Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

Countertop Oven as Fire Hazard?

So Mrs. JestJack advises that the proposed countertop oven may be a fire hazard. This sounds like a reasonable proposition, because a) they’re kind of dinky things and b) they’re not actually major appliances and so may be able to slide under whatever codes exist relevant to, say, a built-in oven. And of course, c) just like everything else, they’re no doubt made in China, where safety codes are irrelevant.

This warrants some exploring around.

In the first place, I discovered that those who know anything about fire & smoke alarms recommend a heat alarm in the garage, not a smoke alarm. The reason is kinda obvious: your car puts out a lot of particulate exhaust, and besides, it’s dusty in a garage.

Both of those apply: every time Gerardo and his guys are tromping around, they blower dirt into the air and into the garage. Monsoon winds do the same — the aged garage door has a gap all around it, and dust flows in at the slightest breeze.

Guys talking to each other at an electrician’s forum seem to favor what’s called a “rate of rise” heat alarm for a garage: one that’s less likely to be set off by summer temperatures. I wonder how you find such a thing? It gets hotter than a two-dollar cookstove out there in the summertime…and…heh…since a two-dollah cookstove is what we’re about to install, we have a problem. FEMA prefers a hard-wired heat alarm. Now, I suspect, we’re beginning to push this project past the cost-effectiveness barrier… I don’t know what such an alarm costs, but my electrician seems to have retired — his phone has gone away — and hiring someone to install such a thing sounds like it will costs some serious dollars.

Searching for countertop oven + fire hazard, one finds that one big offender is Black  & Decker. Kiyipes!! Complaints are recent, and they’re very serious:

Timer did not turn off heating element. Entire unit in flames and smoke.

The unit was blowing the circuit breaker in my house. The unit also caught on fire when trying to toast 2 English muffins. The rear heating element bar on the bottom caught fire in the middle and I burned my right arm while putting out the fire.

[uhmmm…HELL-o… Why would you keep using an electric appliance that repeatedly blew the circuit breakers? Is there an IQ here?]

…turned on the toaster oven and everything sounded normal. Then a few minutes later a loud explosion happened where all of the glass on the door and the door handle violently exploded outward.

[This person included a photo of the offending appliance, as did several others.]

I started to heat some pre-made corn tortilla taco shells in the toaster oven. After about 4 minutes I noticed there was a fire in the oven. I had to unplug, and with towels carried it to the bathtub where I had to spray with water. My 2 nearest smoke detectors were going full blast but I had to continue to spray the fire out.

[Man but people do some stupid things when confronted with a fire!]

It has caught on fire, not once, but twice!! The first time it happened, I thought that it occurred because there was too much grease. Cleaned my oven thoroughly and then it happened again!

The exploding doors story appears four times here…and I haven’t even begun to scroll all the way down through the page. One of the Black & Decker models blew up all over a lady’s dog, spraying the animal with molten glass.

Hmmm… Here are a few posts that suggest unplugging small appliances when they’re not in use, the principle being the same: electric appliances in general are fire hazards. This one looks pretty good: it notes that there’s been a lot of fire-related recalls of toasters and toaster ovens, and suggests they always be unplugged when not in use. “Safety experts found that when the appliances are connected to an electrical outlet, the heating element could energize and impose a fire hazard. If the appliance is near flammable items, it can also cause fires through combustible ignition.” Date’s not given…but it surely sounds believable.

Good Housekeeping (same source, down a page) says Breville’s toaster ovens receive the best ratings, both from GH and from consumers. Apparently Panasonic is way up there. In another post, GH says they recommend Kenmore (not on your life: the offending wall oven is a Kenmore) and Breville. But I think they’re talking about toaster ovens (the kind you lay pieces of toast in to toast flat) rather than countertop convection ovens, which function like a real, regular oven.

ohh-kayy…here’s the National Fire Prevention Association on “home fires involving cooking equipment.” This looks one helluva lot more credible. Click on that link for the report!

