During this time of year, emergency rooms across the nation see a spike in hand and finger injuries (in both adults and children) due to pumpkin-carving accidents. While these injuries are always possible when you're using a knife to puncture the thick skin of a pumpkin, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of injury.
We cannot say this enough. Children, especially those under 14, should not engage in activities involving a knife or other cutting tool while pumpkin carving. Keep them involved by letting them design the face, either on a piece of paper or by drawing with a permanent marker directly on the pumpkin's skin.
Pumpkin skin is thick and difficult to cut. The safest bet is to purchase a special pumpkin-carving set. You can get inexpensive ones for $5 or $10, or you can splurge for the Dremel 6-Volt Pumpkin Carving Set (Amazon, $25).
Whatever you do, don't use a large, straight-edged knife. It can become lodged in the thick skin and you risk injury when you have to forcefully remove it. A smaller, serrated knife is the tool for the job. You should also invest in a cutting glove (Target, $15), which is what they wear in professional kitchens to avoid injury when doing a lot of carving. It's worn on the noncutting hand (the one most likely to be lacerated after a slip).
Set up a pumpkin-carving workstation in a well-lit area where you have a dry surface to work on. Make sure you have all your tools within easy reach. You don't want to have to walk away and leave little ones unattended with the tools. While they shouldn't be touching tools, if kids are going to help, make sure they can easily reach the surface so there are no accidents when they knock something off the table.
While carving, keep the blade of the knife pointed away from you as much as possible and use as gentle a force as you can. Before you insert the knife or tool, think about where your noncutting hand is. Are you likely to stab yourself if the blade slips or punches all the way through? Cutting gloves help, but they aren't foolproof.
There's nothing like the smell of the flames licking the inside of a pumpkin. It just screams fall! But it can also be dangerous. We tend to light our pumpkins at night, when we may fall asleep while it's still burning. Live flames can be irresistible to little ones, too.
Skip the candle and go for a small electric light. Better yet, go ahead and pull out those Christmas lights and wrap a short string loosely around a can or jar, using electrical tape to affix it if necessary. Careful, though. Just because it's electric light doesn't mean you should leave it unattended during trick-or-treating! The heat from the bulb should still provide some of that smell you crave, too.
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