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February 25, 2014

Seniors and Kitchen Safety: Tips for the "Heart of the Home"

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 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, 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
    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

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