OK, so admittedly this could have been posted a few days ago, but I've been busy! Anyway, there'll be other holiday seasons when people, some of them not terribly experienced, spend a large amount of time preparing food, and can benefit from the below advice.
Anyway. The first thing that needs to be said is, I love cooking. Adore it. I'm the sort of woman for whom a food processor is not an unromantic Christmas present. The kind who finds it easier to bake a cake than run out to the supermarket in the rain and buy one. The kind for whom no visit from friends can be considered such if I didn't cook them a full dinner.
So I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and have done pretty much throughout my whole life; my mom is also a big time cook, as is my grandmother, and family gatherings with 25 for a sit down meal were commonplace in our house. Little fingers can be useful in the kitchen, doing fiddly things like peeling hard boiled eggs or grating cheese; so us kids were put to work at an early age!
As you may readily imagine, I've suffered more or less every injury you could sustain in a kitchen over the years. Apart from just cutting or burning myself, I've had glass shatter at and over my feet, casseroles of piping hot food go down the whole front of me, things from hard-to-reach cupboards fall on my head, cold burns from rummaging in the freezer to long, fingers caught in drawers and doors... The works. And like every keen sportswoman eager to uphold the reputation of her discipline by preventing stupid accidents, what I want to tell you is:
The kitchen is a dangerous place!
There are hot things and sharp things, and sometimes poisonous things (or at least ones that could give you a bout of indigestion you won't forget in a hurry), and time pressure and a lot of things all needing to happen at the same time. It can be confusing, and the learning curve from novice to cook is pretty steep. And even if I can't make that go away for you (though I've tried, in small ways, over the years), at least I can help you keep yourself safe.
And so, behold my top five kitchen safety rules!
- Never place a knife upright with its blade up. This basic error is a leading cause of home based injuries and even fatalities. Whether you're stacking the dishwasher or putting knives away, never stick them pointy end up into anything, not even for a moment. Your own or somebody else's fingers (or worse, eyes, chests, the list does go on and get gruesome) will thank you.
- Never leave cupboard doors open. Even if you're just pulling something out for a second and are putting it right back, train yourself to always close the cupboard door. You may get distracted, or there may be someone else in the kitchen with you, and someone may smack right into that door-that-was-only-open-for-a-second. Now, bruised shins and smacked foreheads are bad enough, but imagine of you're also holding something sharp, or carrying something hot/heavy/both? Only badness can ensue. It takes self discipline, but learn to tap the cabinet doors shut when you're cooking.
- Never grab anything hot with a tea towel. More than likely, it'll be damp, which means not only that it won't protect your hand, but the water will conduct it more speedily and efficiently from the pan to your fingers, and oh, the blisters! And before you say that chefs on TV always grab everything with their tea towel, have you ever seen a professional chef's hands?? So there.
- Never stack bigger things on top of smaller things, or heavy things on top of fragile things. This may sound obvious, but when you're in the final stages of a multi-dish course and saucepans are flying everywhere, it can be pretty tempting to just put that roasting tin on top of the soup bowls to make room for a few moments. Resist! Hot fat and shards of soup bowl cascading over your feet is a lesson that is memorable, but best avoided. Take the extra few seconds it will require to lift the smaller or more fragile items and stack them on top of the heavier ones, or if you only have one hand free, to look around for a better temporary resting place for whatever's in your hand right then.
- Never pick anything up by the lid/cap. You never know how securely that tupperware lid has been snapped on, and I bet you don't screw all of your oil bottle caps back tightly after every casual use. Always, always use the body of the bottle, jar or box when lifting a receptacle full of cooking stuff. Quite apart from the inconvenience and hassle of having to stop everything and mop up spilt ingredients from the kitchen floor, when what goes flying is hot you stand the risk of injury. You can also hurt yourself if something splatters and hits you in the eye (balsamic down the tear ducts, anyone?) and of course shattering glass in a food preparation area is just bad, bad bad.
As you can tell, I've left out the really obvious bits of advice, like "objects placed in the oven are liable to get hot and cause injury", or "do not stick anything into moving bits of machinery". That's because these are safety rules that apply everywhere, not just in the home/kitchen, but also because disregarding them is frankly Darwin Awards material, so don't come crying to me if you kill yourself while doing something fantastically cretinous in your kitchen. Given the above proviso and a modicum of basic common sense however, you should have a perfectly safe and injury free cooking experience.
Obviously one of the dangerous things in a kitchen is the food itself - or it can be. I'm not going to say too much about that here (maybe I'll node it), but the main piece of advice from me would be to trust your own eyes and nose. In particular, trust those over sell by dates; their function is to prevent supermarkets being sued and to make you buy more food when you don't really need to, so they are notional at best. If you are well familiar with a particular foodstuff - ham, say, or yoghurt - and it smells and looks right, even a week after the SBD has passed, go for it. Conversely, if you're not sure and it's a bit whiffy or iffy, out with it. Other than that, just remember to wash your hands after handling raw chicken or pork, and try not to smear raw meat juices all over the kitchen.
Happy cooking, and remember to have fun!