Pressure cookers are sealed cooking vessels that use high pressure to increase the boiling point of liquids, thus allowing for the swift cooking of foods without large amounts of water, energy or time. Food is placed within the pressure cooker along with a small amount of water and sealed with a gas-tight lid that does not allow steam or air to escape during the cooking process. The cooker is then heated on a stove or by another heating source until adequate internal pressure is measured by an accompanying gauge. When this pressure is attained, the heat is reduced and the contained pressure and high temperature cook the food rapidly. Pressure cookers are also commonly used for canning of fruits, vegetables, jellies and sauces, as the pot is large enough to conveniently fit glass jars used in the canning process.
According to statistics from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, the majority of pressure cooker users appear to be over the age of 30. Forty-six percent of the injured parties are between the ages of 30 and 50 while 10 percent are between the ages of 51 and 70. Of the injuries associated with those under the age of 21, 25 percent claim a parent or guardian was operating the pressure cooker.
Pressure Cooker Defects
The most common defects in pressure cookers are:
- Inadequate cooking pot lid seals which provide for spilling and expulsion of cooker contents, particularly after buildup of steam and intense heat
- Faulty cooker gaskets that allow the premature opening of the pot during high pressure, which may cause steam and contact burns
- Exploding pressure cookers resulting from an inadequate venting of steam
Pressure cookers heat quickly and produce intense pressure and steam, resulting in a high risk of steam burns, pot contact burns, splashed or spilled hot liquids and cooker explosion. On top of the risks involved in correct operation, many recalls occur each year when pressure cooker defects are discovered by consumers or the manufacturer that violate the safety standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Of 39 sampled cases of pressure cooker-associated emergency room visits reported by the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System in 2008, only eight injuries affected people under the age of 32 years. Seventeen of those injured maintained the pressure cooker either exploded or liquids burst from the cooking pot, resulting in burns. The remaining 22 injured individuals obtained contact burns or steam burns by touching the pressure cooker, spilling hot liquid on themselves or coming into contact with emitted vapor.
Pressure Cooker Recalls
In cooperation with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, defective pressure cookers have been recalled by their manufacturers because of malfunctioning parts or defects. Some examples include:
- In 1983, 300,000 Alcan pressure cookers were recalled due to a faulty gasket which allowed the cookers to be opened during the continued presence of pressure. This resulted in at least two incidents of scald injuries.
- Thirty-seven reports of serious burns, including at least four injuries involving third degree burns, resulted from defective premature opening of Welbilt brand pressure cooker lids during standard operation. Nine hundred units were recalled by the television retailer QVC in 2006.
- In 2007, over 38,000 Manttra pressure cookers were recalled to address design defects which allowed the pressure cookers to be operated without a proper sealing of the lid. Contents spilled out and burned two consumers.
- In 2007, 8,300 Bella Cucina Zip Cookers were recalled by HSN after eight incidences of consumer burn injuries were reported due to pressure-induced expulsion of food from the cooker.