To avoid any unnecessary reaching or bending, rearrange your work surfaces so the things you use most are to hand. Clear a space on the counters near the cooker so you can put pans down easily. When you’re cooking, try to use the back rings on the cooker or hob and make sure pan handles don’t stick out so you don’t knock them.
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.
If you need to reach things in higher cupboards, make sure you use a step stool or ladder with a handrail. Never stand on a chair.
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 the Disabled Living Foundation.
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 to request a free care needs assessment and ask for the assessment to involve an occupational therapist. 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.
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. Heat alarms can detect the increase in temperature from a fire and they’re not sensitive to smoke so you can install them in kitchens. They only cover a relatively small area though, so you may need more than one.
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.
A build-up of fat and grease on appliances is another major cause of fires so keep them as clean as possible. And avoid storing things on top of appliances, like a microwave, which can block ventilation. If you use one, only microwave things that say they’re microwave safe. Never put metal items, tin foil, disposable plastic tubs or Styrofoam products in a microwave.
Don’t position your toaster under overhanging cupboards and keep it away from anything that could catch fire, like curtains or kitchen rolls. Empty out crumbs and if your toast gets stuck, don’t try to get it out while it’s plugged in - especially not with a metal knife as there may be live parts.
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 – contact your energy supplier for information and ask them to put you on the Priority Services Register.
How to avoid food poisoning
More people get food poisoning at home than anywhere else. We’re more vulnerable as we get older because our immune system weakens with age. Although rare, food poisoning can be life-threatening.
There are some simple ways you can keep yourself safe. The most effective way to reduce the spread of infection is to wash your hands, especially before preparing food and after handling raw food like chicken. Don’t wash your hands in the washing up water – use soap and running water. Washing your hands should take about 20 seconds – or as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice.
Any food can contain germs that you can’t see, smell or taste. When you’re cooking, 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 that it cooks evenly. Use refrigerated leftovers within two days and don’t reheat food more than once.
You should 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. You can find many user manuals online if you’ve lost yours. Register your appliances with the manufacturer or on registermyappliance.org.uk to make sure you get any safety updates.
Older people are particularly vulnerable to food poisoning caused by listeria bacteria. This may be found in chilled foods such as:
- pre-packed sandwiches
- 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.
Other food safety tips
- 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.
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.