Good grief:

Overall, cooking equipment was involved in 45% of reported home fires, 17% of home fire deaths and 42% of reported home fire injuries. Ranges, with or without ovens, account for the majority (61%) of reported home structure fires involving cooking equipment and even larger shares of associated civilian deaths (86%) and civilian injuries (78%). Unattended equipment is the leading cause of cooking fires. More than half (54%) of nonfatal civilian cooking fire injuries occurred when the victims tried to fight the fire themselves.

That last figure’s not surprising, after reading some of the stupidity self-reported in the Black & Decker whinges, above.

Folks. Let’s have a little common sense interlude here. When something catches on fire in your house, GET THE HELL OUT OF THE HOUSE.

Better — far better — that your house should burn down to the ground than that you should end up in the hospital or dead. Fire fighting is something best left to professionals.

Okay, back to the question at hand: This is pretty interesting:

Households that use electric ranges have a higher risk of cooking fires and associated losses than those using gas ranges. Although 60% of households cook with electricity, 80% of the ranges or cooktops involved in reported cooking fires were powered by electricity.

The rate of reported fires was 2.7 times higher for electric ranges than for gas ranges. Civilian injuries and direct property loss were 4.1 times higher for households using electric ranges!

Geez. Who’d’ve thunk it?

This is big:

Unattended cooking was the leading factor in cooking fires. Unattended equipment was a factor in one-third (34%) of reported home cooking fires and almost half (46%) of the associated deaths. Abandoned or discarded material, which may be related to unattended equipment, was a factor in 11%.

Kinda obvious, of course. But…who hasn’t gone off and left the turkey baking? Or turned away from the stove to attend to a screaming kid?

Cooking equipment is the leading cause of home structure fires and associated civilian injuries and was the third leading cause of home fire deaths during this period.

Well, I suppose that’s not surprising, either. Faulty wiring, I imagine, has got to be a big risk, maybe even more so than cooking indoors. And of course, the ever-popular stupidity: candles next to drapes, going off and leaving a room heater on, that kind of thing.

Okay, here’s a report that claims toaster ovens are hazardous, at least by comparison to microwaves. I don’t know what this site, Take Part, is. But the author cites the same NFPA report to the effect that “toasters or toaster ovens caused nearly half of the 3,000 reported household fires involving “portable cooking or warming devices”—more than woks, more than your countertop grill, more than deep fryers, and way more than microwaves….” This is derived from data presented in a graph, and I’m not at all convinced it’s a correct interpretation. Take Part also claims the problem is food residue and grease left in the appliance, which also isn’t exactly what the report says — NFPA makes a generalization, not a statement specific to portable heating and cooking devices. I think the conclusion that toaster ovens per se are any more dangerous than other appliances cannot really be drawn from the NFPA report. Ranges and cooktops, according to the figures presented, are by far more guilty of causing household fires.

Okay. Here’s what I believe to be the takeaway messages here:

Shell out the cash to buy a high-rated brand, such as Breville or Kitchenaid.
Avoid Black & Decker!
Do not place the countertop oven near anything flammable.
Unplug the oven when it’s not in use.
Keep an eye on it: do not leave it unattended while it’s on. (This would mean you can’t bake bread, cook a casserole, or roast a chicken in one of the things.)
Clean the device carefully every time you use it. Remove all grease and crumbs after each use.
Be sure there’s a functioning smoke or heat alarm in the vicinity.
Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.

Most of those things, except maybe leaving it unplugged most of the time, seem kinda commonsensical. I doubt if you’d burn the house down if you followed these guidelines.

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Author: funny

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  1. Back in the day – 20 years ago – the best little toaster oven was the Black & Decker unit. Not a convection oven, but it toasted, hotted up left over pizza like a charm, and you could bake (smallish) things in it. Never had an issue with 2 of them – mine and my mom’s – that we used for years.

