What do pumpkins, hams, avocados and apples have in common? Lots of people love to carve, cut, slice and eat them. As a hand surgeon working at TRIA Orthopedics, I see many arm and hand injuries caused by kitchen knives. Although these injuries can be severe, there are some simple steps you can take to prevent them from happening.

Below, I’ll tell you the basics of kitchen knife safety and the most common ways people cut themselves while using a knife. I’ll also share tips to chop and slice safely, and what to do in case an accident does happen in the kitchen.

The most common kitchen accidents with knives (and how to prevent cuts in the kitchen)

Of course, some foods are trickier to cut than others. The following are some of the most common reasons for kitchen knife injuries, along with tips to keep your hands and fingers safe.

Dicing rounded fruits and vegetables

Round fruits and vegetables like onions, apples and tomatoes can be difficult to grip as they roll around the cutting board. It’s all too easy for the knife to accidentally slip as you’re slicing and dicing. Here are a few tricks that can help you avoid these accidents.

Slow the roll

To avoid round foods from rolling, first cut them in half. There’s a trick to hold the food in place while you make the cut: After placing the knife in the top of the food, carefully place your other hand over the top of the knife, forming an arch with your thumb on one side of the food and your forefinger on the other.

Once you cut the round food in half, you then have two pieces, each with a flat side to lay down on the cutting board so it stays in place as you make the rest of your cuts.

Cutting avocados

Avocados are a heart-healthy choice, but they can be tricky to cut. When avocados are ripe and ready to make their debut in a bowl of guacamole or on top of toast, they become softer. While this makes it easier to cut, it’s also easier to let the knife slip through the other side of the avocado. Use these pointers next time you cut one:

It’s all about how you hold the avocado

Most injuries happen by holding the avocado in one hand while slicing straight into the fruit with the other hand. Instead, place the avocado on a flat surface, hold it steady with one hand and cut away from yourself with the other hand.

Use a spoon

Instead of using a knife to scrape out the avocado, it can be just as effective (and much safer) to score an open half of an avocado with a knife. Then, use a big spoon to scoop it out. If the avocado is especially ripe, you might not even need to score it – just dig in with a spoon. The spoon’s curved shape might let you get even more avocado out of the peel than a knife would.

Slicing a watermelon

There’s nothing quite like a cold slice of watermelon on a hot summer day. But due to their size and shape, watermelons can be tricky to slice. Slicing watermelon and other big melons like cantaloupe and honeydew requires a little extra preparation.

Wash and dry the melon

When you wash your melon to rinse off any dirt or pesticides, make sure you dry it well. The only thing harder to cut than a watermelon is a slippery watermelon. This is a good time to make sure your cutting board isn’t sliding, either.

Use a serrated knife

A serrated knife, such as a bread knife, will slice through the melon flesh and rind more easily. Using a serrated knife also gives you more control over the knife’s movement, since the inside of a melon is softer.

Carving a pumpkin

A favorite activity among many households around Halloween is carving pumpkins. If you’re planning to carve a scary face into your jack-o-lantern this year, here are some simple tips to keep hands and fingers safe:

Forget the knives and use a pumpkin carving kit

When carving a pumpkin, a sharp knife isn’t always the best choice as it may become wedged in the thick pumpkin shell – pulling it out requires force and increases your risk of injury. Instead, use a pumpkin carving kit that comes with a small, serrated knife without a sharp point. The serrated tools in carving kits are inexpensive and much easier to use without slipping or getting stuck.

Place the pumpkin on a flat surface

Many injuries happen simply from holding the pumpkin up with one hand instead of letting it sit on an even surface. This puts your hand in a vulnerable position if the carving knife slips, gets stuck or slides. Instead, put the pumpkin on a flat surface, hold it steady with one hand and cut away from yourself with the other hand.

Slicing meat

Keep in mind the following safety rules for using a knife when slicing turkey, ham and other meats.

Take your time

Food prepping injuries can put a damper on the holidays, so it’s a good idea to be extra careful. Make sure you take your time as you slice through the meat – even if you have a hungry crew that’s excited to dig in. When planning what time to serve your meal, it helps to factor in how long it will take to slice the meat. If you’re worried about the meat going cold, use a heat pad or the warm setting in your oven.

Use an electric knife

For carving meats like ham and turkey, an electric knife takes one step out of the process – you won’t have to saw back and forth because the knife does it for you. You just need to push down. Remember to go slow and make sure no one is trying to sneak a bite while the knife is running.

Kitchen knife safety tips

Using kitchen knives requires taking precautions before and after you use them, as well as while you’re cutting or slicing. Here’s a quick list of basic kitchen knife safety tips – no matter if you’re new to knife handling or have expert knife skills.

Choose the proper type of knife

You’ll want to match the kind of knife you use to what type of food you’re using it on. You probably don’t need to cut a strawberry with a big chef’s knife – use a small paring knife or utility knife instead. And a serrated knife is perfect for slicing through breads, pizza and produce with slippery skins. The serrations on the blade help it slice easily without squishing or sliding off your food.

Use a sharp knife

Some people think using a dull knife, such as a butter knife, is safer. But a dull knife requires you to push harder, making the knife more likely to slip. Instead, make sure your knife is sharp – there are many sharpening devices you can buy – and focus on using proper technique. Cut carefully, slowly and smoothly, and make sure you avoid stabbing or slicing too quickly. Using a smaller, sharp paring knife can help you have more control over the knife’s movement.

