Every task has the proper tool, and the versatile kitchen knife can cover a broad range of tasks - cutting, slicing, chopping, dicing, mincing, boning, paring, etc... Experienced chefs will tell you that sharp, good quality knives are critical to the balance of safety, quality, and productivity in the kitchen. When knives are used incorrectly or stored improperly, that balance is upset and injuries can occur.
Every business with a kitchen component should have a knife use training and approval process that covers safety, skills, storage, cleaning, PPE, and a demonstration of proper technique. Regardless of who is approved to use the knives, all kitchen staff should follow these tips:
- Only use knives for their intended purpose – Using knives for breaking down boxes, opening containers, breaking lid seals, opening bags, separating frozen product will dull, damage, or even break them. Knives should only be used on the tasks for which they were designed – A 10” chef’s knife should not be used for paring potatoes and a paring knife is not appropriate to chop salad fixings. Training on which knives are to be used, and for what purpose, must be integrated into the training program and reinforced during safety meetings and performance observations.
- Keep them sharp – A dull knife is a dangerous knife. When a knife doesn’t move easily through the product, the user, especially less experienced ones, respond by increasing pressure. This results in reduced control of the blade, increasing the potential for a mistake and injury to the user or someone nearby. Sharpening should be done only by trained and experienced people; it may be more efficient to have an outside service sharpen knifes instead of using a busy chef or warewasher.
- Cutting boards are key – Use knives on an approved cutting board, instead of the tiled counter or steel table top, to limit cross contamination and provide a stable surface that does not dull the knife’s edge.
- Cut resistant gloves – Inexperience, fatigue, and repetitive tasks increase the potential for injury due to lack of skill, decreased attention over time, and an increase in the sheer number of knife strokes. Use of cut resistant gloves limits the effect of a mistake, turning a sliced finger and ruined product into a near miss. Cut resistant glove examples can be found through this link.
- Never catch a falling knife – When an object is dropped, the natural reaction is to grab for it. Trying to catch it just puts you in harm’s way. The knife can always be washed or re-sharpened.
- Cut away – Cutting motions should always be away from your body. This minimizes the possibility for injury should the product slip or move unexpectedly.
- Store knives properly – Knives should never be left unattended. When not in use knives must be stowed in a proper block or rack to minimize damage to the blade and accidental contact. After use, dirty knives should be rinsed and placed in a separate basin designated for sharps to be washed by the warewasher.
Knife safety including proper technique and tools, skilled workers, and a solid performance enhancement program can help reduce or eliminate cut injuries in the kitchen. Remember, ALL knife injuries in the kitchen are PREVENTABLE.