Kitchen bloodbaths & getting to the root of the problem
It’s been in the news and it’s had people talking, the number of injuries sustained each year in many New Zealand kitchens.
What’s behind this apparent ‘blood bath’ of injuries? Well apparently it’s a variety of rather humble vegetables that are at the root of the problem, or rather the knife wielder who is tackling their often extremely hard exteriors in an effort to prepare them for dinner. According to the Accident Compensation Commission (ACC) nearly $100,000 was claimed for 361 pumpkin related injuries in 2016, more than double the 162 ‘avohands’ (accidents with avocados) that cost them $70,000 for the same period. These figures were up from the 2014– 2015 period in which there were 118 and 137 claims respectively for pumpkin and avocado related injuries. While the avocado is increasingly a worry for ACC, apparently even the humble onion is now under attack, and is classed as the second most dangerous vege, accounting for 282 claims, which have so far have cost $41,000.
Last year there were just under a total of 35,000 claims for kitchen related injuries in New Zealand, with 42 of those for amputations or enucleations (surgical removal of the eyeball).
So are these vegetables truly dangerous and is it really their fault they are now receiving so much negative publicity in the media?
Well apparently not, perhaps the real culprit is the one who wields the knife, as they do battle in the kitchen to
remove the stubborn skin from the said vegetables before dicing, slicing and chopping their way through them.
Although it may appear there is a slightly humorous side to these accidents, which conjure up images of fruit and vegetables fighting back before they are popped in the pot, it is obviously a serious problem and one that needs addressing.
Any accident that results in injury, especially any involving a knife, is not only painful but has the potential to be extremely serious, so the subject needs to be treated with due respect.
While the figures are alarming, many of these accidents are avoidable, and come down to things such as inattention when preparing vegetables, using blunt knives or knives that are not suitable for the job in hand. Director of the New Zealand School of Food and Wine, Celia Hay, says people need to think when cutting vegetables like avocados and pumpkins.
“Your knife can slip and often people are using the incorrect knife, perhaps one that’s too big or in some situations too small for what they are cutting.
“I think from a practical point of view it would be better to think about what would be the most appropriate knife for the task. Most accidents happen in the kitchen because people aren’t concentrating on what they’re doing. They might be talking or watching TV, and are failing to engage their mind and hand appropriately, and that often leads to those simple accidents that could be avoided.”
Celia says vegetables such as kumara, pumpkin and potatoes can be roasted whole making them easier to deal with, as well as enhancing their flavour.
“If you roast them first they become soft and easy to peel, and it takes all the work out of preparing them, meaning you don’t end up having an argument with your pumpkin for example, on the kitchen bench.”
Celia says part of the induction on all of their courses at the New Zealand School of Food and Wine is to do with safety in the kitchen, which includes preparing vegetables.
“We also try to remind people, the food lovers who come in and do our short courses, how to cut vegetables safely. If you’re cutting something like an onion or carrot, cut it in half and put the flat cut side down on your board, then when you’re cutting it you’ll have no problems. If you’re cutting something like an onion which is round and if you don’t cut it in half first, it will wander off the chopping board and can cause havoc. “Handling a knife is a learnt skill that chefs need to have, but it’s a skill unfortunately most home cooks don’t have.”
Pip Duncan, food consultant for Vegetables New Zealand says it is logical to have the right knife for the job and suggests several helpful tips to avoid injury when cutting any vegetable.
“When you’re using sharp knives and you don’t want anything to slip, put a damp cloth under the board and then place your vegetable on it, this will hold the board in place. If you want to remove pumpkin skin, many people suggest putting the pumpkin in the microwave for a short time as this softens the skin and makes it easier.
“Always put the cut flat side down on the board before trying to cut anything and always use a heavy sharp knife, little knives can get frustrating.
“You should always hold the vegetable with your fingers bent to the second knuckle and continuously move your fingers back and away from the edge you are cutting, this protects your fingers.
“For avocados use a smaller knife to cut it in half and then twist to separate the two halves. People often take the half with the stone left in it and hold it in their hand while they whack a knife into it to loosen it, but you mustn’t do it, it’s too dangerous. A better idea is to use something like a soup spoon to scoop the stone out.”
Pip says it’s also important to care for your knives and they should be washed and wiped in the direction away from your hands, again to avoid the chance of cutting yourself, and handles must be kept clean so they are not slippery.
Perhaps this whole issue is best summed up with a comment from Celia Hays:
“It really does come down to common sense, it’s got nothing to do with the vegetable, the vegetables are not rebelling, it’s just human error that causes these accidents.”
“It’s got nothing to do with the vegetable, the vegetables are not rebelling, it’s just human error that causes these accidents.”