Making meals together in the kitchen can be an enjoyable activity for couples and families. Preparing food at home enables anyone to customize ingredients to fit with their specific diets and tastes.

The kitchen may be one of the most popular rooms in the home to gather, but it also can be among the most dangerous. Even modest meals can put individuals at risk. According to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, a database of emergency room visits and the injuries that preceded them, finger lacerations and finger avulsions from knives, upper torso burns and lacerations from drinking glasses and bottles/jars are the most common injuries. Hand burns from cookware and ovens also cause a high number of injuries.

Cuts and burns may cause instantly recognizable injuries, but bacteria can be even more harmful, even if it’s not as noticeable. According to the food and beverage news site FoodBeast, the average cutting board is home to 200 percent more fecal bacteria than the average toilet seat!

With so many potential threats lurking, cooks must be especially vigilant when preparing meals at home. These strategies can make cooking in the kitchen more safe.

· Keep a watch on foods, as walking away from something cooking on the stove or going outside while the oven is on is risky. Do not leave cooking food unattended for an extended period of time. It only takes a minute for something to catch on fire.

· Keep flammable items away from open flames. Wear short or close-fitting sleeves when cooking, as loose clothing can catch fire. Make sure curtains, pot holders and towels are away from hot surfaces.

· Remember that hot items remain hot for some time. Use oven mitts or pot holders when handling hot cookware.

· Sharpen knives, as sharp knives cut more easily, thus reducing risk for injuries.

· Clean cooking surfaces to prevent the buildup of grease, which can catch fire.

· Turn pan and pot handles inward on stoves or counters to prevent food spills.

· Always defrost foods in the microwave or overnight in the refrigerator to reduce the chances that pathogens may develop.

· Prepare raw meats, poultry and seafood away from fresh produce to avoid cross-contamination. Utilize separate cutting boards and knives, and use warm, soapy water to wash away bacteria from surfaces.

· Wash hands before and after handling ingredients.

· Keep pets and children out of the kitchen or away from any in-use appliances, including outdoor grills.

· Invest in a food thermometer to ensure that food is properly cooked to the right temperature to reduce risk of foodborne illnesses.

Kitchens are popular gathering spaces, and various measures can make home cooking more safe.