Burn, slice, sear - cooking is a dangerous business
August 11th, 2010
04:30 PM ET
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Sharp blades, high flames, scalding oil - nope, it's not the next installment of the Saw film franchise; it's your kitchen. And it wants to kill you.

Our recent post about a cooking-related cleavage burn* and call for injury stories garnered some shudder-inducing accounts of band saw gouges, knife-gouged feet and the telltale burn mark that lets you pick a professional chef out of a crowd. Mitt up and read on.

Mind your mandoline

Patrick in Birmingham
A few months ago, I was using our new mandoline slicer. Every thing was going so well, until I felt myself "nick" the top of my finger (important note: I was NOT using the guard). Upon closer inspection, I realized that I had not nicked but rather sliced off about half of my fingernail! After I almost passed out, we headed out to the emergency department but not before tossing the mandoline in the trash.

There are two catagories of people who use a mandoline (or V slicer) without using the guard, professional cooks and people with hand injuries. Alway, always use the guard.

Funny you mentioned the mandolin! I sliced of a lttle bit of my palm this Sunday, had to go to the ER and get some stitches . I didn't use the guard because it kept onion kept slipping off. Oh well, live and learn!

By the way, it was a mandoline injury that mangled Harry Smith on a recent CBS cooking segment, live with Katie Lee. She's since posted a safety video.

Burn, baby, burn

My chef left a roast in the oven and went home. He called in a panic, telling me to get the roast out of the oven and into the freezer to fast cool it. (That doesn't work.) Anyway, I grabbed the baking sheet and put it on an empty shelf in the deep freezer. A box on an adjacent shelf was about to fall and I pushed it back in place. As I did that, my neck came in contact with the hot baking sheet. Skin cauterized and ripped. Needless to say, 3 years later and I still look like I have the hickey from hell.

Just last night, transferring a supposedly cold pan from the hot stove to a counter – when the stove gets hot, so does a metal pan with a metal handle. Only took a couple seconds for my mind to register that my hand was being cooked but there was no way I was dropping those potatoes on the ground. I made it to the counter grunting the whole way.

Probably my most embarrassing mistake was injuring myself boiling water. I was cooking with my girlfriend and we were pressed for time, then we realized that we needed to get some water boiling with a bit of oil for the pasta. In order to speed up the process, she started boiling some water in a kettle while I warmed up the stove and tossed the oil in the pot. Once the water was up to temp we poured it in and the hot oil splashed everywhere!

Thankfully there were no scars from this incident, but try not to forget that there is a reason people say things go together "like oil and water".

My forearms bear burn marks from my kadhai, the result of reaching across to do something on the back burners and searing my arm flesh again and again. I think people assume I am suicidal. I guess I would die for a good meal!

I worked at a fast food restaurant in high school and got hit in the arm with a hot fry basket. Lovely waffle patterned scar from that one.

Cutting crew

Brought home 10" Wusthof all shiny and new. Took it out of the box and dropped it on my leg. 4 hours in ER, some Dermabond, and more then one question if I was safe at my home later. I have never felt so dumb, but it is the best knife I have ever had.

I feel your knife pain. I dropped a steak knife, which I was using to cut raw chicken, and it landed point down in the top of my foot. It stayed there, quivering, until I pulled it out. Yes, I have a nice scar. And a good story.

The meat cutting area is kept at a temperature around 45 degrees, so it's pretty cold. It's not practical or safe for the meat cutters to run back and forth between the meat freezers and the cutting area, so the whole cutting room is basically a giant refrigerator. Also, meat cutters often have to arrive early in the morning so that they can start trimming the huge pieces of meat that arrived the night before or that morning. The two key pieces of equipment they use are the meat grinder, and the giant band saw.

My friend arrived at about 5am for work, very tired. About an hour into her shift, while cutting down a huge slab of beef into steaks on the band saw, she looked down. she said her first thought was "Wow, that's a REALLY bloody steak..." until she realized that she'd cut almost all the way through her thumb.

Between being dead-tired and cold, she hadn't noticed that she'd cut herself. She ran out of the store in hysterics, trying to drive herself to the hospital. Some co-workers caught her before she drove off, since she was going into shock. They called an ambulance and she was taken to the hospital.

