Handling burns in the kitchen during thanksgiving

Out of all the days of the year, cooking-related house fires reach an all-time high on Thanksgiving day. The National Fire Protection Association estimates a cooking fire is 3 times as likely on Thanksgiving than at any other time of year. 

It’s no wonder: in the shuffle of potatoes boiling, turkeys roasting, and gravy simmering, a brief rendezvous between an open flame and a greased-up entree can threaten to send your kitchen up in a blaze.

The risk of sparking a kitchen fire during holiday meal prep seems dangerous enough, but Thanksgiving also offers plenty of opportunities to scald yourself

Whether you’re ladling just-off-the-burner soup into bowls, reaching for a baking dish in the oven without a potholder (it happens!), or tackling the ever-trendy but frequently disastrous deep fried turkey, there’s a high risk for burns in the kitchen during Thanksgiving.

With so much attention on the Thanksgiving feast, it’s no surprise the holiday comes with a greater risk of kitchen fires and/or cooking burns. Keep reading for tips to treat kitchen burns, when to seek treatment and how to stay safe in the kitchen this holiday season.

Most common kitchen burns

Thermal burns are the most common type of kitchen burn. They occur when some part of your skin comes into direct contact with something hot. Any cooking appliance or heated recipe has the potential to cause a burn. Here are three of the most common types of kitchen burns:

  1. Hot surface
    This kind of burn typically happens if you touch your skin against a hot pot, pan, casserole dish, baking sheet or cooking surfaces, such as oven racks, oven doors and stovetops.
  2. Open flame
    This kind of burn can occur if you touch cooking flames on grills or gas burners. There’s also the risk of burning yourself trying to put out the flames of a grease fire.
  3. Hot liquid, grease, oil or steam
    Pots and pans of boiling water, stock, soup, sauce and gravy have the potential to splatter or spill and cause a burn. Deep fryers and turkey fryers are notorious for grease burns caused by hot oil.

How to treat kitchen burns 

If you find yourself with a nasty cooking burn this Thanksgiving or any other time of year, what exactly do you do?

First off, try not to panic. To mitigate the initial pain, run the burnt area under lukewarm or cool water for 10 to 15 minutes. Avoid ice and icy cold water, as this can actually damage the sensitized tissue. 

In addition to soothing the pain, the cool water can keep the burn from worsening. Once the situation calms down you’ll need to assess the severity of the damage.

After running cool water over the burn, you can expect minor burns to still be tender, red, swollen and warm to the touch. Minor burns can be treated with basic at-home first aid. More serious burns should be evaluated and treated by a doctor.

Mild vs. severe cooking burn 

How can you tell if you have a mild or severe cooking burn? It helps to be familiar with burn severity and the symptoms of each type of burn. Burns are medically classified as first, second or third-degree in severity. 

First-degree burns only affect the surface, or outer, a layer of skin. Although they can be quite painful, first-degree burns are considered mild by medical standards.

Symptoms of a first-degree burn include redness, warmth, minor swelling, pain and appear dry. In the kitchen, first-degree burns are often caused by scalding water, grease splatter or brief contact with a hot surface. First-degree burns will heal in about 3-6 days as your skin regrows.

Second-degree burns affect the outer and middle layers of skin and are more serious than first-degree burns. Symptoms of a second-degree burn include extreme redness, blistering, pain and a splotchy pattern in the affected area.

Second-degree burns can be caused by touching something burning hot, like an electric coil on the stove or not quickly removing your skin from contact with a hot surface.

If treated correctly, second-degree burns will generally heal in a few weeks as your skin rebuilds.

Third-degree burns affect all three layers of skin and are the most severe type of burn. Cooking accidents don’t generally cause third-degree burns.

Symptoms of a third-degree burn include charred, white, brown, leathery or shiny-looking skin, shock, and a lack of pain (due to destroyed nerves). Only an emergency room can properly care for a burn of this severity. 

Stay away from deep fryers 

Fried turkey may be a crowd-pleaser, but the process is risky.

Turkey fryers are filled with scalding oil, which can spill and splatter, causing burns, as you lower and lift the turkey. Placing a frozen turkey in hot oil can cause the oil to erupt out of the fryer. If the oil spills on the burner, the fryer can be engulfed in a grease fire which can quickly spread to flammable materials nearby.

Unless you have previous experience using turkey fryers, skipping this cooking trend can greatly reduce your risk of injury on Thanksgiving.

How to prevent kitchen burns during the holidays 

The number of cooking fires and burns may peak during Thanksgiving, but these easy kitchen safety tips can help you avoid burns in the kitchen. 

  1. Don’t crowd the kitchen. 
    With multiple cooks in the kitchen and more food being prepared than usual, things can get chaotic quickly. If possible, serve food and drinks in another room to limit foot traffic in the kitchen.
  2. Entertain children and pets outside of the kitchen. 
    Little feet and paws pose a tripping hazard to cooks. Children and pets may not know to steer clear of hot appliances and dishes, so arranging kid-friendly drinks, snacks and activities in a different room can help keep the kitchen clear.
  3. Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. 
    If a cooking fire should spark, having a fire extinguisher within reach can help you quickly contain it.
  4. Keep cooking surfaces clean and clear. 
    Dish towels and oven mitts should be stored away from appliances and the stovetop since they can easily catch fire. Also, be mindful to move trash, like paper towels and food packaging, away from hot surfaces.
  5. Don’t leave cooking appliances unattended. 
    Whether you’re baking, roasting, simmering, grilling, frying or toasting, stay with your food. User kitchen timers to track multiple dishes and keep an eye on cooking food to prevent smoke, splatters and fires before they start. 

Treatment for kitchen burns

Knowing how to properly treat kitchen burns can help prevent complications and infection. Untreated burns are more likely to result in long-term scarring and are more vulnerable to infection.

To soothe minor burns, use a hydrating lotion, such as cocoa or shea butter, or aloe vera. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, petroleum jelly can also be applied to hydrate and soothe minor burns.

Wrapping the burn in clean, non-stick bandages can help with the pain and keep sensitive skin protected. An over-the-counter pain reliever may also be used to help with the pain. 

Burns may blister during the healing process. Blisters smaller than 1 inch can be left in place until they rupture on their own. Resist popping or picking at blisters, since doing so opens the skin and increases the risk of infection.

Blisters greater than 1-2 inches may need to be removed to prevent secondary infection of the fluid contained in the blister. 

Burns that are larger than 1-2 inches, is in an especially sensitive area or meet the criteria for a more severe burn should receive professional attention as soon as possible.

When to visit urgent care for burn injuries 

Our experienced providers can evaluate and treat most minor and moderate cooking burns. We can offer the same treatment for non-life-threatening burns as an emergency room without a long wait.

If you or a loved one sustains a large burn or you have any questions about the severity, location, or treatment of a burn, you should seek medical care. Burns on children should be evaluated by a medical professional since a child’s skin is more sensitive than the skin of an adult.

Our urgent care teams will thoroughly assess skin tissue damage, recommend treatment to relieve pain and teach you how to properly bandage and clean your burn so that it heals with minimal scarring. If you haven’t had a recent tetanus shot, we might recommend a booster to prevent serious infection. 

If you need help assessing and treating a cooking burn, come see the experts at one of our urgent care locations. You can walk in without an appointment, or save your spot online. We’ll have you back to feeling better in no time.

Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant