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How to reduce risk when cooking

November 2018

Being able to prepare food for ourselves is something we all take for granted, but it’s worth remembering just how much it brings to our lives – learning, creativity, satisfaction, self-worth, social benefits and inclusion, and of course independence.

As it’s such a vital part of our day-to-day living, therefore, it’s important that we all know how to do it safely. A massive 50% of home fires originate from the kitchen, and the majority of these come from the stove, simply because heating oil up to a high temperature can be a risky business if things go wrong. Here’s our advice on how to stay safe.

Presence

If there was one piece of advice we could give, this is the big one. Just as a watched kettle never boils, a watched pan never catches fire. A pan will start to smoke excessively before a pan catches fire, giving us a handy warning sign that we’ve been absent-minded or overzealous with our temperature control! Just popping to the toilet? The contents of a pan can catch fire in less than two minutes from the moment you turn it on. If you don’t believe us, you need to watch this. Unless you are a careful, experienced cook, don’t leave cooking unattended. Which leads us to our next point.

Experience

Cooks with a lot of experience know when it is safe to leave a pan on the heat or induction surface. But with experience comes knowledge, and a cook who really knows what he or she is doing will know how long to cook different foods and the properties of different cooking oils. Here’s a quick summary of the smoke points (the point at which oil will start to smoke) of the most popular oils used for cooking, in degrees C:

Flaxseed (unrefined): 107

Butter: 150

Pumpkin seed: 160

Olive oil (extra-virgin): 160

Hemp seed: 165

Olive oil (refined): 199

Rapeseed/Canola (refined): 204

Walnut (semi-refined): 204

Olive oil (virgin): 210

Sesame oil: 210

Grapeseed: 216

Peanut: 227

Sunflower oil (refined): 232

Coconut (refined and dry): 232

Sesame (semi-refined): 232

Clarified butter/Ghee: 250

Avocado (refined): 270

Note that it’s extremely important to know the quality of the oil before you buy or use it. For example, although refined rapeseed oil has a smoke point of 204 degrees C, an unrefined version can be as low as 107! To put that into practical terms, 107 is not even hot enough for most frying. You’ll notice that flaxseed oil is therefore also ruled out for this purpose.

What about vegetable oil? It’s difficult to say because the ingredients are a mixture of various sources. It’s better just not to use it. Fire safety aside, it’s generally considered to be unhealthy anyway. Go with an oil with a smoke point above 180 degrees whenever possible.

Bottom line: not all oils are created equal. Do your research before you start frying!

Mental and physical wellbeing

There are a number of mental illnesses and degenerative diseases that can put someone at risk, from bipolar disorder through to all forms of dementia. Ultimately, anything that affects someone’s mental wellbeing will increase their risk when cooking, especially if it makes them more accident-prone. It’s advisable to keep a very close eye on someone who is afflicted with a mental illness or a mental degenerative disease. For maximum safety, protect them with technology such as a smoke alarm or, better still, an Airis stove guard.

Naturally, anybody who is physically challenged is also vulnerable. If an elderly person starts cooking, falls over and is unable to get up again, this can put them in serious danger. Again, a telecare-connected Airis stove guard is the safest solution, because there won’t be a fire and the monitoring centre will be alerted to the situation.

Very often, the standard solution if a near-miss or accident occurs is to disconnect the resident’s cooker, or put them into care. Both of these options are very expensive. More significantly, though, it deprives that person of all of the positive elements of being able to cook for oneself that we mentioned earlier. This can result in lower self-esteem, but also a faster decline in their physical or mental health because they will have become more dependent and less active than before.

Pets and children

It sounds somewhat bizarre that a cat could cause a house fire, but a curious feline wandering around the worktop in the kitchen can easily knock a pan off the stove. Inquisitive children are also at risk. There are products available that can provide a low ‘wall’ around the stove, which may help to protect pets and children (and therefore your home) from these dangers. Airis will turn off the cooker if the power is left on but no pan is on the hob.

Technology

There are some products available that will help to reduce risk. We’ve already mentioned smoke alarms – if you don’t have one, get one immediately, and check the battery regularly. Carbon monoxide (CO) alarms are also a wise investment, and combi smoke and CO alarms do exist as well.

The important thing to bear in mind with CO and smoke alarms, however, is that they are not prevention devices; rather, they alert to a dangerous situation that has already unfolded. This is clearly very important because it allows us to react and deal with the situation in the kitchen, or escape from the house if there is a lot of smoke or if a fire has started. But these devices are far less effective than prevention devices. To truly ensure the highest-possible level of safety for a vulnerable person, invest in a fire prevention device.

To learn more about Airis and how it can protect vulnerable and elderly people without taking away their independence, click here.

Please note that the fire safety advice in this post is for informative purposes only. Unicook cannot be held liable for your safety in the kitchen.

Sources

Smoke Point – Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoke_point

Smoke Point of Oils for Healthy Cooking – Jonbarron.org https://jonbarron.org/diet-and-nutrition/healthiest-cooking-oil-chart-smoke-points

Unconventional Cooking Oils – ideafit.com https://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/unconventional-cooking-oils

In this post: Advice, Airis, Fire safety