DC burn surgeon urges caution cooking holiday meals with disposable foil pans

A D.C. burn surgeon with firsthand knowledge on holiday-related cooking accidents has tips to help you avoid becoming one of her patients.

A top offender leading to injuries is the oh-so-convenient single-use foil pans commonly used for veggies, mashed potatoes and turkeys.

“When they become heavy and hot — when you’re taking them out of the oven, they crinkle like you wouldn’t believe,” said Dr. Taryn Elise Travis, a surgeon at the burn center at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

Travis is also an assistant professor of surgery and plastic and reconstructive surgery at the Georgetown University School of Medicine.

She says if you have no choice but to use foil pans, be sure to support the flimsy bottoms.

“Make sure that you’ve got a sturdy baking dish or cookie sheet underneath those foil pans. And that will prevent everything from spilling onto your hands and legs which will land you in the emergency room,” she said.

Pros and cons to wearing long sleeves while cooking

They can prevent splashes from landing on your skin, but if the sleeves are very loose or dangly they can catch fire.

“And that’s a devastating injury for people,” she said. “Fabrics, in theory, are not meant to catch fire, but we see it all the time — even not during the holidays. And when your shirt catches fire, you end up spending a long time in the burn unit with us.”

Other common injuries sure to ruin your holiday are spills and scalds on children.

“If you are holding a toddler or a baby, please do not hold a hot cup of tea or coffee along with that little one. Kids get spilled on all the time. And that seems to be more common around the holidays when we’ve got lots going on around the house,” Travis said.

Pot and pan handles on stoves should be turned inward, away from where little hands can catch them or people can bump into them.

The best response to a fire is to deprive it of oxygen. If it’s in the oven, shut the door and keep it shut until the fire goes out. If something on the stove catches fire, put a lid over it, if you can do so safely.

“Never ever pick up a pan with flames or spattering oil and try to run it outside. More often than not that hot thing in that pan will splash back at you. And that is also a common reason we see people landing in the burn unit around the holidays,” Travis said.

Keep oven mitts handy to avoid accidentally grabbing something too hot to safely handle. Avoid adding something cold to something hot, which can cause the stuff to bubble up or splash at you. Don’t ever add anything frozen to a hot liquid or a hot oil.

Be especially cautious when cooking with hot oils.

“Burns due to grease, butters and cooking oils often end up being much deeper than they seem at first glance and so a huge majority of our patients who are burned with hot greases, drippings, and oils end up needing skin grafts,” she said. “These can be very significant injuries.”

If you do get burned, let cool tap water run over the affected area. Don’t try and get creative.

“No ice, no super cold water, no household emollients or fixes. Just cool tap water,” Travis advised.

When can a burn be treated at home versus professional help?

If the area is simply tender and red after getting the tap water treatment, Travis said you’re likely safe treating that at home with an anti-inflammatory cream and keeping an eye on it.

“If you have things that are blistered, or dry and leathery, those are reasons to get yourself to the hospital. Dry, leathery things often indicate a full thickness burn — meaning a burn that’s going to need a skin graft. Blistered things are in between and might need a skin graft especially if they’re not taken care of properly. So any of these should [indicate you should] come to the burn center,” she said.

You can find a full list of Dr. Travis’ safety advice on the MedStar Health website.

A final bit of advice from Travis: “Around the holidays, enjoy yourself, enjoy your loved ones, but slow down. A little extra caution and attention can prevent an injury that will ruin your holiday and those who are there to share it with you.”

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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