use for cooking. Oils with low smoke points brought to high temperatures can catch fire.
Dispose of grease responsibly. That means not throwing hot grease in the garbage can—it can cause something in the trash can to ignite. Wait until the grease cools and then dispose of it.
Clean grease spills. If you spill grease during cooking and it falls into the drip pan under your stove’s cooking element, turn off the heat and wait for the burner to cool down; then, clean up the spill. Otherwise, the next time you go to cook something, you’ll probably forget about the grease being there and it could easily ignite.
Use appropriate cooking utensils. If you’re cooking something in a deep layer of oil, be sure to use long-handled tongs to allow you to safely put food in and take food out without causing grease to splash out over the sides. In fact, deep fat cooking should only be done in a deep fryer.
Watch for smoke. When your cooking oil starts smoking, that means it’s close to catching fire and you need to carefully remove the pan from the heat source.
In case the worst-case scenario happens, be sure to have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen where it’s in easy reach. Never, ever put water on a grease fire because it can make the fire spread.
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