A Recipe for Preventing Cooking Fires

      Do you know what the leading cause of home fires is in the United States? If you guessed cooking, you are correct, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

      Whether you love to prepare elaborate feasts, or you consider heating up a frozen pizza to be a culinary adventure, cooking is probably an activity you do daily. But, because whipping up a meal typically involves electricity, heating elements, and sometimes flames, it has the potential to result in a fire. So, it’s no wonder the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has chosen “Cooking safety starts with YOU” as the theme for this October’s Fire Prevention Month. The team at Austin wanted to make sure to share this important message with our community and help spread the word about some of the simple actions you can take to keep yourself—and those hungry loved ones around you—safe when cooking.

The best recipe for preventing cooking fires includes the following four steps:

      1. Stay in your cooking area and keep a watchful eye on your food. Year after year, unattended cooking remains one of the leading causes of home fires in the United States. So, once you’ve started cooking, commit yourself to staying close by until you’ve finished grilling, frying, baking, or broiling your masterpiece. On the off-chance that something requires your attention and takes you away from your cooking—even if it’s just for a short time—it is essential to turn off the cooking appliance you’re using. Of course, it’s easy to lose focus on what you’re doing these days, even when you’re right in front of the meal you’re cooking, so a good back-up plan for distracted cooking is to always use a timer.
      2. Keep flammable items, including what you’re wearing, away from your cooking appliances. This is easier said than done, since so many of the things that are important elements of cooking, like oven mitts, pot holders, dish towels, and food packaging, are the very things that are most vulnerable to catching fire. However, when they are not in use, you’ll want to keep these items away from all burners, flames, grills, etc. In addition, because clothing can easily catch fire around hot, sparking, and firing appliances, you should choose your cooking attire carefully. For example, rather than wearing a loose, oversized top with long, wide sleeves, it is strongly recommended that you opt for something more fitted, preferably with short sleeves. Even your choice of accessories can put you at risk—it’s much safer to wait to put on your favorite silk scarf or rope bracelet until the cooking is done and the meal is being served.
      3. Always clean your cooking appliances after use and unplug them. For many of us, the worst thing about cooking is the cleanup. But putting off this critical part of the process—even overnight—may lead to a dangerous buildup of grease and grubbiness in and around your cooking appliances. From leaving just a handful of crumbs in your toaster to ignoring the foodstuff that splattered on your stovetop or the fat that dripped onto your grill and grill trays, your actions can leave remains that could easily spark a fire when you (or someone else in your household) turn on the cooking appliance again. So, as much as you’d like to just put your feet up after all that work in the kitchen or on the grill, resist that urge for just a few minutes and clean up. Once you have finished the cooking and cleaning, don’t forget to unplug any electrical cooking appliances that you used, which helps minimize the potential for an accidental electrical fire; or, if you have been grilling, make sure to double-check you’ve turned off the gas supply.
      4. Use appropriate containers for each specific cooking appliance. It’s so easy to mindlessly grab a container of leftover food from the fridge, take the cover off, stick it in the microwave, and cook it up. But hold up a minute. How confident are you that the containers you’re putting in the microwave are safe to use in this appliance? This is important to know, because heating up food in containers that aren’t meant for the microwave and may not be able to withstand the heat this appliance creates can lead to a fire. Glass and ceramic dishes; paper plates, towels, and napkins; and wax and parchment paper are a “go,” as are plastics labeled “microwave safe.” However, there are many types of materials that should not be used in a microwave, including aluminum foil, brown paper bags, and single-use plastic. Ironically, many of the things that are typically safe to use in a microwave are a fire danger if used in the oven, including all types of plastics, paper products, and some forms of glassware. To know for sure what’s suitable to use with your particular cooking appliances, make sure to carefully read the instruction manual.

      There is a lot more to know about safeguarding your home and loved ones from the dangers of a cooking-related fire, which is why we highly recommend you check out the cooking safety tip sheets provided by the NFPA. These info sheets offer details on how the cooks in your household can protect themselves from burns and scalding, avoid common grilling accidents, and make sure that major cooking holidays like Thanksgiving stay fire-free.

      With all this talk about home cooking fires, you may be wondering if your home insurance provides coverage for this type of event. With the rare exception, like fires caused by arson or an act of war, the standard homeowners policy covers damages to your house, as well as to the property in it, that are caused by a home fire. In addition, if your home is unlivable while repairs are being made, home insurance typically helps pay for the costs of finding temporary lodging, as well as for additional food expenses and other incremental fees you may incur during that time.

      If you have more questions about home insurance coverage for unexpected events like fires, wind and hail, lightning strikes, fallen trees, theft, and more, a member of the Austin team would be happy to answer them, so don’t hesitate to contact us.

      To experience our personalized approach to home insurance, please call the Austin Insurance team today at 781-447-5561.