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Kitchen Safety Basics

For young children, the kitchen is a compelling place: Parents are bustling around, pulling colorful items from refrigerators and cupboards. Things are going on out of a toddler's sight on counters and stoves, and he yearns to see and participate.

The combination of all this activity, your child's innate curiosity, and your sometimes divided attention means that it's especially important to childproof the kitchen. Here's where the hazards can occur and how to minimize the risks:

General Safety

  • Check for sharp edges and corners where children could bang heads or injure their eyes. Install protective guards or cushioning.
  • Secure all knobs and handles.
  • Seal off all electrical outlets with safety plugs.
  • Keep floor skid-proof. Use nonskid rugs. Wipe up spills immediately.
  • Install safety latches on all cabinets and cupboards with contents that could pose risks to children.
  • Keep spices out of children's reach. Many are toxic.
  • Use a child-resistant garbage can or keep your trash behind closed doors in a locked cabinet.
  • Dispose of plastic bags safely by tying each in a knot before throwing it in the trash.
  • Keep aluminum foil, waxed paper, and plastic wrap dispensers away from children. The serrated edges on the boxes can cut little fingers.
  • All alcohol should be securely stored out of a child's sight and reach. After a party, make sure to empty all glasses.

Here's how to childproof your appliances.

Stove

  • Make sure stoves, ovens, and burners are in good working order. If fueled by gas, regularly check that there are no leaks and that the pilot lights function properly.
  • Use back burners whenever possible. Some of the most common accidents occur when a child reaches up and grabs a pot or pan, spilling the hot contents over himself. When it's necessary to use the front burners, turn all pot handles toward the back so they are not as easy to reach.
  • Keep flammable objects such as curtains, towels, oven mitts and debris away from the stove.
  • Make sure handles on pots and pans are secure, not loose. Tighten them if they are wobbly, or if they can't be fixed, throw the pots and pans out.
  • Place childproof covers on stove and oven knobs or remove knobs entirely from the stove so that burners and oven cannot be turned on easily by a child. Knobs can be stored conveniently in a drawer on a shelf, out of your child's reach.
  • For extra safety, use a stove guard that helps prevent little hands from touching hot surfaces.
  • Check for hot surfaces. Some units are poorly insulated and the outside may get hot enough to cause burns. Check the outside of your oven when it's at roasting temperature to make sure it's only warm, not hot, to the touch. If it does become too hot, install a safety gate at the kitchen during cooking times.
  • Always turn the oven off when not in use, and never use it to heat a room.
  • Be careful of opening the door of a hot oven when a child is standing by. He may try to touch the inside of the door, or may get a face full of very hot air.
  • Bolt the stove to the wall if you have a low oven or broiler door so that the stove will not tip over should a child open the door and stand on it.

Refrigerator and Freezers

  • Use a childproof door latch, Velcro or buckle type, to secure the door shut.
  • Remove refrigerator magnets. Children can choke on small items, and colorful refrigerator magnets are particularly enticing.
  • Warn children not to touch ice-cold surfaces with their tongues. Your child's tongue will stick to the surface.
  • For added precaution keep glass bottles and jars off easily accessible shelves and never store batteries or film or other interesting inedible objects in the refrigerator.
  • Remove doors from old appliances you are replacing as soon as the new ones arrive. Refrigerators as well as coolers, freezers, and other larger airtight appliances can entrap a child who many crawl inside and be unable to get out. Also, as soon s your child is old enough to understand, instruct her never to hide in any appliance.

Dishwasher

  • Never leave sharp implements including knives, inside the dishwasher. No doubt, your child will see you placing dishware into and out of the dishwasher and will want to do the same. If you do place sharp utensils in the dishwasher, make sure they are pointed downwards during the cycle, and remove them as soon as they are washed. Also, remove breakable items immediately.
  • Use a childproof appliance latch for added protection.

Small Appliances

  • Unplug toasters, blenders, coffee makers, food processors, and other small appliances when not in use and store them out of the reach of children.
  • Use cord shorteners to take up the slack in appliance cords so that the cords are less likely to dangle.
  • Never use a knife or other metal object to unclog a toaster. This could cause electrocution. If something becomes lodged in a toaster, unplug it and wait a few moments before trying to extract it. Shake it loose, or use a wooden spoon to dislodge it.

Whether you have an eat-in kitchen or a separate dining room, observe the following:

  • Repair or dispose of rickety chairs.
  • Shove chairs back in place flush against the table when not in use. Don't let them stand out from the stable where they may be treated as steps for a toddler to climb.
  • Secure tables with center pedestals. Tables that have center pedestals rather than corner legs are more likely to topple over if a child's weight bears down on the sides. Teach your child never to lea on the table's edge.
  • Make sure tabletops are securely anchored to bases.
  • Be wary of folding or collapsible tables and chairs. Brace them so they are secure around children or remove folding tables and chairs when not in use.
  • Check for protruding nails, splintered wood, staples, sharp bolts, and jagged edges. Get down on all fours and take a look at the undersides of your tables and chairs.
  • Place fine china, glassware, and other breakable items safely behind closed doors.
  • Do not keep a cloth on the dining table. Toddlers are likely to pull it -- and everything on it -- down off the table and on top of themselves.

From The Parents Answer Book: From Birth Through Age Five, by the editors of Parents magazine. Copyright © 2000 by Roundtable Press and G+J USA Publishing.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.