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Pressure Cookers: The Serious Burn Hazard in Your Kitchen That Nobody Talks About

April 29, 2022

While it may seem unthinkable that a popular kitchen appliance could severely injure consumers for decades without much public attention, that exact scenario is playing out in homes across the U.S. where families rely on pressure cookers for meal preparation.

Pressure cookers are touted by manufacturers and consumers alike for their ability to cook meals quickly and conveniently, while allowing food to retain nutrients that are lost when conventional cookware is used. For many, they are a kitchen appliance staple. In 2019 alone, 545,000 electric pressure cookers were sold in the U.S., according to a provider of market and consumer data. That year, U.S. retail sales of electric pressure cookers totaled approximately $51.48 million. Indeed, from 2010 through 2019, nearly five million electric pressure cookers were sold in the United States.

Yet, unbeknownst to many users, pressure cookers — even those from trusted brands — have an unfortunate history of numerous incidents where they have exploded without warning and ejected scalding-hot food, liquid and steam on anyone luckless enough to be in their vicinity. These incidents, caused by defective product design and manufacture, have left people with severe burns and other serious injuries. While well-known within the kitchen appliance industry, pressure cooker explosion accidents have slipped largely under the radar of the general public.

Why Are Pressure Cookers Dangerous?

Pressure cookers cook food in a sealed, locked pot by using a combination of high pressure and extreme heat. The temperature in the pot can reach up to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. (By way of comparison, water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit.) During the cooking process, steam is trapped in the sealed pot, which causes pressure to build up. When a pressure cooker malfunctions and the steam is not properly released, the unit can explode, and its contents will forcibly eject. Common causes of explosions include:

  • Improper ventilation (including defective vents and ducts) where the steam is not able to properly exit the cooker as it cools down.
  • Faulty pressure release valves that do not maintain the appropriate level of pressure in the cooking chamber as steam is manually released.
  • Defective lid-locking mechanisms that fail to effectively lock-in the pressure or allow the user to open the lid while the contents are still pressurized.
  • Defective gaskets that do not keep the cooking chamber airtight.

Most recently, in November 2020, Sunbeam Products recalled one million Crock-Pot 6-Quart Express Crock Multi-Cookers, stating that they could pressurize when the lid is not fully locked. “This can cause the lid to suddenly detach while the product is in use, posing burn risks to consumers from hot food and liquids ejected from the product,” according to the recall notice. Sunbeam had received 119 reports of lid detachment, resulting in 99 burn injuries ranging in severity from first-degree to third-degree burns. One of the victims was a woman from Denver who sustained second-degree and third-degree burns on her face, arms and chest when the lid flew off, hit her cupboard, and ricocheted across the kitchen, sending hot liquid everywhere, according to news reports. Her treatment and recovery process lasted more than a year and required five square feet of cadaver skin grafts to treat her burns.

In addition to the astoundingly high number of reports of lid-detachment and burn injuries made directly to Sunbeam, as early as 2018, customer reviews on several websites where the pressure cooker was sold also warned of this very issue. Yet, Sunbeam continued to sell this dangerous product for at least another two years. According to news reports, in July 2018, one consumer wrote on Amazon: “Would not recommend to anyone!!! IT BLEW UP!” Another person wrote in February 2018 that her daughter suffered second-degree burns as a result of a malfunction.

Other pressure cookers that were recalled in the wake of multiple reported injuries include:

  • In August 2018, Rena Ware recalled about 700 Nutrex Pressure Cookers, stating that they pose a burn hazard because they can discharge steam at lower temperatures than intended. Rena Ware received 13 reports of unintended depressurization, including five reported burn injuries.
  • In December 2015, Breville USA recalled about 35,600 Breville Fast Slow Cookers because consumers could incorrectly insert a sealing gasket upside down on the lid, which would allow for the unexpected release of built-up pressure. Breville received five reports of people who were burned when steam or hot contents escaped from the pressure cooker, including reports of people who sustained second degree burns to their hands, arms or stomach.
  • In February 2007, shopping channel HSN recalled about 8,300 Bella Cucina “Zip Cooker” Low Pressure Cookers, stating that hot food under pressure could be expelled from the cookers. HSN received seven reports of incidents resulting in eight injuries involving first, second and third-degree burns.
  • In December 2007, Manttra Inc. recalled 38,250 Manttra Smart Series pressure cookers, stating that if they are not closed properly, the lid can separate and allow hot contents to spill out. Manttra received two reports of burn injuries.
  • In November 2006, shopping channel HSN recalled about 1,450 Ultrex-brand pressure cookers, stating that the cooker’s lid could open while its contents are under pressure, allowing the hot contents to be expelled and causing burn injuries to bystanders. HSN received reports of two injuries which involved second-degree and third-degree burns.
  • In June 2005, shopping channels QVC and HSN recalled about 3,900 Welbilt Electronic Pressure Cookers after receiving 43 reports that the lids opened prematurely while contents were under pressure, resulting in 37 reports of burn injuries, including at least four third-degree burns.

Moreover, reports made by consumers about pressure cooker accidents to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s SaferProducts.gov website suggest that many pressure cookers, regardless of whether they have been subject to a recall, are unsafe. Reports include:

  • A 46-year-old woman sustained second-degree burns when a Fagor “Elite” pressure cooker, after building up pressure for just seven minutes, “flew off the stove” and emptied its contents on her via its vent valve.
  • A 56-year-old woman was hospitalized for burns after trying twice without success to release pressure from her Power Pressure Cooker XL by turning the vent valve. After her second failed attempt, she turned the lid to open the pressure cooker, and its contents burst upon her.
  • A 61-year-old woman sustained second-degree burns on her scalp, face, shoulder and back after the contents of her Elite 13 Function 8 Quart Pressure Cooker exploded in her face. The woman had opened the pressure cooker lid after releasing the pressure to add more ingredients. She closed the lid and started to pressure cook again, but the cooker sounded different than it had before. The accident occurred while she was leaning over the cooker to see what was wrong.
  • A 34-year-old woman and her 23-month-old son sustained second-degree and third-degree burns when the lid to her pressure cooker manufactured by Tristar Products “flew off the pot” as she began to turn it to open, and the pot’s still-pressurized contents “flew out.”

What Should I Do If I Have Been Injured in a Pressure Cooker Accident?

Alan M. Feldman, a co-founding partner and product liability attorney at Feldman Shepherd, said that product liability law in most states requires that products be safe for their intended as well as expected use. He said there is simply no excuse for pressure cookers which, by design, are unsafe and can gravely injure people during the simple act of preparing a meal. He recommends contacting a product liability attorney as soon as possible who can help you recover for your pain and suffering, economic losses, emotional distress and medical expenses.

“The combination of high heat and pressure, coupled with poor design choices by manufacturers, is resulting in an epidemic of serious burn injuries throughout the country. Manufacturers should take steps to evaluate the safety of their products before releasing them into the market and exposing consumers and their families to the risk of horrible burn injuries,” said Feldman.

The product liability team at Feldman Shepherd, which also includes partners Daniel J. Mann and Edward S. Goldis, has achieved substantial recoveries on behalf of individuals injured by dangerous household products, including unstable furniture, portable electric heaters, clothes dryers, and products intended for infants and children.

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