It was a dark and stormy night. Tree branches brushed the roof as the wind shook the house.
She barely noticed from her spot in the kitchen, busy as she was chopping onions, simmering broth and using the immersion blender, while checking e-mail and glancing at the evening news on her laptop.
Tap, tap, tap. That wasn’t trees. Was someone at the door?
The dog growled, then let out a ferocious howl.
She went to the door and peeked out the window. Nothing there.
Unlocking the deadbolt (don’t open the door!), she looked outside.
And there was a metal claw stuck to the door handle! (Insert scream here.)
Think of this as the modern-day version of the scary tale from the past. You know the one — where the couple in the car hears tapping on the roof, only to drive off and discover a metal claw on the door handle. They were saved by happenstance from something terrible (whew!).
Well, that something terrible could be in your kitchen, if you’re not careful. It is, in fact, the most dangerous room in your house and for some, especially those who don’t know how to cook, the scariest. We tend to think kids are the ones who need supervision in the kitchen, but some adult cooks do, too.
Consider these nightmares:
• Fires: Whether it’s a grease fire or simply an unattended or forgotten pan on the hot stovetop, the result can be devastating. The U.S. Fire Administration reports that cooking equipment (most often a range or stovetop) is the leading cause of home fires and injuries from them. But fires don’t stop there: Billowy sleeves or hair can catch fire, too. • Kitchen knives: Ask any chef and you’ll hear the same refrain: You can’t have too sharp a knife. Dull ones are much more dangerous because of the force needed to operate them. But sharp knives can be dangerous when cooks are not used to them. At a Pillsbury Bake-Off long ago, at least one contestant, using a new, very sharp knife, almost cut off a fingertip. • Other sharp objects: While we’re talking digits, be aware that immersion blenders — with their sharp, unshielded blades at their base — have sent many cooks to the emergency room. Blend with caution. And don’t use your fingers to get the blades unstuck.
• Bacteria: Raw poultry! Eggs! Meat! Seafood! Beware of cross-contamination with foods. You can’t be too careful. Use separate cutting boards for produce and for meat or seafood. Cook food to safe temperatures. Replace or wash your hand towels daily and do the same with sponges (put damp sponges in a microwave for 1 minute to wipe out bacteria). Cook with abandon, but with caution.
• Multi-tasking: Whether it’s the unattended pan on the stove, the blender blades that are stuck, the cellphone you’re using as you cut up the chicken, if you are not paying attention as you cook, you may find yourself in more trouble than forgetting to add the baking powder to the cake.
A word from the government
And now for the other scary issues in the kitchen — the ick factor — and we’re not talking Mad Cow and horsemeat. If you breeze through the Defect Levels Handbook of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, you’ll find out what’s acceptable in foods, i.e. what can be wrong with it and still be right. As the handbook points out, the items mentioned “pose no inherent hazard to health” nor should they be construed to necessarily be present in the food. But they could be.
• Canned beets cannot have more than 5 percent by weight of dry rot.
• Frozen Brussels sprouts cannot have more than an average of 30 or more aphids and/or thrips per 100 grams.
• Macaroni and noodle products cannot have more than an average of 225 insect fragments or more per 225 grams (in six or more subsamples) or an average of 4.5 rodent hairs or more in the same amount.
• Peanut butter can have up to 30 or more insect fragments or one or more rodent hairs per 100 grams.
• Ground pepper can have 475 or more insect fragments or two or more rodent hairs per 50 grams.
• Canned pineapple can have up to 20 percent mold count.
• Golden raisins can have 10 or more whole or equivalent insects and 35 fruit-fly eggs per 8 ounces.
• Tomato juice can have an average of 10 or more fruit-fly eggs per 100 grams, or five or more of those eggs and one or more maggots.
Now that’s scary.
Follow Lee Svitak Dean on Twitter: @StribTaste