Household Hazards

How everyday products make us sick.

File Under: Chocolate, Blender, Valentine's Day

Hand Blender Hazards

For those of you planning a home-cooked Valentine’s menu of delights – if this includes a pureed soup or a velvety chocolate pudding – your hand may be more likely to be pierced by a blender blade than your lover’s heart by Cupid’s arrow.    

The heretofore semi-veiled hazards of hand-held immersion blenders received full-frontal exposure (above the fold, as they say) January 16th in the New York Times Dining section. Titled Bandages Not Included. Immersion Blenders Can Add a Dash of Danger to the Kitchen and illustrated with an image of a blood-dripping blender blade as well as a photo of Dan Aykrod’s grand guignol send-up of Julia Child, this mini-expose offers a healthy portion of personal experience, including the author’s own post-immersion emergency department visit (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/16/dining/immersion-blenders-can-be-a-danger-in-disguise.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0). There is also more than a dollop of not-so-subtle victim blaming, perhaps to counterbalance the “dash of danger” the subtitle promises. This includes not only the adjectives “dumb” and “stupid” in relation to blender misadventures, but a side-column supplemental article Adding Convenience and Danger that starts off, “Cooks have been cutting their fingers since the invention of metal.”  

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

Immersion blenders aka stick blenders aka hand-held blenders or, as one might say in French, dit bamix, have been on the market for nearly six decades. The recent Times piece is not nearly so boosterish as a previous paean to the gadget that appeared in its pages in 1998. It praised the device as a “whirling dervish that dips right into your pot,”  chorusing in the royal ‘we’ that, “once we discovered that pumpkin soup could be thinned to a silky puree right in the pot there was no going back” (http://www.nytimes.com/1998/08/19/dining/test-kitchen-a-whirling-dervish-that-dips-right-into-your-pot.html?pagewanted=print&src=pm). Nonetheless, even back then there was a hint of product design related danger, albeit in a madcap, affluent homemaker sort of way: “But because the top is light and the action is concentrated at the blade end of the blender, it is difficult to control and tips easily in the hand -- as I learned the hard way. I had watercress soup all over my kitchen walls.”

As with most machinery hazards, on the factory floor or the kitchen counter, it is, in fact, equipment design and not user culpability that is the key factor in injuries. That’s why we have watchdog agencies for prevention. In a commercial kitchen that would be OSHA, but on the home front it’s the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Blenders, at least the old fashioned kind, are very much on the Commission’s agenda. In fact, just this past September the CPSC announced an $850,000 penalty against a stationary, traditional blender manufacturer because it had failed to report a loose nut that tended to let the blade assembly fall apart, shatter the vessel,  and let fly glass shards  (http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Newsroom/News-Releases/2012/Haier-America-Trading-Agrees-to-850000-Civil-Penalty-for-Failure-to-Report-Defective-Blenders/).

Unfortunately, you can search the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s main website all you want and not find anything about emersion blenders. But if you do go to their Safer Products posting (a kind of vent-hole for consumers to blow off steam but not much more, it seems) you can find at least one un-testimonial for immersion blending: “Upon using the blender for the first time (when I say first time I mean this particular blender--I have used these before), I read the instructions first. I made a milkshake in the plastic cup provided. I then unplugged the blender and disassembled it as the instructions read. I brought the bottom part to the sink to clean it. I was using my left hand to remove some of the excess shake before rinsing and the blade snapped. I at first thought my thumb was caught between the blades but then looked in horror and saw the blade was imbedded in my thumb. I became hysterical as the blender was stuck to my finger. I called my boyfriend and he calmed me down and talked me through getting the blender blade out of my thumb (I used my right hand and cut my right index finger deeply while doing so). I was bleeding a lot, and wrapped both my thumb and index finger in a white towel….. I ended up with 8 stitches to my left thumb and my right index finger was cut deeply but able to be bandaged vs. stitched” (http://www.saferproducts.gov/ViewIncident/1242466)

A quick check online brings up a plethora of postings and various print publications that have appeared since the Times piece hit in mid-January. Many, if not most of these, include personal anecdotes of immersion blender mishaps. Yet it is just as easy to ignore these and focus instead on food column advice encouraging the use of this handy tool. Even so, if you are thinking about using that immersion blender to prepare a treat meant to besot your chocoholic paramour, at least you can find an internet warning that it may be challenging to use this equipment to purée the yolks and tapioca flour the pudding recipe calls for, although a little vanilla may effectively manage the consistency.

By the way, if you are looking for medical commentary on all this, so far, the scientific journals have not taken up the topic of blender-related trauma. But there has been one well documented outbreak of Salmonella in a summer camp traced back to a contaminated immersion blender used to mix-up a batch of chocolate pudding (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20455756). Happy Valentine’s Day. 

Paul D. Blanc, M.D., M.S.P.H., is Professor of Medicine and Endowed Chair in Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University of California San Francisco.

more...

Subscribe to Household Hazards

Current Issue

Dreams of Glory

Daydreaming: How the best ideas emerge from the ether.