Americans may need to redouble the care they take as they cook their meals, with safety experts reporting a spike in burn cases, including for kids, and a major manufacturer recalling hundreds of thousands of Crock-Pot multi-cooking devices.
Burns can be painful, disfiguring, and not the easiest of wounds to care for, experts say, emphasizing the importance of avoiding the injuries, especially of the severe kind.
But with Americans urged by public health officials to help curb the coronavirus pandemic’s harms by staying at home as much as possible, families have found recreation and relief in preparing foods in kitchens where novices may be less than familiar with risks. As the Washington Post reported:
“’This is a time of high stress and cooking is one way to relieve it,’ said burn surgeon Tina Palmieri, director of the Firefighters Burn Institute Regional Burn Center at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. ‘Unfortunately, it’s also a record year for burn injuries.’ At Palmieri’s center, one of the largest burn treatment facilities in the western United States, cooking accident burns have even outnumbered injuries from the major wildfires earlier this year, Palmieri said. Her team has treated 92 serious cooking-related burns since January versus 79 in 2019, with a sixfold increase from March to May. An additional 122 patients have been treated in the emergency room so far this year. At MedStar Washington Hospital Center, burn surgeon Laura Johnson said her team saw more than a 40% increase in cooking-fire burns during the first three months of the pandemic. About 50 patients with serious cooking-fire burns were admitted from August to October. A moment’s distraction can lead to lifelong discomfort. Besides leaving scars, third-degree burns can cause nerve damage and decreased sensation, Palmieri said.”
As with road injuries, distraction and intoxication can play detrimental roles in getting folks burned at home, the newspaper reported:
“A cook will get distracted and lose track of something on the stove. Loose, billowing clothing can catch fire. Or sometimes a pan of grease can ignite. The cook’s first instinct may be to grab the pan to take it outside, risking a spill of burning liquid on the way. Often people try to put out grease fires by throwing water on them, which can splatter hot oil. ‘The last thing you want to do is throw water on it,’ [MedStar’s] Johnson said. ‘We’re trying to encourage people to have something close at hand to smother the fire, like a lid, or baking soda’ Palmieri and other U.S. burn doctors said older people and people who have been drinking have been overrepresented among their patients, although cooking fires can affect anyone.”
The pandemic has led to an increase in pediatric burn cases, according to a study by experts at a regional treatment center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. They focused on what occurred earlier this year when their state’s officials told people to stay at home, leading to this:
“During the shelter-in-place order, pediatric burn admissions increased by 9% between March 10th and May 22nd of 2020 compared to the prior year. Most importantly, there was a 28% increase in burn injuries for school-aged children — one of our most vulnerable patient populations … We have previously reported that, we have the greatest number of admissions during the summer season. The shutdown of public schools, and non-essential businesses due to the shelter-in-place order led to a ‘summer break’ effect, where the percentage of school age pediatric admissions were equivalent. Instead of being in school, children remained at home. We speculate that supervision was a major factor, and without school, teachers, friends, and counselors, children had fewer resources to help identify or protect against potential safety concerns, or violence in the home.”
The experts took note of forecasts for later coronavirus spikes and the possibility of these being more serious — as they now are — and resulting in more public health restrictions:
“While the next ‘shelter-in-place’ order may decrease viral transmission, and protect hospitals and health care providers from being overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients, it may also lead to significantly increased risk of burn injuries to children.”
940,000 multi-cookers recalled
The reports about rising burn cases come even as Sunbeam recalled 940,000 of its “6-Quart Express Crock Multi-Cookers,” and safety experts brace for seasonal problems with fires tied to indoor and outdoor heating devices.
Sunbeam, federal consumer safety officials said, decided to pull the sizable numbers of its product after receiving “119 reports of [the cookers’] lids detaching, resulting in 99 burn injuries ranging in severity from first-degree to third-degree burns, the most serious,” Consumer Reports found.
The consumer advocacy group also reported this of the popular device, costing $50 or so:
“On its website, Crock-Pot says that three common mistakes can cause the lid to detach, including: Exceeding the fill line when cooking with liquid ingredients; failing to properly engage the lid’s lock mechanism before starting the unit; [and] improperly using the quick-release valve. In response, the company says it has redesigned the lid and developed more explicit instructions printed on both the unit and in the owner’s manual. Owners of the current model can get a replacement lid.”
With temperatures falling and with so many Americans working and staying at home, safety officials grow wary at this time of year, of course, as consumers try to stay warmer with roaring blazes in fireplaces and heating devices. Portable electric heaters long have posed high fire risks, authorities warn, offering precautions about their use. Consumer advocates have tried to get ahead of public interest by offering tips and precautions, too, about Americans’ plans to use various products to heat outdoor spaces — with fire pits, chimineas, and propane devices — in hopes of gathering there safely with friends and family, especially to take advantage of the lessened coronavirus risks of being outside and not in contained indoor spots. And, did I mention that this also is the time to take extra care with holiday displays, including those that feature flammable trees and elaborate and risky electrical set ups?
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damage that can be inflicted on consumers by dangerous and defective products, notably of the medical kind. Excellent safety information abounds online for people to protect themselves and their families from the significant harms of fires and burns. The American Red Cross reminds that helping fire victims, sadly, is one of its major activities, with seven people dying each day from a home fire, most impacting children and the elderly. The group also says that 36 people suffer injuries in home fires every day and more than $7 billion in property damage occurs every year due to residential blazes.
It may seem old-fashioned to worry about fire safety, what with many improvements to home inspections, electronic detection mechanisms, product manufacture, and consumer oversight. Still, these are uncommon times, notably for the pressures people are putting on their homes and parts of them that they may be uncertain in. This has been a terrible enough time with the pandemic. Consumers do not want to head to emergency care when the experts there may be overwhelmed with spiking coronavirus cases. Take the time, please, to protect yourself and your families from burns and any potential issues with fire safety.