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Kitchen consequential: how hazardous is your cooking space?




No one needs reminding of the benefits of good cooking, but how often have you paused among your appliances to consider the stark and various dangers lurking on and beneath our work surfaces?

The latest kitchen nightmare to reckon with: cooking oil. Not the oil that clogs our arteries and gives us heart attacks in our 40s, or the oil that ignites in chip pans and burns the house down, but rather the stuff that explodes invisibly and enters our lungs.

That’s right, your lungs. Scientists at the Texas Tech and Utah State universities have used extreme slow-mo video to reveal what happens to hot oil when it meets water (for example, when you slosh a bit of water in the wok to get that broccoli cooking).

Sure enough, the results are sizzling, but the scientists were surprised by the microscopic size of the oil droplets propelled from a pan when water drops vaporised under them – easily small enough to be inhaled by an unwitting cook.

“It’s known that millions of deaths worldwide occur due to indoor air pollution, but we don’t know yet how much cooking in poorly ventilated kitchens contributes to it,” said assistant professor Jeremy Marston at Texas Tech University. He now plans to measure the droplets more precisely and explore their potential risks – and methods for extracting them.

The list of kitchen threats is long enough to drive a diner to Deliveroo for good, but precise stats are patchy. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa) last produced its annual Home & Leisure Accident Surveillance System report in 2002. It estimated that more than 260,000 kitchen accidents required a hospital admission each year.

The biggest danger at the time of reporting: knives (about 31,000 accidents a year); drinking glasses (27,000, presumably when broken); hot drinks (14,000); saucepans and hobs (5,000 each). Lesser threats some strange images. Drinking straws (103) send more people to hospital than colanders (62) or chopsticks (82). It is not clear how.

Moreover, Rospa’s stats long predate the avocado boom and a sharp spike in associated injuries. We may never know how many metropolitan brunch munchers have had “avocado hand”, the name given to cuts caused by the overzealous extraction of the fruit’s stones.

Nor, it seems, is Rospa giving due attention to that other modern scourge of the kitchen known as “chilli willy”, the unwelcome genital seasoning that can afflict the male cook in need of a loo break. Or – continuing to delve into my own culinary mishap list for a moment – the loss of fingertips while slicing unripe beetroots on mandolins. Or gum lacerations caused by eating Twiglets too fast. Where are the stats on that, Rospa?

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