Extreme Cooking Safety

You don't have to resort to extremes to practice good safety habits in the kitchen.

In July 2010, a deep-fried dumpling almost cost food blogger Gabriella Zagreb her eyesight. Leaning over her pot of boiling oil to dislodge a stuck dumpling with a spoon, the dumpling cracked open and released steam and moisture into the hot oil, sending an explosion right up into her face. Gabriella’s neck, chin, cheeks, eyelids, eyelashes, and eyebrows were severely burned, causing a few weeks of temporary blindness. Today the blogger has her eyesight back, but still has discernible scars. They remind her every day of the lesson she learned: that each year hundreds of people are injured “” sometimes temporarily or even permanently blinded “” in cooking accidents involving steam, hot oil, splattered grease, and more, all because they weren’t wearing protective eyewear in the kitchen. And in these situations, oven mitts are certainly not the protective gear that’ll ensure your ability to forever see the food you put in your mouth before you taste it.

From Mainstream to Extreme, Cooking is More Fun when Done Safely
As you’ve just read, cooking has the potential to be quite dangerous and the more experimental and adventurous you are, the more you need to consider safety. (In fact, read how to safely deep fry a turkey here). And while some culinary artists take their creations to the extreme, as you’ll read below,  wherever you fall on the spectrum “” from basic domestic god or goddess to avant-garde gastronomic adventurist “” you’ll find protective eyewear both useful and necessary.

Handy Hint: Wear Safety Goggles for Chopping Onions
When you cut an onion, you slice open cells that contain a certain amino acid that then mixes with other enzymes in the vegetable, releasing a volatile sulfur compound into the air. When this gas reacts with the natural moisture in your eyes, sulfuric acid is formed. The sulfuric acid stimulates your tear ducts to wash this irritant away. So if you want to avoid streaming eyes, ruined makeup, and looking like your dog just died right before your dinner guests arrive, wear goggles while chopping up the onions for your favorite recipe. 

Fancy Flames: Butane Torches Require Safety Glasses
Used as a finishing tool for many culinary delights, butane torches are probably best known for adding   a crème brulée’s golden crown “” that crispy, melt-in-your-mouth, stained-glass candy top. Usually small in size, these torches use a pressurized container filled with butane gas and an igniter to light the flame, which can be adjusted from about 1/2″ to 1″ in length. Since theses torches are filled with a pressurized, flammable fuel, it’s important to follow safety procedures and wear safety glasses when using them. Understanding your specific tool’s features, how to properly operate and store it and keeping it away from children are also on the list of necessary safety protocols. But if Baked Alaska, melted cheese and breaded toppings on onion soup or gratins, and vegetables roasted to perfection call your name, a butane torch is a wonderfully fun cooking tool. Desserts with meringue or marshmallow topping can easily be toasted, and chili peppers or sweet peppers can achieve the darkened, roasted texture and flavor you desire with just a touch of your torch.

Sensuous Smoke: Safety Glasses a Must for the Smoking Gun
Smoked hardwood flavor can be intensely gratifying to your palate. A clever tool called The Smoking Gun allows you to sprinkle hardwood sawdust into a reservoir at the top, light it, and instantly infuse real smoke into your roasted meats, fish, vegetables, marinades “” even salads and Bloody Mary mixes. But you’ll want to wear at least a basic pair of safety glasses while using this machine, considering you’re using an open flame to ignite specially treated sawdust; and “” especially while performing some of the more technically difficult uses which involve sticking the hose down into blenders, stand mixers, and food processors full of potentially hot, sticky food substances  “” depending on how many “smoked” Bloody Marys you’ve had while preparing the rest of your courses, expect that the unexpected could end up in your face and eyes.

Solar Sauté: Magnifying Sunlight = Safety Goggles and Protective Gloves
Moving deeper into the world of experiential cooking, Denise Rojas of GreenPowerScience shows in this video how flash cooking using a giant Fresnel Lens can scramble two eggs in ten seconds or boil water in 90. Originally invented by French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel for lighthouses, when positioned correctly, a Fresnel lens acts as a giant magnifying glass that concentrates light to a very small point, resulting in a hot spot which can reach up to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. In this realm of “extreme cooking”, these scientist-chefs know the importance of safety. Wearing both protective goggles and gloves is critical when cooking with the intense power of the sun. 

Lava Flambé: Safety Goggles and Gloves Needed for a Volcanic Adventure
For perhaps the most adventurous chefs of all, there are currently two active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa, located on the Big Island of Hawaii. John Alexander, owner of the Dolphin Bay Hotel in Hilo, Hawaii, shares his own special recipe for cooking with molten lava.

Tools and ingredients include:

  1. A supply of molten lava: approximately 2 shovels-full.
  2. A shovel you’ll never use again.
  3. Safety goggles and heavy protective gloves
  4. A game hen
  5. Eight banana leaves

“Wrap the game hen in the banana leaves (leave a small opening to vent escaping steam) and place it on one scoop of lava. This becomes the base of the “oven.” Top the leaves with the other scoop of lava and let it cool. Within about 45 minutes, the lava cools; the banana leaves burn to ash; and your hen is ready to eat. Opening your “oven” is easy: just hit the hardened lava with your shovel.”

Safety tip: be sure to select a slow-moving lava flow. Some have been clocked at speeds up to 37 miles per hour!

Liquid Nitrogen Novelties: Ice Cream in Five Minutes Flat Requires Proper Goggles and Gloves
Naturally, let’s end our romp through the creative culinary world with dessert: a frosty bowl of liquid nitrogen ice cream.

You need:

  1. Liquid nitrogen: Approximately 2 liters for an average recipe.
  2. Safety goggles and heavy gloves: The liquid nitrogen is cold enough to freeze skin on contact. Even ice cream can’t make a trip to the emergency room more fun, so be careful handling the ingredients.
  3. Your favorite homemade ice cream recipe
  4. A large stainless steel mixing bowl
  5. A wooden spoon

Put on your safety goggles and gloves and pour the prepared ice cream mixture into the stainless steel bowl. Slowly pour the liquid nitrogen into the ice cream and stir with the wooden spoon until it’s frozen and the nitrogen has evaporated, approximately five to ten minutes. Serve immediately. Stir in more liquid nitrogen if it starts to melt too quickly. (Read more about the safe handling of liquid nitrogen, as well as more fun culinary experiments here.)

So although it’s possible you may never expect to do anything more exciting than boil water in your kitchen, it’s always best to be prepared for the day you might find yourself actually cooking with hot oil or grease and need a pair of protective eyewear. (Ladies, Safety Glasses USA sells an entire line of safety glasses styled especially for you and scaled to fit a woman’s smaller face.)  So just remember Gabriella’s story. She certainly didn’t expect her seemingly innocent nudge of a stuck dumpling to blind her for three weeks, but it happened “” literally “” faster than the blink of an eye. Don’t let it happen to you too.