The Perfectly Ergonomic Kitchen – Professional, Safe and Age-Friendly

The Perfectly Ergonomic Kitchen – Professional, Safe and Age-Friendly

A professional kitchen is one that is well organised and is ergonomically suitable for its user.

Ergonomic means that a space is efficient, comfortable, provides a balanced movement around the room and increases productivity.

An ergonomically organised space is gentler on the body, as it helps reduce time and movement.

The user of a kitchen may be a professional chef, a young wife or husband, an elderly person, or someone disabled, to name but a few types of individuals amongst the many who spend time preparing food in a kitchen.

For an elderly person in the kitchen, there may be age-related concerns to address. These could include diminished strength and grip, balance problems, visual changes, arthritis and walking difficulties.

Making an ergonomically friendly kitchen for someone may mean considering age-related changes which have resulted over the last few years.

An Efficient Kitchen

A perfect kitchen size for an average house size of 1,500 square feet (e.g. two floors of 30 x 25 feet) is 150 to 225 square feet (e.g. 12 x 12 and 1/2 feet up to 15 x 15 feet).

A good starting point for a successful ergonomic kitchen is the triangle effect between sink, oven and fridge.

Having these three facilities in easy reach, with a good worktop in between, immediately reduces the time spent between walking from one area to another.

A U-shaped kitchen, with worktops on three walls, the sink, oven and fridge within these three walls and a central island, creates a perfect working kitchen.

It cuts down on the time spent carrying items from place to place, something which could be an issue for people with reduced strength and weakened grip, balance and mobility difficulties, arthritis and vision changes.

The width of aisles is very important, as age could bring with it the need to use a trolley, walking frame or wheelchair, all of which need sufficient turning space.

Having items within reaching distance, both height and depth wise, will eliminate stretching.

Appropriate lighting (e.g. spotlights on important areas) will make food preparation an enjoyable experience.

What to Keep in a Kitchen and Where

All chefs have items and tools which they use again and again.

Think of the items you use most often:-

  • Most often:-

Cups, saucers, plates, bowls, cutlery, regular drinking glasses, teapot, toaster, kettle and pans.

Keep these items within easy reach. Maybe keep one easily reachable cupboard for day-to-day use e.g. your regular cup and plate, as well as your regular glass and your regular bowl.

Items brought out only when visitors are present could be in a different cupboard, maybe not quite as accessible, or even a different room, leaving other accessible cupboards for food and drink items.

  • Least often:-

Bread maker, pasta maker, blender, best tea set, and special drinking glasses.

Keep these items in low cupboards. Bending may be needed to access these items but, as they are not used every day, bending occasionally will prove less of an issue than bending on a regular basis.

Equipment

For food preparation, there are three kinds of equipment in a working kitchen:-

  • Large equipment, usually fixed items e.g. oven, hob, refrigerator and freezer. Remember the triangle layout for ease of use.
  • Mechanical equipment e.g. blender, bread maker, toaster and food mixer. These items may not be used every day and so don’t need to adorn the worktops.
  • Utensils – small hand-held pieces of equipment, of which there are many.

Utensils

A cook needs many types of utensils:-

  • A good quality, chef’s knife - learn how to use knives correctly, not only for professional cutting but also for safety reasons
  • Mixing bowls – these are needed for dry, moist, hot and cold ingredients, so have both plastic and glass bowls at your disposal
  • Spoons and spatulas
  • Cutting boards - remember to use the designated colour for the food item you are cutting and preparing
  • Measuring cups, scales and spoons – Americans weigh ingredients in small cups, designed solely for the purpose of measuring, rather than weighing ingredients on kitchen scales.

Utensils Regularly in Use and How to Store Them

There are certain kitchen utensils which are regularly in use e.g. spatula, large spoon, slotted spoon, a potato masher, scissors, bottle openers and can openers. Store these items within easy reach, maybe in a drawer near where they will be used, or in a container on the worktop.

Cooking utensils come in all shapes and sizes and so are difficult to store. They don’t fit in a regular-sized drawer, unless placed diagonally, so these utensils may often be kept on the kitchen worktop in a utensil holder.

