Cutting-Edge Safety

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Posted by Meeta K. Wolff



My sessions in the kitchen usually begin in a typical fashion- by pulling out a knife from a drawer and a cutting board from the back of the counter, and by the ritual chopping of a few vegetables. However, my introduction to cooking did not begin with any sort of training on knife skills or knife safety- like most home cooks, I am self-taught when it comes to these things. A few months ago, I was volunteering as an assistant in a culinary training class taught to unemployed adults (in an effort to find them employment in the restaurant business) and got to participate in a real knife skills class taught by a real chef!

It was a pretty eye-opening experience, and I stared with awe as the chef taught fancy-schmancy French knife cuts like bruoise and batonnet, all with ridiculously exacting proportions. The real ideas that I came away with were regarding knife safety in the kitchen. The knife is such a commonplace kitchen tool that we sometimes forget that it is a bona fide weapon!

Here are some very basic (far from cutting-edge) tips that have become a habit for me now. If you have a child who is a budding cook, it may be a good idea to teach them these basic tips as they start out in the kitchen. The first few tips call for being conscious about where the knife is at all times, even while you may be busy cooking:

  1. Never cover a knife. Say there are dishcloths lying around a messy kitchen. Be conscious of the fact that a dish towel should never be placed so that the knife underneath is hidden. Next thing you know, the cloth and the knife will get pulled up in one go.
  2. Don't place knives in a sink. Once other dishes and soapy water cover the knife, the blade becomes dangerous to the next person reaching into the sink.
  3. Do not grab blindly for a knife, or grope in a cabinet for one. Reach for the handle deliberately and grasp it well before lifting it.
  4. If a knife falls off a working surface onto the floor, do not reach out and try to catch it before it falls. This is a tough one, because we tend to act on reflex and try to catch stuff before it falls. With a knife, remind your brain to just stand back!
  5. When the knife is sitting on a cutting board, place it at the edge of the cutting board that is farthest from the table edge (and you), parallel to the table edge, with the blade facing away from the table edge.

I have tried to depict this in the picture above. The next two tips are helpful for kitchens with multiple cooks, like when friends come over to cook:

  1. Never hand another person a knife. Lay it on a flat surface and let the other person pick it up from there.
  2. When walking around the kitchen with a knife, hold it down by your side, perpendicular to the ground with the blade parallel to your thigh. This keeps the blade out of the way should you stumble and fall forward, etc., or when you are walking past other people.

Other tidbits:

  1. Here is a knife tip that most of us are already aware of: a dull knife is much more dangerous to use than a sharp knife. This is because one needs more force to use a dull knife, making it more prone to causing injury if it slips.
  2. Storing knives in a knife rack or a wall-mounted magnetic strip is a great way to keep from having to rummage from them in crowded drawers. If they have to be placed in a drawer, keep the drawer free of other clutter.
  3. Here's one trick that my mother taught me: place a dish towel under the cutting board to hold it in place while it is being used.

Finally, if there is a minor cut despite all precautions, wash the cut carefully and keep some anti-bacterial ointment and band-aids handy. Here's to safety in the kitchen! If you have your own knife safety tips, please share them with us.

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This Post was written by Nupur from One Hot Stove


Such a great reminder, Nupur. I have lots of people cooking in my kitchen, and knife safety is something I'm always aware of. It's also important to teach kids good knife habits, because how they handle a dull plastic knife will be a dangerous way to handle a real, sharp knife. Great post.

March 12, 2008 at 8:38:00 PM GMT+1  

Thanks, Nupur! THAT is a very useful post. Have learnt those from experience now! :)

Pragyan said...
March 13, 2008 at 2:23:00 AM GMT+1  

Here's another knife safety tip: wear shoes. Have you heard the one about the woman who dropped a knife on her bare foot, severing several tendons on the top of her foot? After several thousand dollars of surgery to sew each one back together, the tendons still did not heal, and she had to have the surgery again. I haven't heard how the second surgery went. Without those tendons, your foot droops and you cannot walk properly.

March 14, 2008 at 3:55:00 PM GMT+1  

Lydia, you would certainly be the expert in knife safety since you teach cooking classes to people of all ages!

Pragyan, yes, we sure learn these things over the years from sheer experience. Once you get a bad cut, it is the best lesson to be more careful in the future.

family nutritionist, wearing closed shoes in my home kitchen...that's going to be tough for me :) I live in my flip-flops. But you make a good point for sure.

Nupur said...
March 14, 2008 at 10:55:00 PM GMT+1  

This is pretty obvious - but use the right knife for the job. I got lazy one time and instead of switching from my chef's knife (it's a small chef's knife, but still...) to a paring knife when I wanted to cut something in my hand rather than on the board, I tried to do it with the chef's knife. Not a good idea!

Cathy said...
March 17, 2008 at 3:19:00 AM GMT+1  


I know what you mean. I frequently go barefoot inside the house, and have to remind myself to put on shoes to cook. Maybe it can be "Crox for the Kitchen"?

March 23, 2008 at 3:10:00 PM GMT+1  

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