The doctors managed to save her thumb, which works normally for the most part, but she still has one of the grossest scars I've ever seen!

Annabel Cohen
I burned my right index finger caramelizing sugar in my freshman dorm room making Brazilian Flan. Guiseppe almost lost part of a finger in a slicer. I nearly cut off the tip of my finger just last month slicing my favorite, yet extremely dense Zingerman's dried fruit and nut bread.

Tomek, the youthful dishwasher, just then let fall a huge sauce pot. It fell right in the middle of his shin. The knot on his leg was the size of a tangerine.

Baker's rack

DC Girl
I was cooking once, with shirt on, but no bra underneath. Got too close to a steaming pan (steam was pouring out the sides of the pan around the lid). Didn't realize my "shelf" had gotten too close to the steam. Felt a quick burst of pain, felt fine and kept going. Later that night I found a nasty burn in a very funny place. Least to say, wearing a bra for the next week was not easy, especially with the bandaids and burn cream.

I happen to be short, with short arms and a rather large ... "shelf" on my chest (where food invariably lands when it finds the extra hole in my mouth, of course). This combination makes it quite difficult just to CLEAN the whole stove without pushing buttons.

If I'm not careful I can preheat the oven and microwave popcorn while both hands are cleaning the back burners of the stove.

Badge of honor

Sam Meyer
One of the best things about the Pixar movie "Ratatouille" was the unmistakable-yet-subtle presence of those telltale oval burns on the inside of all the cooks' wrists. Every cook I know has burn scars there, and they got even that little detail right.

I left the tip of my right index finger on a motorized slicer in the small Swiss town that entertained my apprenticeship. I lifted the majority of my right palm off my hand when I grabbed a hot pan placed lethally on a pile of cold ones – a clueless fellow line cook set me up for that week of agony. Amazingly, no scar from that one as the doc on hand prescribed the miracle unguent, Silvadene cream. Dark spots and silvery lines on my hands and arms mark 34 years of culinary work. It comes with the territory, and none of us come out unscathed.

Jarrod Rager
Being a line cook has adorned me with the usual kitchen graffiti of burns, knife scars, and raw skin. I have two that tie for first place, and both involve our kitchen's salamander. One day during the mid-shift I was hunting for a searing hot skillet to deliver out a stir fry and i just couldn't find one. The first couple I picked up weren't hot at all so I stowed one under the salamander to get it hto enough for service. As I was pulling the skillet down to plate (using tongs because it was wicked hot) I stepped in a little patch of fry oil and inadvertently put the skillet on the left side of my face. Hot skillet + fresh skin = a horse shoe shaped scar that won't graw facial hair.

The second salamander incident happened as I was replacing a hood vent filter above the rolling heat. I slipped off the ladder and on my way down cut my arm open on the top edge of the salamander. It was a pretty nifty trick though because the heat of the metal cauterized the cut before it really had time to bleed and all I had to do for clean up was to wash the burnt flesh away. Ahh the joys of fire!

*In response to a few queries: Yes, it's healing a bit but still hurts like the dickens. No, there will not be pictures, but you're a delightful gentleman for asking.

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Filed under: Buzz • Cooking • From the Comments • Injuries • Make

soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. themiraclespa

    cool site http://mandolinslicerworld.co.nf is a good site also!

    August 2, 2014 at 12:41 pm |
  2. Zivko

    Ok let's see...It was almost closing time, and I was carrying our pasta pot out to empty and drain. It holds about 6 gallons of boiling water. That night was very hot and sticky and I had applied a rubber band to my bicep to secure my shirt sleeve so that sweat wasn't dripping down my armt.

    Not so long story short...I slipped on a greasy floor while carrying the pot and all 6 gallons of boiling water went directly on my rubber-banded bicep. The rubber instantly melted and fused with my skin...The resulting blister, at it's biggest, probably contained 12 fl. oz. of fluid...that's one Coke can's worth. Thinking of the pain makes me smile to this day.

    I could not return to work for 4 weeks!

    May 12, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • Jerv@Zivko

      Holy crap dude! That makes me gringe. On a different note, did you ever have to clean out the grease trap at the restaurant that you worked at? That has got to be the most god awful smell in the world!

