WARNING: The mental images portrayed in this article may be offensive to those who have not yet worked in a commercial kitchen and could tend to scare away would-be future cooks. The intent is not to make light of the dangers of working in kitchens, but rather to help people stay alert and take precautions.
Let’s begin by stating that I have personally been subject to nearly every potential kitchen calamity that I will point out. This is certainly not to brag, but rest assured, most kitchen lifers can probably state the same as fact. Let it be known that emergency room doctors know most cooks by first name since they are regulars who stand in line for stitches and tetanus shots.
Working in a kitchen is potentially dangerous and every cook must enter this space, every day, with a proper understanding that the equipment is not dangerous, the people who operate the equipment inappropriately are. So, with this in mind, here is a sampling of what can go wrong (feel free to add your own experiences to the list):
 STEAM BURNS:
These are the worst burns because they go beyond the surface and penetrate many layers of skin. Steam is everywhere in the kitchen – just waiting to inflict pain. Things to avoid include, but are not limited to: lifting the cover of a pot or pan on the stove and leaning in for a look before the steam has been vented; opening the door to a convective or pressure steamer without venting the steam; and grabbing a hot pan with a wet towel and expecting that it will protect you. Think before you act around steam!
 DEEP FRYER SPLATTERS:
Water, wine, fruit juice, etc. do not mix with hot fat. Whenever a product dropped into the deep fryer or a pan with oil contains a fair amount of moisture, prepare for the inevitable pop and splatter. Most line cooks have arms and sometimes faces freckled with hot fat pinpoint burns. Know that this will happen and give the fat some time to adjust and whenever possible – dry a moist product before it comes in contact with the fat or oil.
 THE FALLING BOX OF FILM (SARAN WRAP), OR FOIL:
Maybe one of the most dangerous items in a kitchen is one that seems pretty harmless. That exposed, serrated edge on your film or foil box is hungry for your fingers. Keep this in mind and give the box the respect that it is due.
 KNIVES IN GENERAL:
It is often said that the most dangerous knife is a dull one, and to some degree this is true because we tend to put more pressure on a dull knife to compensate. However, a sharp knife can be pretty deceiving. The difference is that a sharp knife will cut your fingers much easier and cleaner than a dull one. How many times have you cut yourself with a sharp knife and not even realized it for a few seconds until you see the blood stains on your apron?
 THE OYSTER KNIFE IN PARTICULAR:
Holding a reluctant oyster in one hand while forcing a pointed knife directly at it and your palm is a disaster waiting to happen. Make sure that the targeted palm is wrapped well with a dry side towel or Kevlar glove before stabbing at the mollusk with reckless abandon.
 OUCH-MY BACK:
One of the more common injuries in a kitchen can become a lifelong struggle with back pain. Lifting pots that are burdened with gallons of liquid without bending your knees, pulling items that weigh more than 5 pounds from a shelf higher than your shoulders, turning or stretching to grab a piece of equipment in an un-natural direction, or working on a table that is too low or too high for your size are accidents waiting to happen. Protect your back and stop being so macho.
 CUTTING BLOCKS OF CHEESE WITHOUT THE PROPER KNIFE:
All that I need to say is you must use a double handled cheese knife for this task. You can picture what could happen if you don’t.
 THE EVIL MANDOLINE:
Such a wonderful tool that can julienne, thinly slice, waffle cut, or even help you to make those beautiful gaufrette potatoes is a marvel of engineering. Beware that this hand machine can do the same thing to your fingers. Use the guard or wear Kevlar gloves.
 THE BOX GRATER:
Another seemingly harmless tool waits with anticipation for your palms, knuckles and fingers.
 THE MEAT SLICER:
I will let out a litany of expletives whenever I see a cook try to clean the slicer while the blade is spinning or even clean any part of the machine while it is still pugged in. Don’t you have any need for those fingers in the future?
 WET FLOORS AND ELECTRICAL OUTLETS:
Water and electricity do not mix very well. Fortunately most modern kitchens follow code requirements for ground fault circuits that prevent the cooks from lighting up like a Christmas tree.
 WET FLOORS AND THE WRONG SHOES:
Non-slip shoes are absolutely essential in a kitchen that is trying to save money on Workman’s Comp claims.
 FAULTY PILOT LIGHTS IN OVENS, GRIDDLES AND CHARGRILLS:
Most new kitchen equipment comes complete with electric pilot lights, but some of the seasoned equipment does not. When the pilot light is out, the gas keeps flowing. It is easy to understand what will happen when a cook leans in with a match to get things going.
 THE HUNGRY MEAT GRINDER ATTACHMENT:
Meat grinder attachments for your Hobart come complete with a plunger for pushing meat through the access tube. Meat is pulled into the worm as it is guided to the grinder blade. Thinking that you can push the meat with your fingers makes me wonder about a cook’s level of intelligence or at least modicum of common sense.
 CLOSE THOSE OVEN DOORS:
Under range oven doors are the perfect height for shins. Cooks on the line tend to look forward and not down, so if those doors are not closed immediately, the obvious will happen.
 YOUR ROBOT COUPE AND BLENDER HAVE A LID FOR A REASON:
You have all seen those comical clips of someone turning on a blender without a lid and wearing the contents. This fails to be funny especially when the contents are hot. Use the lids and make sure that they are secure.
 KNIVES IN THE POT SINK:
Any staff member who tosses his or her knives in a pot sink and walks away should be fired – plain and simple.
 USING A GLASS TO SCOOP ICE:
Wow – common sense is not so common.
 BLISTERS ON YOUR HAND FROM A FRENCH KNIFE:
A cost of doing business, however, buying the right knives for your hands will help.
 ASSUME PAN HANDLES ARE HOT:
Everyone in a kitchen is familiar with the sound of a bare hand grabbing a super heated panhandle. Sear the steak not the palm of your hand. Assume it is hot and use DRY side towel or oven pad.
 SWOLLEN ANKLES AND FEET:
Ten plus hours on your feet will always take a toll. Your feet can take a lot of punishment, but unless you wear the right supportive shoes, change them during a shift and wear white socks (colored sock dyes will seep into your pours after the punishment of kitchen heat), your feet and ankles with grow in size by the end of a shift. Take care of your feet – they are the key to avoiding back pain and keeping your attitude positive.
Please note that people who do not use common sense or avoid the obvious measures that will protect a cook from harm drive all of these dangers. Kitchen battle scars may serve as conversation points after work, but they present needless pain and will eventually limit your ability to do the work for a reasonable number of years.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER (AND USE COMMON SENSE)
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
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