    I dearly wish I had kept one of them – you can’t get the same thing any longer, and the new equivalent has terrible reviews – similar to what you saw – fires, exploding glass fronts – the works.

    My friend was just talking about hers tonight – she used it twice and it caught fire both times. The first time, she figured the person before her had managed to spatter grease along the inside top – but the second time it was perfectly clean and no grease – doesn’t seem to matter.

    Every year or so I take a quick look through the amazon reviews on the different ovens – and not a one of them seem to have consistent good reviews and no terrifying ones.

    I’m eating a lot less toast and pizza these days – so I suspect I won’t end up purchasing one – too bad though.

    • Caught fire BOTH times she used it? Good grief! Must be made in China.

      You can’t even find out where B&D makes the things with a quick search. What you do find, when you google where B&D toaster ovens are made, is this AMAZING disclaimer from Walmart:

      “For certain items sold by Walmart on, the displayed country of origin information may not be accurate or consistent with manufacturer information. For updated, accurate country of origin data, it is recommended that you rely on product packaging or manufacturer information.”

      Yeah! Target says it’s “Made in the USA or imported.”

      Have you noticed that you can’t buy a decent toaster, either? Some years ago I tried to find one that would make toast, not warm bread (or charcoal), and discovered that to get a toaster like Mom had, you have to pony up several hundred bucks for a “gourmet” toaster: Units that are priced in the “normal” range don’t make real toast. That’s why I make toast in the oven — presumably burned out the control panel by having the temerity to turn on the broiler a few times to toast some pieces of rye bread.

  2. My grandfather gave us a kitchen aid countertop convection oven for our wedding four years ago, and we’ve made absolutely everything I it. I find it to be way more consistent and precise than our electric oven/range, and also wonderful for smaller portions of the size a single person or couple sans children require. Highly recommended solution for keeping the house cooler as well.

  3. Sadly Black and Decker is but a “shadow of it’s former self”. I WOULD stay away from anything they make. Since their buyout by Stanley their products are just junk. Funny ….and true story…Back when “dinos” roamed the earth Black and Decker was a local company with deep roots in the community. DW who was then my fiancé then decided to purchase tools for me in anticipation of buying our first home. She looked around and found a good deal…Four B & D power tools … a saw, drill, jig saw, and sander….$7.99 EACH….Despite these being “corded” tools I still use them often and all work as well as when purchased. That doesn’t happen any more.
    I would steer clear of B&D AND GE products. I had a “situation” with GE microwaves…not once BUT twice…And a Panasonic microwave now sits in it’s place….Thanks for keeping us up to speed with this adventure…

  4. We aren’t allowed to have a microwave at our office, so we’ve been using one of these large toaster ovens for years to heat up lunches in our little office kitchen. Honestly, I really like them, but there is a huge difference in quality. I have a small and crappy toaster oven at home that will meet its maker soon, and when it does I’d like to replace it with a large Breville or Cuisinart (we have Cuisinart at the office). Be aware they do take up as lot of counter space since I assume you’re planning on leaving it out all the time.
    Some things to consider, besides the obvious like timers, etc.
    – what size pans fit in? I think one of the brevilles comes with its own pans and can fit a 13″ pan, which is nice.
    – how easy is it to clean? The Cuisinart we have at the office is darned near impossible to clean without completely dismantling it. You can’t get at the crumbs underneath the heating element.
    – what parts get hot? Some of them are designed to be okay to set stuff in top while it is cooking, some not, or only with a special wooden trivet designed for the thing. When you lose counter space it’s natural to want to set stuff on top or the darned thing, so important that those things don’t become insanely hot themselves.

    Good luck!

  5. I’m still using the old Black and Decker toaster oven I bought maybe 20 years ago? It doesn’t look that nice anymore, but it reliably toasts bread, bagels, etc and heats up pizza and other leftovers well. A few years ago I was tempted by the Breveille toaster/convection oven but decided it was an expense I could hold on. And I’m still holding on it. 😉