Friday, January 11, 2013

Kitchen Safety Lessons

Life is all about living and learning.   Admittedly, I tend to learn things the hard way, but I do learn.  Last night, I found myself in the ER after nearly slicing off the tip of my pinky finger with my newly sharpened chef knife while slicing an apple in a hurry to get over to my friend’s house for an evening of wine & cheese.  

Here are some lessons from the experience…..

Lesson #1 – Keep your knives sharp.   While this may sound strange, a sharp knife is safer than a dull knife.  Fortunately this is something I know and I’ve been good about keeping my knives sharp lately.  

As my silly, old Asian ER doctor said: “You must have a very sharp knife; it is a very neat and clean cut, although very deep.”   Clean cuts heal better and the scarring is less noticeable than a jagged cut with a dull knife would be.   The same is true for food.  It is much easier to cut food with a sharp knife.  A sharp knife requires little force, so it's easier to control and cuts where intended.  You get neater and cleaner pieces and you don’t bruise the food.  With a dull knife you end up using more pressure and can end up smashing the food and losing the juices and getting sloppy looking pieces.  This can also cause you to lose control of the knife.

I have a stone to sharpen my knives but I have found it easier to drop them off every 4-6 weeks with a professional.   I take them to my favorite kitchen store that does them for $3.50/each.   My grocery store also sharpens knives for free and most butcher shops offer a knife sharpening service too.  If you don’t want to do it yourself (and learn the proper way to do it) then you should definitely get your knife professionally sharpened regularly.   And of course you already know that everyone should have at least one good chef knife in their kitchen.  Right? 

I should also mention that  it’s not just the sharpness of the knife, but also proper knife skills and handling; how to hold the knife, how to hold the food being cut, what motions to use, etc…..  And it is important that your cutting board doesn’t slip, make sure that your cutting board is secured.   I’m realizing that knives could be a whole blog post in and of itself, so I am going to stop now.   

Lesson #2 – Take your time and pay attention to what you are doing.   Slow down and don’t rush.   Try to avoid distractions and don’t multitask while you have a sharp object in your hand.  The same is true with hot surfaces; paying attention can prevent burns.   It is important to stay focused on your task; an accident can happen in a split second.

Lesson #3 – Try to keep your food flat.   I broke this rule.  I should’ve flipped the apple half over to the flat side instead of trying to cut it on the round side where it was kind of rocking back and forth and unstable.  I know this rule and for some reason I didn’t apply it last night.  (Must’ve been the visions of wine dancing through my head.)

Wrong Way!

Right Way!   Always put the flat side down on the cutting board for stability.

Lesson #4 – Keep your hands and the knife handle clean to prevent slipping.   I was almost done and my fingers and hands were a little slippery from the juicy apple.  I should’ve been wiping them off as I went along.  

Lesson #5 – If you do have an accident in the kitchen, try to remain calm.   Somehow I managed to grab a CLEAN paper towel right away and apply pressure to my finger.   I think it was basically to cover the sight of it, but it was a smart move.  Of course after I got it covered I started jumping around in pain and in shock.   I tried to tell myself that it was just a simple cut and not a big deal but the visual of all the blood, the big separation of my finger, and the feeling of the knife hitting the bone made me think better of it.   I thought about taking another look but there was too much blood and I decided instead to run/jump my way downstairs to alert my husband that I think I needed to go to the ER.    Amazingly, I didn’t throw up at the sight or pass out as I don’t like the sight of blood (especially my own).   I was woozy and light-headed, but I think I handled the situation pretty well.   Putting pressure on it helped to stop the bleeding and helped bring the finger back together.   Because of this I was able to avoid stitches and was able to get suture tape instead.  The doctor explained that if the bleeding wouldn’t stop then he would have to put stitches in but since the bleeding was under control, he could use suture tape instead which would have a neater scar and would heal just as well.   I was fortunate that the cut was towards the tip of my finger and I didn’t get any tendons or anything.  

My bandaged finger with my sympathetic dog in the background.

Hopefully, you can learn from my mistakes and avoid any accidents in your kitchen.  

Meanwhile, I will be fine.  I’m just cranky that it happened at all and that I missed an evening of wine and fun at my friend’s house.  

What lessons have you learned the hard way in the kitchen?

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