Toaster ovens are incredibly versatile and convenient appliances to have in the kitchen. However, it's very important to understand how to use a toaster oven, because there is the potential for injury and fire. The chances of an accident happening are low, but just like any other appliance that uses heated elements, the potential is there. It's important to read all of the safety information in the manual that comes with your toaster oven, so that you're aware of the specific hazards your model may have.
Toaster Oven Dangers
The dangers of toaster ovens include:
Burns: There's an inherent risk of injury because the toaster oven gets hot. It can be difficult to remove items from the opening without accidentally burning your hands or fingers on the metal grill or heating elements. Also, on certain models, the outer walls can become quite hot, and it's easy for someone to brush up against the side of the oven without knowing it was recently in use.
Fire: Toaster oven fire hazards are very real concerns. If crumbs and food particles build up on the bottom of the toaster, where the heating elements are, they can catch fire. If food is left in the toaster for too long or at too hot of a setting, it can also catch fire. Because the heating elements are exposed and so close to combustible matter, this can be a serious concern.
Explosion: Although the likelihood of an explosion is extremely rare, the glass door can, in fact, shatter outwards if it gets hot enough.
Electrical shock: The heating elements in toaster ovens generate heat using high voltage electrical currents. If a person were to brush up against them while active, or touch them using a conductor like a metal fork of knife, there's a high risk of a shock that will be very painful and potentially fatal. Water is also an electric conductor, so it's important to keep the internal environment of a toaster as dry as possible.
Electrical overload: A toaster oven draws a lot of electricity to generate heat. If its electrical connections are on a circuit with other such appliances that are running at the same time, such as a microwave or refrigerator, the circuit could overload and trip the circuit breaker. This is undesirable, and also requires someone who knows how to safely reset the breakers.
Toaster Oven Hazard Prevention
The potential for any of these risks can be lowered substantially with basic care and housekeeping. Make sure the toaster oven is on a surface that can withstand heat. Most normal countertop materials are fine, but it's worth checking if your kitchen counters are an unusual material.
Don't have the toaster oven too close to combustibles like plastic or paper bags. Likewise, don't leave anything flammable on the top of the oven. Nearby materials can overheat and catch fire. Keep in mind that the toaster oven is designed to bake food at high temperatures, sometimes reaching 500 degrees Fahrenheit; for example, the ignition temperature of paper is 451 degrees Fahrenheit. Before using the toaster oven, check again to make sure there are a couple of inches of clear space around each side.
Importance of Toaster Oven Cleanliness
It's also important to keep the inside of the toaster oven clean. This includes crumb buildup on the bottom, as well as any oils or sauce that may have dropped onto the metal rack or the bottom. You can remove the metal rack easily to wash it. Some models even have a tray underneath that can be pulled out for easy cleaning. You don't want to let crumbs and other food particulates build up, as that can add fuel to an already hot space.
Safe Usage Methods
In general, be sure to only use a toaster oven if someone is nearby. Be careful when reaching into a hot toaster oven, and use oven mitts and other kitchen materials as needed. Never use a metal utensil inside a toaster to reach for food; wooden or plastic utensils should be fine as long as they are oven-safe. Be sure that the electricity in the entire kitchen is up to building code, and if circuit breakers are tripping regularly, call an electrician to investigate.
Handling Toaster Oven Kitchen Fires
In the case of an actual kitchen fire, it's important to stay calm, because there are different types of kitchen fires that can happen. It's important to make sure you react appropriately.
Ordinary combustibles: Known as a Class A fire in NFPA code, this is any fire that starts from overheated food or other materials like paper or cloth. A fire starting in a toaster oven due to leftover crumbs and particulates would qualify. The best way to be prepared for this kind of fire is to have a fire extinguisher on hand near the kitchen, in case of emergencies. Although these fires can normally be put out with water, it's important to judge the location of the fire and make sure water won't make the situation worse.
Oil fires:** **Cooking with oil or things that contain oil presents a tricky situation in the case of a fire. It's best to try to smother these types of fires (called Class B, although Class K includes kitchens with fryers and other large quantities of oil), as cutting off their supply of oxygen will put the fire out. With a fire in a toaster oven that could be oil-related, you can use salt or baking soda (but never flour) to smother it, or use a properly rated fire extinguisher.
Electrical fires: These types of fires (Class C) come from faulty electrical connections or worn-out wiring. You definitely don't want to pour water on an electrical fire, because water is a conductor. If you do, you've just made the problem much bigger. In the case of an electrical fire, the best method is to have an appropriate extinguisher on hand; be careful you don't add anything that could make the fire worse.
Importance of Fire Extinguishers
Overall, the best method is to be prepared with a multi-class fire extinguisher. This way, you don't have to waste valuable time examining a toaster oven fire to determine its cause or run around looking for the best materials. With any fire, if it is growing too big to handle, evacuate the house and call 911.
Toaster Oven Safety
You'll want to make sure that everything you use in and around your toaster oven is safe. Any cookware or dishes used in a toaster oven need to meet the same qualifications as cookware rated for normal oven use.
Materials that can melt or burn, such as plastic ware of paper plates, are not recommended for use in a toaster oven. Look for oven-rated ceramic and glass cookware that come in sizes small enough for a toaster oven.
Toasted Food is Hot
Keep in mind that containers in the toaster oven will also be hot. Keep oven mitts handy around the toaster oven to reduce the likelihood of burns or other injuries, and be careful when pulling food out. Use toaster oven safe bowls and utensils to avoid burns and help if needed. Always wait until the toaster oven is absolutely cool before doing any kind of cleaning or maintenance.
As long as you're aware of the hazards, a toaster oven makes a great addition to any kitchen with its convenient size and easy use. It only takes a few steps and some proper housekeeping to keep the toaster oven safe for use by anyone.