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. There are some easy steps you can take to prevent these injuries from happening.

Below, I’ll tell you the most common ways people cut themselves while using a knife, 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 couple things that can help you avoid these cuts:

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

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.

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.

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

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.

The basics of kitchen knife safety

Now that you’re aware of the most common kitchen knife injuries, here’s a quick list of basic kitchen knife safety – no matter what kind of item you’re cutting.

  • Make sure your cutting board is secure and doesn’t slip while you’re using it.
  • Keep your fingers and thumbs away from the blade. Your knuckles should stick further out than your fingertips when gripping an item.
  • Never cut toward yourself.
  • When you’re cutting, focus on what you’re doing. That means 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.
  • Don’t wave your knives in the air. So if you tend to talk with your hands, put down the knife before you start to chat.
  • Keep your knives clean and sharp. And make sure their handles are dry to prevent the knife from slipping out of your hand.
  • Limit kitchen knife use to food preparation. If you need to open boxes or cans, use a tool that’s designed for the job.
  • Store your knives when not in use.
  • Always keep knives out of reach of little hands.

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.

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 urgent care.

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.

If you have a cut that needs urgent care, there’s no need for an appointment. We have locations across the Twin Cities metro area that are open daily.