It’s good to be prepared for disasters, but sometimes the most devastating disasters we encounter in life are the most mundane.
One of the worst, and tragically one of the most common and deadly, is a house fire. When it comes to house fires, most of those start in the kitchen.
It seems kind of obvious when you think about it: Roaring flames, blazing hot elements, sizzling oil etc.
But there are many common foods that happen to be serious fire hazards, including quite a few that you wouldn’t expect.
I’ll tell you what these 20 foods are below so you can be better prepared to avoid a kitchen fire. Keep that fire extinguisher handy and let’s get a move on…
1. Cooking Oil
Cooking oil is probably the most common kitchen offender when it comes to accidental fires (over 170,000 per year in the U.S. alone), made even worse because it is in constant use.
And although most cooking oils have a high flashpoint (the point at which they will emit vapors which can ignite) accidents are still highly likely to occur well under that temperature.
Hot oil that gets combined with water will create a dangerous geyser of steam and fire, and oil that overflows, spills or splashes on an open flame or a roaring hot heating element will ignite almost instantly.
Always pay attention and stay close when you’re cooking with oil.
Bacon has to be one of the most beloved foods in America, and if my menu is anything to go by, I eat it at almost every meal.
But bacon is particularly dangerous both because of its high fat content which makes it very oily and greasy, and also because it can overcook, start smoking, and then catch fire in very short order.
Whenever you’re cooking with bacon make sure you always keep an eye on it, particularly when it’s on the stovetop but also if it’s going into the oven.
And never, ever try to put out a bacon fire with water as with oil above!
Think garlic is a surprising entry on our list of flammable kitchen fire-causing foods? I was too, but turns out it’s the truth.
Another ubiquitous ingredient that goes into countless recipes, garlic is a surprisingly oily vegetable, and the way it’s typically prepared and thin slices or tiny, minced bits means it can quickly overheat, smoke and then catch fire.
Not good, and then when you overreact to deal with the garlic fire, you can make a bad situation worse if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Keep that heat a little bit lower, be patient, and you’ll keep your garlic golden and delicious.
Flour is one of the most common ingredients, but is potentially one of the most dangerous in your kitchen. That’s because flour is combustible when it is in the air as dust.
Sure, a large mound of flour isn’t really going to burn in a spectacular way, but a cloud of it can ignite and spread a fire in the blink of an eye.
And although you’re unlikely to experience these conditions at home, huge dust clouds of flour that ignite can very literally level a building.
Don’t believe me? Just look up dust explosions and see for yourself.
5. Non-Dairy Creamer
Seriously? We’ve got to worry about non-dairy creamer now? How is it possible? Believe me, it’s possible and non-dairy creamer is a stealthy fire hazard for sure.
For starters, this stuff usually comes in a powdered format which, as we learned with flour above, is highly problematic when it comes to combustion.
Worse, these ingredients typically contain sodium aluminosilicate, which is itself highly flammable.
This stuff gets anywhere near an open flame it will go up faster than you’ll believe!
6. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is, as you might expect, flammable, because it is an oil. It’s definitely a kitchen fire hazard and will make an existing fire even worse. Keep a class B extinguisher ready, and always store it in a non-flammable glass container, otherwise, it will catch fire.
7. Strong Liquor
Pretty much everyone knows that alcohol is flammable if it’s concentrated enough.
If you ever cook in the kitchen with bourbon or any other high-proof stuff, you’ve got to be especially careful of its flammable vapors and getting it anywhere near a pan that is too hot, an open flame, or a heating element.
When alcohol goes up it burns extremely hot and extremely quickly. A flare will burn you severely right away and probably set the surrounding area on fire.
This, obviously, is very bad news. Be careful with that stuff!
8. Potato Chips
Yes, your snack food is going to kill you but maybe not in the way that you think.
Potato chips, to people who are skilled at starting fires, actually look a lot like tinder: they are very thin, contain lots of oils, and will ignite very easily because they present an ideal ratio of surface area to volume.
That means that the bag of potato chips you have lying around might actually be the fuel that starts the fire going in the first place.
It could turn into a raging pyre before you could put it out, so keep your potato chips away from open flames and very hot surfaces.
Honey is yet another food staple that will catch fire. Honey is flammable just like coconut oil, you should always store it in glass jars, which are the least likely to burn in case of a house or kitchen fire, anyway.
10. Corn Chips
Another snack food that’s a surprising fire hazard, corn chips are even worse than potato chips because they will burn longer and more steadily because they contain way more carbohydrates and are still very oily.
And don’t take my word for it: a whole generation of hunters and preppers grew up knowing that corn chips actually make a great improvised fire starter when you’re out in the field.
It’ll make a great improvised fire starter too in the middle of your kitchen, and pretty soon, you’ll be out of the house!
11. Corn Starch
Another powdery ingredient, another huge fire hazard.
Cornstarch usually proves to be even more flammable than flour, and it just like flour and so many other tiny, light ingredients, it can easily ignite when it gets into the air or comes into direct contact with a hot surface or open flame.
Just like flour, cornstarch has also been responsible for some truly catastrophic industrial accidents that could rival anything that might happen at a chemical plant or munitions factory.
