Avocados may be the latest health craze, but their growing popularity is leaving home cooks in stitches.
Injuries from these trendy fruits are so common they’ve been given a name: avocado hands. But avocados are hardly the only dangerous food — clutsy cooks are slipping, sliding and slashing their way into the emergency room because of everything from mangoes to canned soup.
“Literally every night, 20 minutes before my shift ends, they bring me someone I have to suture up because they destroyed themselves making dinner,” said Lewis Kohl, senior medical director of CareMount Medical, which has urgent care facilities throughout New York and Connecticut.
Here’s a look at the most dangerous foods home cooks are injuring themselves with lately — and how to avoid being harmed by these culinary culprits.
It’s the pits! Emergency room doctors say they stitch up as many as 30 hands a month related to guacamole- and avo-toast-preparation gone awry, and even more serious cases involving tendons or nerves happen about six times a month, according to hand surgeon Vishal Thanik. Often people slice through the vegetable’s skin or cut themselves getting the slippery pit out.
“Ten years ago, it used to be injuries from bagels,” said Thanik, an assistant professor at NYU Langone’s Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery in Kips Bay, New York. “But everyone’s so carbphobic, and they think they’re doing a good thing eating an avocado — and then they get a whole other injury.”
The fix: First, place the avocado on a cutting board, not your hand, said David Mawhinney, culinary director of Flatiron cooking school Haven’s Kitchen. Then, cut it down the middle, moving the avocado in a circular pattern until it splits open. Next, to get the pit out, cut the pit side into quarters so that the pit pops out. Peel the skin off and cut the avocado flesh on the cutting board.
Frozen hamburger meat
Frozen hamburger meat allows you to prepare dinner ahead of time, but when the patties get stuck together, grill masters in a rush often use a knife to separate them, only to lose traction and slice into their hands, said Robert Newborn, deputy chief medical officer and chief quality officer at CareMount Medical Centers.
He said he stitches up these kinds of cuts about once a week. But there’s no repairing these patients’ pride: “The main response is pain and anxiety, but there is a level of embarrassment there, too.”
The fix: “Let [the patties] defrost in the fridge if you can,” Mawhinney said otherwise, you’re basically cutting into a block of ice. If you don’t have time to defrost them, use a nonsharp tool to separate them, such as a barbecue spatula. If you’re making your own patties, he recommends putting two pieces of parchment or wax paper between each patty before freezing them so the patties won’t stick to each other.
Thanik estimates that he performs about five or six hand surgeries a year resulting from the slippery fruit and its unpredictably placed pit. “Mangoes are pretty dangerous too — people don’t really know what to do with that pit,” Thanik said.
The fix: “A lot of people peel the mango first, which just makes it more slippery,” Mawhinney said Instead, leave the skin on, and score it into cubes on a cutting board. Then turn the skin inside out so that the cubes can be easily pulled or cut off the skin.
Kohl said he’s seen some truly horrendous carrot injuries from when the vegetables roll away on the cutting board, leaving the fingers exposed to the same amount of pressure one would apply to a hard carrot. Vegetable injuries like these happen up to 10 times a week.
“They’re round, and people chase them. They don’t realize that their chopping hand moved and their guiding hand moved too, so they chop their thumb.”
The fix: Cut a very small, flat chunk on the side of the carrot (or any other spherical vegetable) so that it doesn’t roll around while you slice. “It’s taking that one extra step that might seem painful at the time but it’s gonna save you time, and your hands in the long run,” Mawhinney said.
The most common food that brings patients to Kohl’s urgent care centers is raw chicken breast, due to its slippery surface and unpredictable textures.
“[When] you’re going through the skin, it’s softer than the meat. You pass right through the chicken’s meat and [into] your meat,” Kohl said. “[It] can result in some nasty injuries. Depending on where the blade hits, you can end up with more than a dozen stitches.”
The fix: Always pat chicken dry with a paper towel so that it’s less slippery. Focus on slicing through the chicken breast in one steady movement with a sharpened chef’s knife — don’t saw at it. “When you saw, you’re using a lot more pressure, so there’s more chance that you’re going to slip and cut yourself,” Mawhinney said.
We’ve all been there. The can opener has made its round, but the top just didn’t pop. An unfortunate number of people use their finger to pry out the lid — and end up at the doctor.
“The lid is suddenly halfway through their finger and they’re bleeding all over the place,” said Kohl, adding that the injury is usually a jagged cut that skilled urgent care doctors can usually stitch up — but you may end up with a funky scar. Doctors recommend getting a tetanus shot if you haven’t had a booster in the previous 10 years.
The fix: Invest in a can opener that cuts around the lip, not into the lip (like the Good Cook Safe Cut can opener available at Target for $10.99). That way, there are no sharp edges left on the can or the lid. It’ll cost you just $2 extra probably, but it could make a world of difference, Mawhinney said.