Two Thanksgivings ago, I was whirling around our family kitchen, keeping an eye on the sweet potato casserole, stirring the cranberry sauce, and anxiously watching my dad give taste after taste of turkey to my sister. As I absentmindedly bent down to take the rolls out of the oven, I grazed my wrist on the rack and very nearly dropped the entire sheet pan as tears started flowing.
For anyone who has felt the splatter of hot oil or the sting of bubbling sauce, I don’t need to tell you how much a kitchen burn hurts. And for the lucky ones who haven’t, listen up. I spoke to Heather Van Horn, avid home cook and executive chef at the Mayo Clinic in LaCross, Wisconsin about ways to avoid getting scorched in the kitchen (and what to do if it happens anyway). Here’s what she had to say:
Know your enemy.
There are three different types of burns:
First-degree burns are the most mild, but can cause pain and reddening of the epidermis, the outer layer of the skin.
Second-degree burns affect the epidermis and the lower layer of skin, causing pain, redness, swelling, and blistering.
Third-degree burns are major enough to affect deeper tissues. They result in white or blackened, charred skin that may be numb.
You’re most likely to encounter first- and second-degree burns in the kitchen. There are the obvious culprits: hot ovens, handles, spilled coffee. But also watch out for steam. “Many times people will open the lid on a pot, pour potatoes or pasta into a strainer, and burn their face or arms or hands,” Van Horn said. “You could even burn yourself by opening steamed packages from the microwave.”
Dear Test Kitchen
To avoid steam burns, Van Horn recommends opening lids angled so that the steam escapes away from your face. You can also protect your arms and hands with oven mitts or rubber gloves, or wear fitted long sleeves to shield against hot splatters. "Wearing layers is important,” Van Horn said. "Even if you’re wearing an apron, if you spill grease on it, you can immediately take it off yourself or move it away from your body.”
Van Horn also suggests keeping a first-aid kit with burn ointment handy. "It’s something that keeps for a long time, so go ahead and buy it now. I keep mine in that miscellaneous junk drawer everyone has in their kitchen."
For major burns, like third-degree burns or burns larger than 3 inches (8 centimeters), call 911. While you wait for help, elevate the burn and cover the area with a cool, moist bandage or a clean cloth. Don't immerse large severe burns in water, which could cause hypothermia.
Cool the burn. Hold the burned area under cool (not cold) running water or apply a cool, wet compress until the pain eases.
Remove rings or other tight items from the burned area. Try to do this quickly and gently, before the area swells.
Don't break blisters. Fluid-filled blisters protect against infection. If a blister breaks, clean the area with water (mild soap is optional).
Apply an antibiotic ointment. But if a rash appears, stop using the ointment.
Apply lotion. Once a burn is completely cooled, apply a lotion, such as one that contains aloe vera or a moisturizer. This helps prevent drying and provides relief.
Bandage the burn. Cover the burn with a sterile gauze bandage (not fluffy cotton, which will stick to the wound)). Wrap it loosely to avoid putting pressure on burned skin. Bandaging keeps air off the area, reduces pain, and protects blistered skin.
What are your best ways for avoiding burns in the kitchen? Share tips in the comments section below!