No kidding, look into it! In the meantime, keep the lid on the container and keep it away from the stovetop.
12. Powdered Spices
Probably should have seen this one coming, huh?
Dried, ground spices are more flammable than they would ordinarily be because of their form, yes. I think I’ve established that fact.
However, many spices are also inherently flammable themselves! For instance, cinnamon and ginger both have aromatic compounds that are basically accelerants.
When these plants are fresh, they contain plenty of moisture which can help offset that flammability, but dried versions of these spices will catch fire easily- assuming they aren’t mixed into a delicious cobbler for dessert already.
Keep them away from the stove, and keep the lids closed when you aren’t using them.
Sugar is not readily flammable in its granulated form, and it’s usually too chunky to form a dust hazard like flour and cornstarch up there.
However, sugar is basically just carbs, and carbs will readily burn when they reach ignition temperature.
Sugar has a nasty tendency to blacken and then promptly catch fire assuming it isn’t moist, and overheating it long enough will start a fire even if it is.
Then that sticky stuff is basically napalm! It also tends to reignite after being smothered if it is overheated enough, so look out for that.
14. Cooking Wine and Sherry
Back to alcohol again. Although not as overtly flammable as some of the high-proof liquors we discussed above, these are perhaps more insidious and even more likely to cause an accidental kitchen fire because they are used more often.
Whether you’re trying to do a little flambé or make an alcohol-based sauce, you’ve got to be cautious with this stuff.
When overheated, they will ignite, and they are especially prone to cause fires on the stovetop when you turn your back on a pan that is simmering them.
15. Fatty Meat
Bacon isn’t the only fatty food that is prone to cause kitchen fires.
Although they come in at a distant second place to bacon, any other seriously fatty meat – beef, pork or poultry – can and will cause a fire.
A little flare-up that is doused with water instead of smothering it, popping and spattering grease getting on a burner, and so much more can go wrong if you aren’t alert.
A friend of mine had a particularly nasty house fire happen when a hot dollop of melted fat splashed on his arm while he was holding on to the pan.
He jerked in reflex and spilled the whole pan of bubbling fat onto the burner, causing a huge fire. Don’t let this happen to you!
Maybe all the junk food is just out to get you. Popcorn, in all of its many forms, is highly flammable and also highly likely to catch fire if you don’t prepare it under strict supervision.
Microwave popcorn can overheat, burn, and then catch fire but those stovetop popper tins are one of the chief offenders.
And of course, corn makes excellent fuel once again, burning hot and for quite a long time. Get it off the heat when the popping stops!
17. Any Deep-Fried Food
If you ever want to see a truly nightmarish scenario, just look up deep fryer accidents.
But I warn you, make sure they are censored or enjoy your nightmares. The only thing worse than burning oil or grease is a huge quantity of burning oil or grease.
There are lots of ways frying food can go terribly bad in your own kitchen, from using countertop deep fryers to Dutch ovens full of peanut oil for your Sunday chicken fry.
You can overfill your cookware and cause an overflow, moisture released from the food can cause bubbling and popping or the oil itself can be overheated and ignited.
This is one of the single most dangerous activities and food groups you can prepare in your kitchen, so you should always have a plan and be prepared for the unexpected.
18. Candy and Hard Desserts
Candy? Desserts?! Give me a break! I wish I could, reader, but all kinds of candies and many hard desserts are indeed quite flammable.
If you’re paying attention, you know that is because they are pretty much nothing but sugar and sugar is flammable.
The startling thing is just how readily many of our favorite treats can catch fire and burn furiously.
Gummy bears and gummy worms are shockingly prone to igniting and burning slowly. Peanut brittle, hard candies and things like that also provide a highly concentrated source of fuel for a fire.
You might have to work a little harder to set these things on fire, but once they ignite they are really going to burn, so be cautious.
19. Dried Fruit
Normally you don’t have to worry about fruit burning because it is so moist it is exceedingly difficult to get it to catch fire.
Sure, the oils in citrus fruits are prone to igniting over an open flame, but this is rarely a significant fire hazard of note.
But once you remove all or nearly all of the moisture from the fruit, what you are left with is yet again another concentrated source of carbohydrates that is a fine source of fuel. Many dried fruits will ignite with surprising speed!
An absolutely dry, hard, and airy block of bread, which is nothing but carbs. Yep, that’s a burner!
Add in some totally dry herbs and other seasonings and you basically have a little block of fuel!
Croutons will ignite quickly and burn just as fast, and I’ll put these right next to corn chips and potato chips when it comes to overall flammability and suitability as tinder.
Do take care to keep these away from all ignition sources.
21. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are flammable because they have lots of oils and fats, and very little moisture otherwise.
Although they’re unlikely to catch fire in most normal kitchen situations and recipes you might use them in, because chances are they’ll be in the presence of plenty of moisture, you should still be aware of the possibility.
22. Dry Rice
Dry rice, especially when it is stored in bulk quantities, is a significant fire hazard. It contains essentially no moisture and, like all other carbohydrate-dense foods on this list, is a great fuel for any fire.
It isn’t out of the question that a small, out-of-control fire could turn into a raging blaze if it reaches a large bag or box of dry rice in your kitchen or pantry.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.