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Kitchen Safety

Angela Oswalt, MSW

Kitchens can easily be either the center of a rich and busy family life or a dangerous place where young children are not allowed. With a few precautionary measures, the family kitchen can be the former rather than the latter. As with any safety precaution, use common sense when implementing these suggestions.

Start by making sure that that countertops and floors are kept neat and clean to prevent babies from choking on small debris or falling. Parents should store all knives and other sharp food preparation tools as well as detergents and other possible poisons up and out of toddlers' reach. All cabinets and drawers (especially including knife drawers!) should be fitted with latches to prevent inquisitive toddlers from opening and removing possibly-harmful objects as well as from making messes. Parents can designate one low cabinet, well away from the oven and other high-traffic areas as the "play" cabinet and fill it with plastic dishware and pots and pans so that babies are able to mimic parents in the kitchen.

Appliances also need to be monitored and baby-proofed. Refrigerators should also have a baby latch installed and magnets holding photos and pictures to the surface of the refrigerator should be placed well above toddlers' reach to prevent choking hazards. Microwaves and toaster ovens can also have latches installed to make them safer. Other small appliances such as toasters and coffee makers should be stored with their cords unplugged when not in active use to protect babies if they somehow reach the "on" switch. Ground fault interrupter electrical outlets should be installed near any sources of water (such as sinks) if they are not already present to reduce the risk of electrocution. Safety knobs can be installed on stove and oven knobs to prevent toddlers from accidentally turning them on. When someone is cooking on the stove top, pot and pan handles should be turned in toward the stove to prevent young people from pulling the contents down on themselves. Babies and toddlers should not be allowed to play directly in the vicinity of a cooking stove or oven. As well, toddlers should be taught that the oven is very hot when on and thus dangerous. Caregivers can make this lesson very visible to toddlers by taking care to turn on the oven light on while food is baking or while the oven is cooling down. In this manner, caregivers can teach toddlers that "when the light is on, the oven is hot and should not be touched". Dishwashers, trash compactors, and laundry washers and dryers can also be retrofitted with baby latches, or newer models may come with pre-installed child safety locks.

There are some other small things caregivers can do to protect their young ones in the kitchen. Trashcans and recycling bins can harbor many dangerous objects and germs. These bins should also be stored out of open view and kept behind either a latched door or in a latched container if possible. Partially-filled buckets of water left over after mopping or other cleaning chores should not be left standing as they pose a drowning hazard. Children have actually died from this seemingly improbable drowning hazard. As well, if there is a sliding-glass door in a kitchen, or any room, parents can place colorful decals on the glass to help the toddlers see the door and not hurt themselves by walking into it.

When feeding babies and toddlers, most caregivers find it useful to use a high chair. As with all baby furniture, high chairs should meet minimum manufacturers' requirements for safe construction, and caregivers should inspect all new and used high chairs for loose or broken parts or other defects. During feeding time, babies should be securely fastened into the high chair using provided safety harnesses. The feeding tray should also be securely fastened to the chair so that it cannot be pushed away onto the floor, spilling its contents. Even after these safety precautions have been taken, caregivers should never leave an infant or toddler alone in a room strapped into the high chair, as the child will eventually try to get out and harm themselves in the process. Also, during feeding, parents should position the high chair far enough from the table or other feeding surface to prevent baby from grabbing or touching objects on the table that could be dangerous such as sharp utensils or hot cookware.

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