Why Do Pressure Cookers Explode? Navigating The Dangers of Pressure Cooker Accidents

In the hustle and bustle of today’s fast-paced world, pressure cookers have become the unsung heroes of the kitchen, swooping in to save the day when time is short and hunger is looming. 

These nifty gadgets promise the tantalizing prospect of whipping up delicious meals in a fraction of the time it takes with conventional cooking methods. From tenderizing tough cuts of meat to quickly boiling veggies, pressure cookers are your indispensable kitchen companions. 

While pressure cookers may dazzle us with their lightning-fast cooking prowess, they can also turn into kitchen bombs if things go awry. From lids flying off to steam blasts, pressure cooker explosions can turn your kitchen into a war zone faster than you can say “Dinner’s ready.”

TorHoerman Law notes that a pressure cooker explosion can lead to injuries like burns, infections, debilitating wounds, and even PTSD. Join us as we embark on the journey of understanding the functionality of pressure cookers, zeroing in on what makes them tick, and highlighting the dangers of pressure cooker accidents. 

Understanding Pressure Cookers

Pressure cookers may seem like magical contraptions, but there’s actually some science behind their rapid cooking capabilities. 

According to a Serious Eats article, pressure cookers are an evolved version of “steam digester,” an invention of the 17th-century French Physicist, Denis Papin. In 1679, Papin invented the device to separate the fats and collagen from the bones of animals, which is why it was also called the “bone digester”.

The pressure cookers we use today are the outcome of the refinement of three centuries. Now, let’s explore how they work: 

At the heart of every pressure cooker lies a simple yet ingenious principle: the power of steam under pressure. When you heat food and liquid in a sealed pressure cooker, the liquid inside begins to boil and evaporate, creating steam. Because the steam has nowhere to escape, it builds up pressure inside the cooker, raising the boiling point of water and allowing food to cook at higher temperatures.

This high-pressure environment drastically reduces cooking times, making tough cuts of meat tender in minutes and turning dried beans into creamy goodness in a fraction of the usual cooking time. The result? Meals that taste like they’ve been simmering all day, achieved in a fraction of the time.

Why do Pressure Cookers Explode? 5 Common Reasons

In recent years, with the popularity of pressure cooking on the rise, there have been reports of accidents involving pressure cookers. 

Just six months ago, Becky Fargo, a TikTok user, suffered second-degree burns on her face, neck, and chest from a pressure cooker explosion. She was cooking soup in the cooker and was trying to de-pressurize it – as described in the manual –  when it blew up. Fargo was so traumatized by the experience that she swore off using pressure cookers for good. 

Pressure cookers are fantastic kitchen tools, but when things go wrong, they can go really wrong. Here are five common reasons why pressure cookers might decide to go boom:

Overfilling the Cooker

Picture this: you’re in a rush, trying to cram in as much food as possible into your pressure cooker to save time. Bad idea. Overfilling the cooker can lead to excessive pressure buildup, increasing the risk of explosions. To play it safe, always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines on maximum fill levels and leave some room for steam to do its thing.

Failure to Release Pressure Properly

Pressure cookers are like ticking time bombs – if you don’t release the pressure properly, they’ll go off. Forgetting to release pressure before opening the cooker can result in a sudden burst of steam and hot food spewing everywhere. Make sure to follow the correct release method outlined in your cooker’s manual to avoid disaster.

Defective Gaskets

The gasket, or sealing ring, is what keeps your pressure cooker airtight. But if it’s damaged or worn out, steam can escape, causing the cooker to lose pressure or, worse, explode. Regularly inspect your gasket for signs of wear and tear, and replace it as needed to keep your cooker in top shape.

Using Inappropriate Cooking Methods 

Pressure cookers are versatile, but they’re not one-size-fits-all. Using them for tasks they’re not designed for – like deep frying or canning – can spell trouble. Stick to the recipes and methods recommended for your pressure cooker to avoid accidents and ensure delicious results.

Manufacturing defects 

Sometimes, the problem isn’t with how you’re using your pressure cooker – it’s with the cooker itself. Manufacturing defects, such as weak seals or faulty pressure valves, can increase the likelihood of explosions. If you suspect that your cooker may have a defect, contact the manufacturer for guidance on how to proceed.

You must’ve gathered by now that despite being incredible kitchen tools, pressure cookers require careful handling to prevent accidents. So, remember to inspect your cooker regularly, follow safety guidelines, and always err on the side of caution. Your kitchen – and your safety – depends on it.

The Dangers of Pressure Cooker Accidents 

The National Library of Medicine conducted a study on victims of pressure cooker accidents in 2024 to find that 81.2% of the accidents happened due to user error. Only 15.6% of the accidents occurred due to manufacturing defects. The average hospital time these patients spent in their recovery was about 10 days. 

If these numbers tell you anything, it’s that a pressure cooker explosion is no joke, and one should never be too careful around them. Let’s now lay down the potential dangers of pressure cooker accidents for you: 

Physical Injuries

Let’s start by talking about the elephant in the room – getting hurt. When a pressure cooker goes haywire, it can dish out some serious burns. We’re talking everything from minor singes to full-blown blister city. And let’s not forget about the potential for some gnarly scars or permanent damage. Ouch!

Property Damage

It’s not just your skin that’s at risk – your kitchen could take a beating too. When a pressure cooker decides to blow, it can send shrapnel flying and leave your countertops looking like a warzone. Plus, if it’s near anything flammable, you could be looking at a full-on kitchen inferno. Not exactly the home makeover you had in mind, right? 

Potential Risk of Fire and Other Hazards 

Speaking of infernos, let’s not overlook the fire hazard. If your pressure cooker explosion happens near anything combustible – like curtains or dish towels – you could be in for a real hot mess. And let’s not forget about the slippery aftermath – spilled liquids can turn your kitchen floor into a slip ‘n slide of doom.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Which type of pressure cooker is the safest?

The safest type of pressure is the stainless steel one. Due to its alloy structure, stainless steel is a poor conductor of heat, thereby minimizing the risk of explosion due to overheating.

What is the most common problem with pressure cookers? 

The problem that pressure cookers face most commonly is that of pressure buildup. A leaky gasket often prevents pressure from building up inside the cooker, leading to the unexpected release of steam and pressure. 

Do pressure cookers come without whistle?

Yes, they do. Some pressure cookers have a spring-loaded vent that releases steam without making any noise. If you listen closely, though, you will hear a faint hissing sound coming from them. 

So, there you have it – pressure cooker accidents are no laughing matter. It’s essential to understand the risks and take precautions to keep yourself and your kitchen safe. Remember to follow the instructions, keep your cooker in tip-top shape, and always be mindful of the potential for things to go kablooey.

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