      May 12, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  3. ElliotB

    I was always amazedby these ads on TV selling mandolines. They stopped afterthere were a lot of lawsuits probably. They made the mandoline look lke it was something that tanyone could use. Not so.
    It is not to be reckoned woth; even if you are a professional.
    It is definitely not for ametuer use.

    August 21, 2010 at 5:30 pm |
  4. oogmar

    My worst three:

    Adjusting the dough hook on the Hobart, I managed to pinch off all of the skin that made up the web between my index finger and thumb.

    Cooking during a rush, my rag slipped, burning my finger, I adjusted mid-flip and my oil (I was sauteeing chicken) managed to ignite and land on the same hand. Flaming oil. From wrist to fingertip. Inch tall blister.

    Slammed my fingernail off in the walk-in door.

    One of my chefs picked up a double boiler, not noticing the bottom came up with the top, filled his work boots with boiling water and didn't even MENTION IT until about twenty minutes later when he couldn't come out of shock.

    Sliced open tattoos, burns, fryer basket spray....

    I'm glad I love cooking so much. Otherwise I'd say "see you" in a second. I'm not even that clumsy.

    August 15, 2010 at 2:03 am |
  5. Chris

    I was dicing garlic and onion in preperation for salsa. I was also trying to impress my then girlfriend (now wife) of my culinary knife skills. In the movement between dicing and knifing the garlic for another pass, I twirled the chef's knife intending to catch the handle again and continue the preperation. Unfortunately the connection was missed and the knife imbedded securely in the top of my ankle. Finally the knife handle was reintroduced to my hand and with a stubborn tug was dislodged . . . guys, just dice the garlic.

    August 13, 2010 at 7:38 pm |
  6. Bill

    I was working at a fish market in San Diego shucking oysters, as I had done thousands of times before. This time, my I reached for a glove that we wear when either filleting slimy fish or shucking oysters. The glove was all slimy, so I decided I didn't need a glove ( as I was a master...LOL)...needless to say, the oyster knife slipped off the oyster, into my hand requiring four stiches to close the wound. Never did that again!

    August 12, 2010 at 11:53 am |
  7. Brian

    Worst for me happened before I was young enough to cook, I managed to put my (infant...~2-3) hand on top of one of those old metal waffle irons. Yes it was closed, but it was still probably 300+ degrees. End result was a blistered hand, and a speech impediment. Did you know that if you damage your right hand, just as your brain is learning to use your right hand as your primary it can cause a stutter? I do now...

    More recently, my wife purchased the vegetable peeler from he77. If you haven't had the joy of an Oxo Good Grips Serrated Peeler, then you have no idea what it feels like for 20 needle-like teeth to catch your skin in the middle of a peeling stroke and pull themselves into your skin. I'm used to peelers that will almost bounce off of normal skin, but this peeler, by nature of those teeth, will not. Now don't get me wrong, it's a fantastic peeler, but keep your fingers far far away from the business edge!

    August 12, 2010 at 10:11 am |
  8. Dustin

    I was working at a restaurant and was making mozzarella sticks. I put four in the fryer and then realized that an order gets five so I grabbed one more out of the freezer and foolishly tossed it in the grease. Unfortunately that one mozzarella stick managed to hit the oil just right, and sent a giant wave of oil at my face. Had some nice burns next to my eye, on my cheek, chin and neck. It was pretty painful. Who would've guessed a mozzarella stick could do that much damage?

    August 12, 2010 at 9:47 am |
  9. akindafoodblog

    Oh my god, where do I even start? While I was baking snickerdoodles, the temperature was over 400º in the oven and I missed the pot holder and I accidentally grabbed the pan with my bare hand but waited until putting it on the counter before realizing that I burnt my hand. I couldn't grab anything for a good week.
    Recently, I was trying to push the batter closer to the hand mixer with a spoon when it pulled the spoon through the hand mixer. I wasn't fast enough and it pulled my hand in with it. My thumb and middle finger on my joint swelled up. And the left side of my hand and my thumb was skinned and bleeding a little bit. This is also the hand I accidentally dropped a knife on two days before this.
    I'm so clumsy when it comes to cooking. It's worse than MMA for me.

