The kitchen has long been considered a central gathering place in the home. But it’s also a place where people often prepare meals alone. When it comes to senior adults and kitchen safety, the numbers don’t lie:
- The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports that people over the age of 65 have a 2.5 times greater risk of dying in a kitchen fire than the general population.
- The National Fire Protection Association reports that three (3) in ten (10) home fires start in the kitchen, more than any other room in the house.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 76 million cases of foodborne illness occur each year, including 5,000 fatal cases. An aging adult, due to a natural decrease in his/her immune system, can succumb to food poisoning more easily, and have a harder time fighting it off if they do.
For aging adults, it’s quite easy for the room that’s considered a primary gathering place—the kitchen—to instead become a nightmare. Not only are seniors over the age of 65 more likely to be injured in a kitchen fire, they are more likely to suffer a fall injury due to: items stored out of reach—both too high and too low—and the likelihood that meals are carried to eat in another room.
The reasons aging adults are more likely to start a kitchen fire, or otherwise be injured while prepping food include: they may be less able to take quick action in the case of a fire; medications that affect cognition; a decrease in balance abilities; and diminished mental faculties.
There are three key areas to consider when making the kitchen safe for a loved one: fire prevention safety, comfort and convenience and ensuring pre-prepared meals and leftovers do not carry foodborne illnesses. Some seniors will argue that being safe in the kitchen is just common sense—and some of it is—but revisiting safety tips for the kitchen is never a waste of time.
Tips on Senior Fire Prevention:
- Never leave food unattended while cooking; it is the primary cause of kitchen fires.
- Don’t leave the house if food is simmering, baking or roasting.
- Investigate automatic shut-off devices. They cost as much as $300, but peace-of-mind is priceless. According to agingcare.com, auto shut-off toasters are available for as little as $30.
- Never set a coffee maker to automatically brew.
- Do not cook while wearing loose clothing, and make sure all kitchen towels and potholders are located far away from cooking surfaces.
- Have a qualified electrician check all wiring and outlets.
- Consider switching to an electrical teakettle.
- Use pots that have two handles.
- Clean up the stove immediately after each meal so oil, fat and grease do not build up on the surface.
Convenience, Comfort and Fall Prevention
- Clean up cluttered areas.
- Install bright lighting.
- Don’t use out-of-reach cabinets.
- Replace glass items with unbreakable ones.
- Store heavy objects at waist level.
- Check for leaking water from the fridge.
- Install Lazy Susans in corner cabinets and on counters.
- Turn pot handles inward.
- Test and dust smoke detectors monthly, and replace batteries every year.
Preventing Foodborne Illness
- Store meats and vegetables in sealed containers,
- Use different cutting boards for meat and other food items; many stores now sell colored cutting boards. Use green for vegetables and red for meats.
- Check the temperature of your fridge routinely. Cold food should be kept at no less then 40-degrees Fahrenheit. Return leftovers to the refrigerator immediately after a meal.
- Don’t assume food is safe if it doesn’t have a soiled smell or appearance; foodborne bacteria cannot be seen, smelled or tasted.
- Consider taking your own utensils to restaurants.
- Hot food should be kept at no less than 140-degrees. When reheating food, make sure the temperature reaches 165-degrees.
- When eating out, be especially careful at salad bars, and avoid condiments such as mayonnaise and dressings such as ranch.
- When in doubt, throw it out, especially leftovers from restaurants.
- “Kitchen Fires: Make Cooking Safer for Seniors” by Mario Sollitto for www.agingcare.com.
- The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA®)
- Online data from: The U.S. Fire Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency
- “Making the Kitchen Safe and Convenient for Seniors,” by Maria M. Meyer and Paula Derr for www.caring.com