Your cutting board shouldn’t slip while you’re using it. If the board slides on your table or countertop, consider buying a nonskid cutting board, or placing it on a damp towel or silicon mat. And avoid using a plate as a cutting board since it can slip and slide. Plus, the smooth surface of a plate can cause a knife blade to slip, and a plate’s hard surface can dull your knife blade.


Your cutting board shouldn’t slip while you’re using it. If the board slides on your table or countertop, consider buying a nonskid cutting board, or placing it on a damp towel or silicon mat. And avoid using a plate as a cutting board since it can slip and slide. Plus, the smooth surface of a plate can cause a knife blade to slip, and a plate’s hard surface can dull your knife blade.


Keep your fingers and thumbs away from the blade

It’s helpful to curl your fingers under the handle when you’re holding a knife. Avoid pressing your index finger on the back of the knife blade – it’s not quite strong enough to give you more control over the blade. Instead, get a good grip on the knife handle by gripping it close to the blade. When gripping a food item, your knuckles should stick out farther than your fingertips – making a claw with your hand will help you grip it better and keep your fingertips out of the way of the knife blade.

Never cut toward yourself

Always make sure the knife edge is facing and moving away from you. It’s good practice to keep the blade facing away from you at all times. Also, never cut anything while holding it in your hand, such as a bagel or piece of fruit.

When you’re cutting, focus on what you’re doing

When the knives come out, you should keep your head down. If you’re interrupted while slicing and dicing, stop cutting until you’re no longer distracted. Encourage kids to give you space while you’re handling a knife.

Don’t wave your knives in the air

If you tend to talk with your hands, put down the knife before you start to chat. When you set your knife down, make sure it’s safely placed where it won’t fall. And if it does fall, resist the instinct to reach out and catch it.

Keep your knives clean and sharp

This helps you cut more precisely and with less force, which is much safer. You can keep your knives sharpened with a manual or electric sharpener, or a whetstone. When you’re using a knife, make sure the handle is dry to prevent the knife from slipping out of your hand.

When it’s time to wash your knife, avoid dropping it into a sink. Not only will the water encourage rusting, but it can pose a danger to anyone reaching into the sink. Always make sure to dry your knives before storing them – leaving them wet can accelerate rusting and dulling.

Limit kitchen knife use to food preparation

If you need to open boxes or cans, use a tool that’s designed for the job. Aside from being unsafe, using knives for things like this can dull or damage them.

Store your knives when not in use

A knife block is designed for safe storage on your countertop or within a kitchen drawer. Some knife sets come with a knife block, but you can also buy a generic one that has slots for different-sized knives. You might also consider a magnetic knife storage strip mounted on a wall or cupboard to save counter space. And if storage space is limited, think about buying knives with sheaths that protect the blades. They don’t take up as much room while still keeping everyone safe. If you have children, consider storing your knives in a drawer for an extra safety measure. Use blade protectors or a knife block made for a drawer.

Always keep knives out of the reach of children

Storing your knives properly where kids and pets can’t reach them helps keep little hands and paws safe. Don’t set knives down on countertops where small children or nosy pets can grab them or knock them down. Proper knife safety can prevent cuts, one of the most common childhood injuries.

Teach children knife safety

Teaching kids knife safety rules can help keep them safer, too. Have kids help prepare foods to teach them how to be careful in the kitchen. Small children can use special toddler-sized knives made of safe materials like nylon to learn how to hold a knife and cut with it. Never leave a child alone in the kitchen with a knife – always make sure to watch them closely. If you’ve got older kids who know how to use knives safely, it’s still a good idea to keep an eye on them just in case.

What to do if you cut your finger or hand on a knife

If you do experience an injury when cutting turkey, avocado, pumpkin, onion or other foods, don’t panic. Many of these injuries can be treated easily or with a few stitches.

How to treat minor hand cuts and use cut finger first aid

You can usually stop bleeding from minor cuts on your hands and fingers by applying direct pressure. When it stops bleeding, clean the cut with soap and water, remove any debris, then apply antibiotic cream and a bandage. For painful cuts, you can also take over-the-counter pain medication such as acetaminophen to help with the pain.

How to treat a deep cut on your hand or finger

If your cut is deep, and causing pain in your hand, you should see a doctor right away. Do what you can to stop the bleeding, and then head to an orthopedic urgent care, traditional urgent care or the emergency room.

When to go to urgent care for hand cuts

In addition to deep cuts, you’ll want to go to urgent care or the emergency room if continuous pressure does not slow or stop the bleeding after 15 minutes – even if the cut isn’t deep or large.

Other reasons to go to an emergency room or urgent care are if you can’t fully move your finger or if you have numbness in your finger after a cut. Because of the small size of the tendons and nerves in the hand, a cut of just one centimeter can go through a tendon or nerve – which is a problem that requires surgery to fix.

Any cut on your finger or hand can be treated at TRIA’s Orthopedic Urgent Care. When you come in for care, a hand surgeon will manipulate your hand to see if any of the nerves or tendons are cut, and they will test for numbness or other sensation issues. Depending on your injury, you may need surgery and physical therapy to fully recover.