    August 12, 2010 at 3:17 am |
  10. RavenNC

    Hot oil is not my friend – I've had two rather severe burns from hot oil and a momentary lapse of concentration. The first happened when I was young (elementary school). A friend had spent the night and we decided to make pancakes. I got out the cast iron skillet, put it on the stove, and turned the heat on. When I started to pour some oil into the skillet, the heavy bottle tipped and deposited enough oil to fill the skillet nearly halfway. My friend and I discussed whether it was too much oil for a moment before we decided to empty some of the oil, which was just enough time for the oil to get good and HOT! I picked up the heavy skillet and turned away from the stove, only to realize that the weight of the skillet and the weight of the oil was too much for me. The skillet tipped and the oil poured down my leg, burning a large patch of skin from mid-thigh to the top of my knee. At first I thought I was okay...because it didn't hurt! (facepalm) Then almost immediately a HUGE blister formed and I knew I was in trouble! It took weeks for that to heal, but luckily no scar probably thanks to my mom's constant application of Vitamin E. The second burn came when I was making donuts for a grocery store. 3 am, tired, really hot fryer, and a dozen pershings (cinnamon roll looking donuts) bobbing in the fryer. I held what looked like two very large chopsticks, waiting for them to brown enough to flip with the sticks. They reach that magic point where they are ready to flip...I go to flip the first one and manage to fountain up and cover my right elbow. Again no pain – but this time I knew that wasn't a good thing! Went to the ER, they wrapped it, and when the huge blister finally broke I got to experience the joy of daily debriding at the ER. That one made a nice scar in the shape of the Star Trek Next Gen insignia on my elbow and forearm. Cool!

    August 12, 2010 at 1:51 am |
  11. Cathy

    I was draining a big pot of spaghetti into the colander when suddenly the handle came off the pot and I dropped the whole thing. Boiling water went everywhere, most of it onto our family cat who happened to be underfoot. The boiling water made the cat go absolutely CRAZY. She immediately jumped onto my bare leg, digging her claws in deep and then sliding down. At some point she left my leg and ran out of the house, scalded. It was days before she came home, and when she did make it back she was missing a good bit of fur. I still have the claw scars on my leg.

    August 12, 2010 at 12:30 am |
  12. J Fairweather

    One wouldn't call it an injury but thanks to chain drive pizza ovens, the issue is much less than it once was. What am I referring to? As a cook at a sit-down Pizza Hut back in the 1970's I noticed that none of us happened to have any hair on or right forearms. The reason? Back in those days the pizzas at the Hut were made in steel pans and they were loaded several pies deep into the old style ovens and they were pulled from the 300-something degree ovens using pump pliers (pliers with an angled front). Within a day of starting the job all the hair is burned off – and some of it falls into the pizza. If I had known this when I started, I would have shaved my arm first. (I don't know if they ever identified a deceased pizza cook on CSI show through this method....)

    August 11, 2010 at 9:15 pm |
  13. Stephanie Cardwell

    If the cook in the photo keeps cutting vegies that way, a slice of one of his fingers is in his future. He REALLY needs to learn how to hold his knife correctly!

    August 11, 2010 at 9:10 pm |
    • J Fairweather

      Actually, he's doing it correctly. By keeping the blade next to the knuckle with the fingertips bent, this keeps them safely out of the way. As he is keeping the tip of the knife in contact with the cutting board, this makes things nice and safe.