Utensil holders for kitchens can be purpose made, or you can make use of an old container (e.g. a flour jar), which will meet the needs of utensil storage.

Regularly used utensils can also be suspended from a rail on the wall or ceiling. Make sure that the rail isn’t too high to reach and that the hooks from which the items are suspended will not easily fall and cause injury.

Only store regularly used utensils on the worktop and in the drawers and keep less used items (a nutcracker, for example) tucked away until needed.

Drawer dividers can make the contents look more orderly and make items easier to locate. Plastic cutlery trays can divide your drawers, or you can use other kinds of dividers to keep order amongst your knives and forks.

Two shallow drawers are better than one deep one, as the deeper drawer will lead to getting as much in the drawer as you can, a very messy way to work.

A pot rack usually hangs over the worktop space and needn’t be only for pans. Regular utensils can hang there as well, making accessibility easy.

A wall-mounted bar for hanging utensils can also free up some drawer space and make items ready for the taking. Other Storage

Jars which often take up space on the worktop (e.g. tea, coffee and sugar) could be relocated on wall shelves. The jars should be easy to reach and the worktop will have more working space.

If you have enough space in your kitchen, a portable kitchen island can prove a bonus. With its own worktop, as well as storage areas and places to hang utensils from, it is like a mini kitchen in its own right.

A baking tray and chopping board rack is ideal for keeping these items in place in a cupboard or a deep drawer, freeing up space to store other items. Trays and boards stand vertically and you don’t have to lift several out to get to the one you want.

Safety Comes First

If safety isn’t addressed, the kitchen is one of the most dangerous rooms in a house.

Make sure that a ‘kitchen suitable’ fire extinguisher is within easy reach for all who work in the kitchen. Seek professional advice on the right type of fire extinguisher, and the best location, for use in your kitchen.

Slip-resistant flooring is worth its weight in gold. Accidents could include slipping on a wet floor, slipping when holding a kettle or pan of boiling water and many other frightening spur of the moment issues.

Wear sensible clothing i.e. nothing with loose straps or belts (in which pan handles could get caught), or clothes so long that they might cause a tripping hazard.

Use different coloured chopping boards for cutting raw meat (red), raw fish (blue), cooked meat (yellow), salads and fruit (green), vegetables (brown) and dairy products (white).

You can’t wash your hands too often. In particular, always wash your hands after touching raw chicken and always rinse cutlery and utensils used for cutting or touching chicken before placing them in the bowl or dishwasher to wash them.

Food poisoning can last a long time and make you very ill.

When preparing a meal, keep children, pets and anything else distracting out of the kitchen, not only for your sake but for theirs as well.

Install a water regulator system, to avoid scalds and burns. With age and with certain medications, the skin doesn’t always recognise when water is too hot and so having a regulator is a must.

Avoid any dark areas in a kitchen, by fitting appropriately located lighting e.g. spotlights over the oven and hob.

Summary

A well organised kitchen is gentler on the body, as it helps reduce time and movement.

Organise your cupboard and drawer content to take into consideration any age-related changes you have developed in recent years.

Utensils holders for kitchens can be purpose made or can be an old item which has been recycled (e.g. a flour jar).

Age could bring with it the need to use a trolley, walking frame or wheelchair, so ensure that aisles are wide enough to ensure turning space.

When choosing utensils, take your health conditions into consideration and choose adapted items where appropriate e.g. an electric can opener for a weak grip or arthritis.

Fit appropriately located lighting (e.g. spotlights), both for safety and for enjoying the experience of being fully, even semi-, independent.

Store regularly used items within easy reach and leave low cupboards mostly for rarely used items.

NB – Items on display anywhere in the kitchen will attract dust and insects, so leave only regularly used ones open to kitchen conditions, as these will be washed on a regular basis.

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Sally Madeley-Carr, OT

Sally Madeley-Carr, OT

Sally qualified as an Occupational Therapist in 1996 and is a well-respected professional in the field of rehabilitation equipment and living aids. She has worked in private practice and within the NHS, developing a broad experience with adults and children. Click here for Sally's registration with the Health and Care Professions Council. The HCPC regulates health, physchological and social work professionals in the UK.

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