There are few things harder to render completely safe than a pressure vessel. Many products have the occasional defective unit, or a limited lifespan under the stress of normal use, but most products don’t cause second and third degree burns when they fail. Pressure cookers do, and it can be dangerously difficult to guess when that failure is approaching before it’s too late.
Pressure Cooker Burns Are More Severe than Ordinary Scalding Injuries
Pressure cookers were designed for canning meat and vegetables at higher-than-boiling temperatures to prevent botulism (a type of food poisoning from dangerous bacteria). They work by stopping water from evaporating and escaping at its natural boiling point, causing it to become superheated. People use them many types of recipes because their high temperatures allow food to cook much faster than is possible in non-pressurized pots. However, superheated water — the same phenomenon that causes geysers in nature — can cause similar eruptions in a kitchen setting, spraying an entire room with liquid much hotter than a regular pot of boiling water can ever get.
That’s exactly what happened to a mother and toddler in September of 2018, when a pocket of superheated steam exploded upward from under a pot roast, after the mother had already released the pressure and removed the cooker’s lid without incident. Both mother and child survived, but the child sustained second-degree burns over 14 percent of his body.
Just two months later, a pair of high school students were sent to the hospital with severe steam burns from using a pressure cooker in a supervised cooking class.
Pressure Cooker Safety Has Improved Over Time, But Not Enough
Pressure cookers were once stovetop aluminum devices with a single setting. Overheating and ordinary wear and tear could easily lead to spontaneous ruptures. Nowadays, most pressure cookers are electric, made of stainless steel, and equipped with complex valve systems and automatic shutoff features. These general technological improvements reduce the risk of explosion, but accidents continue to happen, often due to manufacturing defects.
The now infamous Tristar Power Cooker, for example, began causing serious injuries almost as soon as it was introduced in 2005, and continued doing so until a successful class action suit 13 years later.
Other companies have responded to dangerous design flaws more promptly, but not before consumers have ended up in harm’s way. Across multiple manufacturers, pressure cooker recalls in recent times have cited reasons ranging from uncontrolled pressure buildup to faulty seals to electrocution.
Stay Safe in the Kitchen
If you’re intent on using a home pressure cooker, take precautionary steps to minimize the risk.
- Follow all instructions precisely
- Never overfill your pressure cooker
- Avoid recipes that include oily or frothy ingredients, which can melt or clog the valves
- Make sure steam has vented completely before opening the lid
- Inspect seals regularly
- Stay informed of the latest recalls and advisories and take all warnings seriously
Unfortunately, new safety issues can arise at any time, taking users off guard. If you or a loved one has been injured by a pressure cooker in spite of your best efforts, give us a call at 678-RESULTS or reach out online for a free consultation to discuss your next steps.