Avoiding accidents

Accidents can happen. But by following some simple safety measures, you can reduce the risk of an accident in your kitchen.

  • Rearrange your work surfaces so the things you use most are to hand to avoid unnecessary reaching or bending.
  • Clear a space on the counters near the cooker so you can put pans down easily.
  • Try to use the back rings on the cooker or hob when you’re cooking.
  • Make sure pan handles don’t stick out from the cooker or hob so you don’t knock them.
  • Use a step stool or ladder with a handrail to reach things in higher cupboards. Never stand on a chair.
  • Try not to carry hot liquids too far and take care when you’re carrying food to another room - use a tray or a trolley. But don’t use a trolley as a walking aid unless it has built-in brakes.

Kitchen aids and adaptations

There are many small aids and gadgets that can help you stay safe in the kitchen, such as kettle tippers, tap turners and reaching tools. You can get more information from Living made easy.

You can also get special equipment if you're living with sight or hearing loss, such as tactile labels with raised bumps for marking equipment, talking gadgets, special gloves, liquid level indicators and oven shelf guards to help prevent burns and spills.

If you think you’d benefit from some home adaptations, for example, having your kitchen cupboards or work surfaces lowered, contact your local council for a free care needs assessment. Ask for the assessment to involve a trained professional from the occupational therapy team. See our factsheet Adapting your home to stay independent for more information.

Fire safety in the kitchen

The kitchen is the highest fire risk area in the home. More than half of accidental fires are started by cooking, often when cookers and grills are left unattended. When you’re cooking:

  • set a timer to remind you when food is ready
  • keep anything flammable, such as paper, tea towels and cloths, away from the cooker and hob.

If a pan catches fire, never throw water over it. Turn off the heat if you can, then leave the kitchen and close the door. Don’t take any risks if there’s a fire. Follow the fire service advice - get out, stay out and dial 999.

Appliances

A build-up of fat and grease on appliances is another cause of fires so keep them as clean as possible. To reduce the risk of fire, you should also:

  • avoid storing things on top of appliances, like a microwave or fridge, which can block ventilation
  • only microwave things that say they’re microwave safe. Never put metal items, tin foil, disposable plastic tubs or Styrofoam products in a microwave
  • avoid positioning your toaster under overhanging cupboards and keep it away from anything that could catch fire, like curtains or kitchen rolls
  • empty out crumbs and toast if it gets stuck. But don’t try to get it out while it’s plugged in - especially not with a metal knife as there may be live parts.

Defrost your fridge and freezer at least once a year to make sure they keep working properly, or follow the manufacturer’s instructions if you have a frost-free appliance. Register your appliances with the manufacturer or on registermyappliance.org.uk to make sure you get any safety updates.

Smoke alarms

It can be annoying if your smoke alarm goes off while you’re cooking, but never take the battery out. If it keeps being activated, you may need to move the alarm. The fire service suggest installing a heat alarm inside your kitchen and a smoke alarm just outside it, for example, in a hall or dining room. Heat alarms detect the increase in temperature from a fire but they’re less sensitive to smoke and false alarm. They only cover a relatively small area though, so you may need more than one.

Help with heating costs

Never use a cooker to heat a room. If you’re struggling to afford heating bills, make sure you’re getting your Winter Fuel Payment and Cold Weather Payments if you’re eligible. You may also qualify for the Warm Home Discount Scheme if you’re getting Guarantee Pension Credit or on a low income – see gov.uk for how to apply. Another option may be going onto the Priority Services Register – contact your energy supplier for information.

Call our Helpline for a benefits check or try our benefit calculator. Our free guide Moneywise has more suggestions for ways to boost your income and save money.

How to avoid food poisoning

More people get food poisoning at home than anywhere else. We may be more vulnerable as we get older because our immune system can weaken with age. Although rare, food poisoning can be life-threatening. There are some simple ways you can keep yourself safe.

Washing your hands is one of the simplest ways to reduce the risk of food poisoning. It’s especially important before preparing food and after handling raw foods like meat. You should use soap and warm running water and take about 20 seconds – or as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice.

Other food safety tips

  • Make sure food is cooked all the way through. If you use a microwave, stir or turn the food halfway through its cooking time so it cooks evenly
  • Use refrigerated leftovers within two days and don’t reheat food more than once
  • Keep your fridge below 5°C
  • Store raw meat, fish or poultry at the bottom of your fridge, below ready-to-eat food such as salad
  • Don’t put open tins in the fridge – transfer the contents to a clean container and cover
  • Keep an eye on labels and throw out any food that’s past its use-by date
  • Make sure food surfaces are clean before and after you prepare food
  • Use a separate chopping board for raw food such as meat
  • Wash fruit and vegetables under cold running water
  • Don’t wash raw meat before cooking it as this can spread bacteria to other food

You can find more food hygiene advice on the NHS website.

Listeria

Older people are particularly vulnerable to food poisoning caused by listeria bacteria. This may be found in chilled foods such as:

  • pre-packed sandwiches
  • pâté
  • soft cheeses like brie or camembert
  • cooked sliced meat and poultry
  • smoked salmon.

You should eat these foods by their use-by dates, even if they look and smell okay. Don’t be tempted to keep them longer to save money.

What to do if you get food poisoning

Food poisoning can usually be treated at home. Rest as much as possible and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. When you feel up to it, eat bland food such as rice, toast and bananas.

If your symptoms are severe or last longer than a few days, contact your GP or NHS 111. If you have a condition or are getting treatment that weakens your immune system, you should contact NHS 111 to get advice straightaway.

Next steps

For more information about aids and equipment that can help you in the kitchen, go to livingmadeeasy.org.uk or the RNIB.

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