Chefs on all expertise levels can use a refresher on knife safety

Holding a knife the wrong way is a little mistake that can alter your life. Share this article

Knife accidents are more common than you think. More than 330,000 hospital visits were related to knife-accident injuries in 2011, according to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. Even if a chef has a firm grip, just being in the kitchen is a major risk. In an instant, a knife can go from being a cook's best tool to his or her worst nightmare. All it takes is one slip of the finger in the middle of dinner rush to leave the kitchen in a complete upheaval. The thing about knife accidents is they don't just happen to the rookies, which is why every culinary expert – new or seasoned – should make a conscious effort to refine his or her knife safety knowledge. 

'Top Chef' teaches harsh lesson
In case you don't remember, Missy Robbins, New York City chef, had to leave the show "Top Chef" earlier than intended when she injured her pinky on a mandolin, according to People magazine. In addition to shocking the viewers at home, Robbins admitted that she surprised herself during that incident.

"I've been cooking for 20 years and nothing like this has ever happened before," she told People. "I basically took off the top layer of my skin."

Following the accident, Robbins had to get a skin graft, missed work for two weeks and eventually went on to physical therapy twice a week, according to People. While she's back in the kitchen doing what she does so well these days, it was a long road to recovery. Line cooks, chefs and just about anyone who enters the kitchen can learn from this mistake. Accidents can happen to anyone. People working in the restaurant industry should take action to reduce the risk of harm.

Pick the knife that suits the job
Restaurant owners can take steps to achieve a safe environment and a staff that's well-versed on knife handling. Start with the basics by educating your employees on the various styles and purposes of knives. Here are some culinary techniques that call for various carving tools:

  • Getting meat off bone: A boning knife is great for accessing flesh that's near the bone.
  • Slicing bread: This one should be easy to remember because it's called a bread knife. It has a serrated edge that can pierce delicate dough.
  • Cutting raw meat: The butcher knife, as so appropriately named, was designed to carve up raw meat that's often tough to get through.
  • Chopping/mincing: Whether you're dicing up mirepoix or mincing garlic, the chef's knife is your instrument of choice. 
  • Peeling and cutting small items: The paring knife is a good tool to remove seeds from veggies or create a beautiful garnish for a dish.

In addition to using the proper knife for the task at hand, employees should understand how to handle and store the instruments when they're done using them. Oftentimes, an accident occurs when the person isn't even cutting any food. 

Maneuvering with a blade
If you're carrying it through the dining room – or any part of the restaurant, for that matter – hold it with the blade facing down. Although it may seem like an OK idea to pick up and add a knife to the pile of dirty dishes you're carrying, it's not. It could easily fall out of your hand onto yourself or someone else. 

The Health and Safety Executive proved this point by sharing the story of a chef and his filet knife. While attempting to open a bag of potatoes, a chef lacerated his face with the knife. He successfully sliced the sack of spuds open but then he made a mistake. He attempted to move the empty bag out of the way with the knife and the bag gave out and sent the blade directly to his face.

Handling cuts and wounds
If something like this happens at your restaurant, handle it properly to assure the safety of your guests and the person who was cut. In any case, once someone sustains a cut, you've got to manage the bloody situation. If it's just a minor wound, the National Library of Medicine explained that people should wash hands thoroughly, stop the bleeding and then apply a bandage to the area. Restaurants should also have rubber gloves or finger covers to go over a bandaged cut. 

But who will do the cooking?
The NLM recommended calling 911 if the wound won't stop bleeding, the person is seriously hurt or he or she can't feel the area near the cut. Many times, chefs or others might be tempted to ignore their injuries so they can continue to help out during a hectic dinner service – but it's not a good idea. Be honest and open about your injury so you and your guests don't get seriously hurt. 

Knives can get the best of anyone, so a cut is nothing to be embarrassed about. Show your staff how to take responsibility for an injury and take some time to get them acquainted with the various carving tools of the kitchen. 


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