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Kitchen safety: how to keep your family safe during the holidays
A fire rages in a domestic kitchen at night. - photo by Garth Haslem
Its the scene in a Rockwell painting: The family is over for Thanksgiving and the house is crawling with rug rats. Friends, family and food create a heartfelt and festive environment a shield of warmth against the shivering temperatures outside.

But with the bustle of bodies come potential dangers: So many bodies in the kitchen can create conditions that dont happen the rest of the year, and children often want to be where everyone else is: right around the stove.

Nobody wants to spend the last half of the holidays in the hospital, caring for the child with burns all over his body. No parent wants to even imagine little Johnny pulling the oven door down, stepping up, and causing burning grease to spill. If you prefer to keep your family safely cocooned inside your home for the holidays, here are just a few tips to help you do just that.

Anti tip bracket

Home inspectors will often check for an anti-tip bracket. Its a simple piece of metal that attaches both to the floor and to the back corner of your stove, and it usually costs just a few dollars. This little miracle prevents the stove and oven from tipping over on your children when they try to climb. They are required for newer homes, but home inspectors everywhere will tell you that their installation is iffy: often they are either not installed at all, or they are not connected to the oven. You can check yours by trying to tip the oven forward if it catches the bracket, youre good. If not, you have a task to do.

Pans handles away

Lets face it: 3-year3olds are as excited about going over the river and through the woods as Grandma is about having them come. And the excitement doesnt end when they get there. If the action is around the stove, thats where little Janey wants to be. And whats boiling? Lets pull the handle down and see! When this scene happens, the whole family will finish the holiday in the ER.

The lesson of course is to make sure pan handles are pointed toward the back of the stove, well away from curious fingers.

Use the back burners

It seems intuitive to use the front burners as the default cooking surface: its closer and more convenient for the cook. Its also closer for children. If the back burners are on and the front burners are off, there is more of a safety factor for children. A child may touch the top of the oven as an attempt to climb or to see and if the front burners are off, finger burns are much less likely.

Know how to put out a grease fire

Are you prepared for a grease fire? You may be aware that if there is a grease fire, the last thing you want to do is throw water on it. Water causes the grease fire to blow up, spattering burning grease everywhere. It can change a pan fire into a whole kitchen fire in a matter of seconds. For a grease fire, try salt, soda, or better yet, just make sure you have a fire extinguisher handy. If you dont have one, its time to do some holiday shopping. Just make sure you do it before the kids come over.

Never leave foods unattended

The National Fire Protection Association reports an estimated 162,400 home fires involving cooking equipment per year. These fires caused a yearly average of 430 deaths, 5,400 injuries, and over $1 billion in property damage. Thats not a total since 50 years ago: that happens yearly. What is the primary cause of these casualties? Unattended food.

You can imagine the scenario: bacon in the pan but the cook (dad) has to go potty. While in there, he realizes that theres no toilet paper. After washing his hands, he goes to the basement to get toilet paper. Then he trips over Johnnys toys, curses, and starts moving the toys over to the corner where they belong. After a minute doing that, he notices a smoke smell in the air it takes him a minute, but then he realizes the problem: the kitchen is on fire. Now its time to evacuate the house.

Oven lock

Want to keep little Jennie from inspecting the turkey in the oven? Would you like to keep her from using the oven door as a step stool? A simple oven lock can be just what Grandma and the doctor ordered. These are simple and inexpensive, and a great way to avoid that dreaded trip to the hospital.


As a home inspector, the author often refers to the $10/$10,000 rule. It means something like this: if you know what to do to avoid disaster, the preventive fix is usually both simple and inexpensive it can often cost $10 or less to stay on top of your game. By contrast, what occurs when prevention doesnt happen? Well, thats the $10,000 fix. Thats a common hospital bill and thats about what a bill from the mortician may look like as well. The $10 fix is much better on any number of levels.

Keep your family safe for the holidays, and make sure that your memories for the holidays are always merry and bright. We cant always have a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving, but we can at least avoid the ER.
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