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.

The Orchardist - - Health & Safety - By Bar­bara Gill­ham

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.”

Ilus­tra­tion by Hope Walker.

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