If your Crock-Pot looks like this, it’s time to upgrade.
Right now, segments of the internet are very concerned about Crock-Pots catching fire. The backlash is due to a popular tv show (which will remain unnamed for spoiler purposes) and its depiction of the common cooking appliance starting a deadly fire. The reality, however, is that small kitchen appliances have come a long way in terms of safety, and you have to work pretty hard to make one catch fire. Here’s an overview of what’s changed in recent years, along with some useful information on keeping your kitchen flame-free.
We live in the age of thermal protectors
“Modern kitchen appliances have thermal protectors on the inside,” says Ken Kutchek, electrical engineer and forensic investigator for Forensic Robson. “It’s a little cylinder inside the device and it’s going off because of the heat. Grandma’s slow cooker probably doesn’t have one.
These small devices, sometimes called thermal cutouts, work like fuses. When the sensor reaches a certain temperature, it stops the flow of electricity through the circuit. In many small appliances, these cutouts cannot be reset, so if you’ve ever had a coffee machine or other appliance stop working suddenly and forever, it’s possible the thermal protector has tripped and done his work.
Where does excess heat come from?
According to Kutchek, the culprit is often high resistance heating. “If you have too much resistance somewhere in the circuit, usually a switch or a connection where the wires aren’t making good contact,” he says, “the current flowing through the wires can get hot to the point where they could s ‘ignite nearby materials.’
On the show that sparked the slow cooker hysteria, a character mentions a faulty switch, and Kutcher agrees that’s a common point of failure for an older appliance like this. Moving parts can tax electrical connections over time.
Simple appliances like these help prevent kitchen appliances from catching fire.
Prevention in the modern age
Although modern devices are much safer than their decades-old predecessors, it is possible to punish them too much. “The strings take a beating,” Kutchek says. “Cord wires are made up of many small conductors. If you bend and break too many of these conductors by wrapping or pulling on them, you have the same amount of current flowing through half the wire, which creates resistance and a Checking your cables for frayed or inconsistent cables is a good idea, even those phone and laptop chargers you’ve neglected to replace.
Unplugging the device when not in use can also pretty much eliminate the risk of it starting a fire, even if that’s an inconvenience. After all, it would have saved the characters of this sad TV show from a lot of heartbreak.
Pay attention to recalls Not all new devices work perfectly, which is why recalls happen, but you’re not always guaranteed to hear about a product advisory for your device. Kutchek recommends checking with the Consumer Product Safety Commission when purchasing a product to see if there have been any safety-related recalls in recent months, especially if it is a product designed to generate heat.
Ditch the old stuff There’s no real definitive cutoff for when devices have started to become more secure. The late 1980s saw a wave of coffee machine fires due to faulty thermostats, which failed to regulate the temperature of the appliance, even when it was supposed to be off. So if you’re considering using an old appliance, consider the risks before your savings are gone.