Kitchen Safety: Do You Know What to Do?
By Patricia Berry
Typical, isn’t it? You’re flying between cooktop and cutting board, prepping dinner while the kids finish homework. In a moment of distraction, you grab a scorching saucepan handle or slice the tip of your finger with a paring knife … or the budding young chef in your family does. Whatever the kitchen slipup, chances are the remedy is within arm’s reach, says Dr. Jennifer Avegno, an emergency medicine specialist at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans. Here, her advice for treating everyday kitchen injuries.
Food prep simply can’t happen without a sharp knife or two, not to mention a cheese grater or potato peeler -- hence the packet of plastic bandages in every cook’s cabinet. In the event of a cut or abrasion, run plenty of tap water over the wound to rinse out dirt and bacteria -- the source of infection -- that may have been on the instrument or your skin. (Don’t use hydrogen peroxide: The solution kills contamination but can also destroy the clotting and healing cells the blood carries to the wound). Bleeding will likely stop on its own. If not, apply gentle but steady pressure to the cut with a clean cloth or bandage and keep the wound elevated. After bleeding stops, apply antibacterial ointment, and bandage the cut securely. Seek medical attention if the cut is deep, you can’t get dirt out of the wound or blood spurts from the wound or continues to flow after applying steady pressure for more than five to 10 minutes.
Watch out for swelling or redness. The wound could be infected. See a doctor as soon as possible.
2. Small Burns
We’ve all touched the back of our hand to an oven’s heating element, accidentally placed fingers near hot steam or been splattered with sizzling oil. If the burn covers the palm or crosses over a joint, seek immediate medical attention. The same holds if the burn -- even a small one -- is on the face. A trip to the doctor may help prevent scarring. Otherwise, you can treat it at home.
First, run the affected area under cool tap water for a few minutes to stop the burning process and remove any bits of burnt skin. Smooth on a layer of antibiotic ointment to create a barrier against infection and wrap loosely with gauze or a small bandage. Be sure to rinse the wound with water and change the dressing twice daily for a few days, says Avegno, so that it remains covered and protected until the scab is gone.
Watch out for increased pain, redness, fever, swelling or oozing. The burn could be infected. See a doctor as soon as possible.
Burns from scalding water tend to cover larger areas, such as arms, feet, legs and stomach, which may make them harder to treat at home. And if the scalding is to a child, whereby a large percentage of the body is affected, call an ambulance or go to an emergency room immediately. Otherwise, start by treating the affected area the way you would a small burn: run under cool water (or use a wet towel) to stop the burning process and to clean the area, layer with antibiotic ointment, and dress with gauze or a large bandage as best you can. Even a clean and loose-fitting white T-shirt over the burn area will add some protection if you don’t have large enough bandages. Blistering is to be expected, but avoid popping the blisters, as doing so adds entry points for infection. These burns are often more painful than smaller ones, so take acetaminophen or ibuprofen. If that doesn’t block the pain, seek medical care.
Watch out for continued or worsening pain, or signs of infection (see above). In these cases, seek immediate medical attention.
4. Injuries to the Eyes
Lovers of spicy food know the painful power of capsicum, or cayenne pepper: Contact with the eyes causes a strong burning sensation. Flush out any material in the eye with water and then splash milk in the area to stop the burn. Steam, pokes to the eye or spattered oil are more serious and can cause eye damage. Rinse the eye right away to cool the area and clean out debris.
Watch out for pain, oozing or a change in vision after a few minutes of blinking and rinsing, any of which might indicate damage to the cornea. Seek immediate medical attention.
Given the increased risk of infection with cuts and burns, Avegno advises a tetanus shot if you haven’t had one in five to 10 years. Even a shot administered within a day or two after the injury will be effective, she says. Of course, when extreme injuries happen -- especially when small children are involved -- emergency care is critical for preventing even greater harm.