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Commentary | July 12, 2007

The 'undomesticated wife's' guide to summer cooking safety

By Senior Airman Heidi Davis 1st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Cooking on the stove and grilling outside are skills that I didn't inherit from my mother. The extent of my cooking abilities does not reach much further than plugging in the power cord of my George Foreman grill. 

I used to take offense when my mother said, "Heidi, you need to domesticate yourself as a wife;" however, after a few cooking mishaps that could have been prevented, I'm in pure agreement. 

To empathize with others who also lack cooking common sense and to prevent young Airmen from making the same mistakes, I've jotted down a few of the most memorable cooking experiences. 

Lesson #1: Don't warm pizza while it is still in the box.
For me, pizza always tastes better when it first comes out of the oven or moments after delivery. One night, I figured the best way to keep that pure enjoyment until the last piece was gobbled, was to leave the remaining pizza in the box, warming in the oven. I turned the oven to what I thought was a safe warming temperature - but there's no such thing when you have cardboard boxes in the oven. Moments after the oven warmed up, the boxes caught fire and my delectable treat was now a crispy piece of charcoal. 

Large cardboard pizza boxes + oven heating coils = burning boxes and overcooked pizza. 

Lesson #2: Don't overheat oil in a skillet.
Making your own tortilla chips can be a scrumptious treat; however, knowing a little something about the effects of oil and heat is helpful. Oil heats quickly in a pan, therefore, waiting more than a minute before placing tortilla strips or anything else into the pan results in a stove fire. For one unfortunate soul, delay meant a kitchen up in flames and fried eyebrows. 

Lesson #3: Don't pour water onto an oil fire.
In a panic to put out her tortilla fire, the previously mentioned cooking novice poured water onto the pan. If you know anything about adding water to an oil fire, you know what happened next. Her small stove fire spread onto her cabinets, countertop and carpet.

For those who do not grill outdoors often, or in the next case, more than once a year, the basics of grilling safety may not be so basic. Here are three lessons learned from Memorial Day 2006: 

Lessons #4,5 and 6: Grills do not belong under trees; check grills periodically for worn propane hoses, rust and aging; and just because you have a fire extinguisher doesn't mean it can put out a fire. 
After bringing out the hotdogs and hamburger meat, my grandfather pulled the rusted grill from the garage. He parked the grill on the grass and under a tree with low-hanging branches to provide shade from the blazing sun. 

My uncle turned on the tank and lit a match. To his surprise, a fire broke out from the end of the tank hose; my grandfather failed to mention the propane tank hoses were more than 10 years old. 

While my grandfather was quick to grab the garden hose to contain the fire, my family and I began searching the house for a fire extinguisher. Finding two, we became hopeful - until we studied them closely: one was covered in a layer of dust and was about five years overdue for a refill and the second had a missing pin. 

After a visit from the fire department and hundreds of gallons of water later, the fire was extinguished. 

Worn propane hoses + lit match = big fire and potential explosion. 

Lesson #7: Don't try to pop those last few popcorn kernels.
I love popcorn, so when I put the bag in the microwave, I expect all kernels to pop into delightful puffs of heaven when my microwave beeps. When I opened the microwave one fateful night and shook the bag, I was disappointed to hear a few stragglers bouncing around. Without thinking twice, I stuck the bag back in the microwave for another minute and walked into the living room. Moments later, the kitchen filled with smoke, and my highly anticipated snack indulgence was on fire. 

Boiling butter + oil + high volumes of heat and pressure = a microwave fire + smelly kitchen. 

Lesson #8: Sparklers don't belong in a microwave.
If you want to reheat your food in the microwave, make sure you don't wrap it in foil. The same sparks will fly if you leave any foil on a container and place it in the microwave. 

Aluminum foil + microwave rays = microwave fireworks.
 
Lesson #9: Chill sodas in the fridge - not the freezer.
You buy a soda from the grocery store in anticipation of drinking it as soon as you get home. However, by the time you arrive home, the soda is lukewarm. The logical answer is to cool it in the freezer for about 30 minutes. Time rolls on, and you forget about your soda. A few hours later, you hear a huge popping sound and the freezer door swings open. The soda can is in pieces, and soda is dripping from the frozen TV dinners. You close the freezer door and think, "If I leave it in there for a few days, the soda will freeze and shrivel up." Wrong again. The soda turns into a hard moldy paste that is now 10 times more difficult to clean. 

Soda cans + extremely cold temperatures = slushy soda blast. 

Lesson #10: Spaghetti sauce does go bad - even when it's refrigerated.
I like to stretch a can of spaghetti sauce for as many meals as I possibly can. Unfortunately, I stretched one can beyond its lifetime. I believed that once I poured the remainder of the unused sauce into my trusty Tupperware, it would last for at least a week or two - not so. While spaghetti sauce may appear fresh long after being poured from the can, it should be used within a few days otherwise, it results in a bad case of food poisoning. 

Three-week-old spaghetti sauce + three weeks refrigerator confinement = awful tummy ache.

For those who already practice these food prep precautions, consider yourself lucky. Those who have learned new cooking criteria, take heed.