Staying home means cooking more. But burn accidents are on the rise

Tribune Content Agency

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — While California’s stay-at-home order is helping to slow the spread of the coronavirus, it’s also having some unintended consequences: New cooks and distracted cooks are getting burned in the kitchen.

“Specialists at the Firefighters Burn Institute Regional Burn Center at UC Davis Medical Center have seen a nearly six-fold increase in patients with burns related to at-home food preparation,” UC Davis Medical Center said in a news release. “Those injuries were all serious enough for emergency care and, in some cases, hospitalization and surgery.”

Dr. Tina Palmieri, a surgeon and chief of the burn center, said doctors have seen a small, but significantly higher number of patients with cooking-related burns compared to the same period last year.

Between March 19 and April 13, the burn center treated 17 patients for cooking-related burns. During the same period last year, they treated three.

“It’s easy to forget the kitchen can be a dangerous place, especially now when so many people are learning to cook, cooking more often or trying new things, and when there are so many distractions like other household members and even kids and pets roaming through the kitchen,” Palmieri said in a statement. “It’s definitely a recipe for burn accidents.”

And the uptick isn’t only in California. Burn centers across the country have been experiencing a similar increase as more people than ever are staying in and cooking more, Palmieri said.

Palmieri said the burns are the result of mishaps in the kitchen, usually stemming from cooking with grease, to wearing loose clothing that hangs over a open flame and catches fire.

“They’re cooking with grease and the grease catches on fire, and they either try to put it out with water which doesn’t work, or they catch on fire, or they try to run outside with the pot and they spill the grease on themselves,” Palmieri said.

“I always tell everybody this is the only time you can tell someone to you can put a lid on it and be polite, because that’s the way you put out a grease fire. Put a lid on the pot,” she said.

People have also come into the burn center with injuries they received while trying to light a stove that’s been inoperable for awhile, she added.

Cooking-related spill burns are also on the rise, with UC Davis’ emergency room seeing more patients with burns from boiling water and hot coffee, Palmieri said.

Other instances, which have been shared widely on social media during recent times, have shown people just not taking a burning stove seriously. One video, shared on social media platforms TikTok, Instagram and Reddit, shows a couple dancing for the camera before the man accidentally waves his hand downward, launching a pan of piping-hot contents on him and his significant other.

If you’re new to cooking or maybe you’re just a little rusty, Palmieri suggests taking steps such as removing distractions in the kitchen while you’re cooking and always keeping a lid handy.

Make sure to keep pot handles over the stove and not sticking out when they are hot. Also, do not wear loose, billowing clothing such as robes or kimonos when cooking because the sleeves can hang low and potentially catch fire.

How to treat a burn

Burns that are smaller than the palm of your hand can usually be treated at home and don’t require a hospital stay, she said. If you do accidentally burn yourself and injury is minor, you can treat it at home by rinsing it under room temperature water for about 15 minutes and then wrapping it in gauze, Palmieri said.

If the blister on the burn is intact, do not apply any ointment and don’t pop it. But if the blister opens, disinfecting ointments are fine “but wash it with soap and water first because burns are not sterile,” she said.

Using hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol to clean such an injury can actually harm the tissue and delay healing. Instead, use products with petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline or Neosporin. Aloe vera is another good option. It may go without saying, but bleach is not a household product that should be used on wounds or skin in general — and can actually cause burns.

If the blister opens, cover it with a nonstick bandage; otherwise, let the area heal on its own.

One thing to keep in mind after the burn begins healing: Protecting it from the sun. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends protecting the area “by seeking shade, wearing protective clothing or applying a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. This will help minimize scarring, as the redness from a burn sometimes persists for weeks.”

Pamieri says in the end, simple mistakes can turn costly when it comes to burns.

“The average burn is still about $50,000 if you end up in the hospital,” Palmieri said. “It’s an expensive thing. It’s better to be safe and protect yourself and your family. Just take a little extra time and a few precautions and you can enjoy your cooking.”


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