Avoiding holiday kitchen mishaps: Tips from a hand surgeon and a professional chef

WAYNE, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Thanksgiving is all about great food, family, and friends.

But when the holiday hub-bub spills into the kitchen, accidents can happen.

Action News met up with a local hand surgeon who is married to a professional chef to get advice on how to NOT end up in the emergency room.

Even though Matt Rust cooks every day for clients, he still enjoys making a Thanksgiving feast.

"Don't overcook it, use plenty of salt," says Rust.

He and his wife, Dr. Meredith Osterman of the Philadelphia Hand to Shoulder Center, know safety in the kitchen is vital.

Dr. Osterman often sees the results of kitchen mishaps after the holiday.

"Lacerations - so an injury with a knife or some other sharp cooking utensil, and burns," she says.

She says not being focused leads to a lot of accidents

"There's a lot of family around, there's kids running around, maybe you have a glass of wine," she notes of the holiday distractions. "People try new recipes and try routines that they're not used to and that's when accidents are more likely to happen."

But improper tools or techniques also play a role.

First, sharper knives are safer than dull ones.

"The knife will do the work for you," observes Rust.

You'll apply less force, so there's less chance of a slip, especially with hard, dense foods like squash. And you'll put less strain on your hand and elbow.

For irregularly shaped items like this, slice the bottom off for a more stable base.

And despite what's on the cooking shows, never hold food to cut it.

"That's when your knife, the knife is going to slip, and if you slip, your hand is what's going to be injured," says Dr. Osterman.

To give your wrist and elbow a rest, trade the hand whisk for an electric mixer.

Dr. Osterman also sees a lot of cuts from knives left in sinks, and from broken glasses. So be careful washing them.

"Have a strong hand on the glass, and especially around the edges, be careful about how you're holding the glass," she says as she demonstrates the technique.

"It's important to wash the knife away from you," she notes.

And because the hand has so many different components -- blood vessels, nerves and tendons that are close to the surface-- a seemingly minor cut can be serious. If there's an accident, it's best to get medical attention right away.

As for burns, if it's a small one on just the surface skin, first, run it under cool, not cold, water for a few minutes, and "then apply some salve, such as Neosporin and then wrap it up," she says.

If there's any blistering or open wound, get medical attention as soon as possible.

Even professional chefs like Rust have had their close calls. He was getting ready for a cooking job, assembling his satchel of knives, even as the family's 3 children scurried around.

"I didn't have shoes on in the house. My knife came out and landed right on my foot, and it could have been really bad," Rust recalls.

"I sewed him up in the office," Dr. Osterman adds, continuing, "It almost hit a tendon; he almost cut the main tendon to the big toe."

Still, Dr. Osterman says he's the expert on knife-handling in the household, and she recommends inexperienced people stay out of the kitchen.

"Even though I'm a surgeon, I'm not allowed to touch the knives in our home," she says with a grin.
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