Food, glorious food – that’s what Christmas and New Year means for a lot of people.
Roast dinner with all the trimmings, Christmas pud with brandy sauce, piping hot mince pies, sherry trifle and mini sausage rolls. My mouth is watering already.
While this gives families, including those budding Heston Blumenthals, a chance to really dabble with their culinary skills, it is also a time to remember that the kitchen is a hotbed of hidden dangers, particularly when hordes of relatives and friends come together.
Burning food was responsible for more than 12,600 fires in UK homes in 2011/12, leading to 10 deaths and 2,751 casualties. At the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), advisers are offering a wealth of Christmas home safety tips to get families safely through the festive period.
My advice is to keep children and anyone not helping with the cooking out of the kitchen as much as possible, especially when saucepans are bubbling with hot water and sizzling hot meat is being lifted out of the oven. Spitting hot oil and boiling water can scald, so always use a cooker’s back rings or hotplates first and position pan handles so they can’t be pulled over.
More worryingly, people often forget that a large turkey is incredibly heavy and can easily be dropped into the path of excited youngsters peeping out from between your legs.
It also helps to see a busy kitchen from the eyes of a child. Get down to their line of vision if necessary and look up at the surfaces where hot drinks, wine glasses and knives are often left precariously teetering on the edge and in touching distance of little hands that instinctively want to grab hold. That’s not a great prospect when you realise that a hot drink can scald a small child up to 15 minutes after it has been made.
Give yourself plenty of time to prepare and cook Christmas and New Year feasts and wipe up any spills on the floor quickly to avoid accidents involving hot fat, boiling water and sharp knives that too often come from rushing around.
Mark Cashin, chair of the Chief Fire Officers Association’s National Home Safety Committee, was telling me how the majority of house fires start in the kitchen. He added that there were more fire hazards in the home at Christmas than at any other time of year.
Mark’s advice is to make sure the cooker is clean and clear of debris that gets strewn around when creating a gastronomic masterpiece, like tea towels, packaging and paper towels, which can easily catch fire. And however busy things get, never leave the cooking unattended.
And without sounding too much of a killjoy, if the bubbly starts flowing early, it would be best if the chef could avoid drinking too much alcohol while cooking to avoid unnecessary accidents.
Hopefully that gives plenty of food for thought, but as I tuck into my turkey and trimmings, all that’s left to say is have a happy, safe and delicious Christmas holiday.
Sheila Merrill, RoSPA’s public health adviser