      August 11, 2010 at 9:20 pm |
  14. Victory Biker

    I've worked in the restaurant business for 30 years. Of those years, the first 12 were as a chef. I have been burnt and cut myself multiple times. I wore my scars like a badge of honor. I've seen some serious injuries as well. Some could have been prevented, and some were just plain stupid. Her is an injury that was the most painful...I was 17 working in a French restaurant. It was my first real culinary experience in a high end restaurant. There was a chef there that I can say I did not really look up to, but tolerated because I wanted to learn. I say tolerated because his name was Alan and he was an egotistical schmuck. Anyhow, he was walking around in the kitchen, puffing his chest, all proud because he just got a new Egyptian cotton chef coat with his fancy name embroidered across the left pocket. One of my jobs was to make French bread rolls, and Parmientiers (French cookies). For some reason Alan decided that he would kneel down underneath where I was working, to get something from under the prep table. Alan began to look up as he felt something wet and canvassing come in contact with his shoulder. I guess that I became distracted while measuring the virgin olive oil, and inadvertently covered his shoulder and back. The guy flipped his lid on me, but what could I say except "sorry". Nothing is more painful than injuring one's ego in the kitchen.
    When I moved up to sous chef of a local hotel, I was a bit cocky. One of the servers used to like to pilfer whatever food he could get his hands on. Delroy was his name. You know the type...sticking his dirty fingers in everything you are making, or other peoples food. One day he helped himself to a cup of choder to graze on. He left the cup and saucer under the hot lamp and made his way out to the dining room to check on his guests. As soon as he walked away I reached over with my stainless grill tongs and picked up the soup spoon off the saucer. I held the soup spoon over a nice blue flame from one of our many burners. A few minutes later Delroy entered the kitchen. I discretely and accurately placed the spoon back on the saucer, exactly where he left it. I watched with my back turned, out of the corner of my eye. Delroy was smiling as he picked up the now red-hot spoon....that was until the spoon stuck to his fingers! I still see Delroy now and then. That was about 25 years ago. We are now friends.

    August 11, 2010 at 8:50 pm |
  15. mel

    I work in a bakery and have run-ins with buttertarts fresh from the oven...and i pour my own candy...boiling sugar plus skin never comes out well...i've got some pretty little cicular burns on my forearms. We cool our trays of stuff on racks, that some people tend to bump out, leaving hot edges of trays sticking out, we've all got little triangle shaped burns from that.

    I was working in the freezer, moving boxes of dough and such, when i cut my leg on the edge of a cardboard box–6 stiches later, i wear long pants when i know it's a 'freezer' day.

    August 11, 2010 at 8:05 pm |
  16. ChefDeath

    Cleaning out a deep fryer at the end of a late Friday night shift, I was in a hurry and not thinking very much about my own safety and instead of waiting for the oil to cool, I put it into the pot hot. This was not too much of an issue until I went to pour it back into the fryer and the hot metal pot got stuck to my forearm. Not wanting to cry out and drop the pot in a reaction, I finished dumping the oil and then tried to remove the pot which had now fused with the top layer of my skin. Pulling it off caused my forearm to look like a pizza with the cheese removed until it started bleeding. One trip to the hospital later, I learned to be more careful with my work and more prudent with my time!

    August 11, 2010 at 6:57 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      My brain just screamed out loud in sympathy. Yeeeaaaagggghhhh!!!

      August 11, 2010 at 7:27 pm |
  17. Jolygreen69

    I have many scars on my hands, yet only one is from cooking or preparing food. I was about ten or eleven and decided to cut up some carrots with our brand new straight edged steaks knives. I placed the blade at the thick end and proceeded to bang the end of the carrot against the cutting board with the blade being forced down and through the carrot. I misjudged the sharpness and also the placement of my left index finger. The blade cut clean through the carrot in one bang and just kissed my finger. Didnt feel anything, to this day an almost one inch scar reminds me to be careful with knives.

    August 11, 2010 at 6:38 pm |
    • Charlton

      I am nearing 40 and remember helping Grandma when I was five. I was cutting carrots with a cheap steak knife. The blade went through the carrot and through my left thumb. I remember being held down in the emergency room while a syringe of lidocaine was forced several times into the wound. This was a million times worse than the cut itself. I have an ugly scar and have told the story at least ten times over the last thirty five years. Thanks for the memory jolt!

      August 12, 2010 at 8:45 am |
  18. Louise

    When I was in cooking school I had a freak accident where I got a meat fork stuck through my arm right above the wrist. I was carrying something heavy with my wrist flexed inward and ran into someone else who was using a large meat fork to carry one end of a hotel pan, and one of the tines went right between the bones of my lower arm. Was pretty surreal to look down and see the point of the tine coming out of the underside of my arm. Have a small, round scar on the top, but luckily no permanent damage!

    August 11, 2010 at 6:17 pm |
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