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The Dangers of Pressure Cookers

April 20, 2023Product Liability

By Sean Dormer


My wife and I have a one-year-old, which means we’re now old hands at figuring out ways to make dinner fast. (Although, I have to confess that Pediatrician Mom is a lot better at planning meals than I am, so I tend to dive into the chopping and shopping grunt work). One of our best parenting hacks is our electric pressure cooker. Remembering to turn a slow cooker on as we get ready for our high-energy day jobs, with dad-brain and mom-brain added to it, was getting a little difficult. With a pressure cooker, that’s thankfully a thing of the past…

But every time I turn on our pressure cooker, I also think about the mom we represent who tried the same thing and ended up with a result none of us would wish on anyone. She went to open her Tristar pressure cooker, it twisted open despite still being pressurized, and the food she was making came exploding out into her face. She survived, but she has permanent scarring on her face, neck, and chest.

The Safety Risk of Pressure Cookers

The sad truth is that pressure cookers can be made to be a lot safer than they are. But some companies choose to do things the cheap way, let people get hurt, fight back against the lawsuits, and deny everything instead of taking responsibility for making safe products from the get-go. With companies like that, it falls to good juries and good lawyers to put them out of business and deter similar behavior from others.

The main danger associated with pressure cookers is the risk of explosion. When pressure builds up inside the cooker, it can cause the lid to come off suddenly, releasing hot steam and causing burns or even serious personal injuries.

The resulting explosion depends on how much pressure has built up in the cooker. The more pressure, the bigger the explosion. And the more heat, the more pressure. Pressure cooker explosions can happen due to a variety of reasons, some of which include:

  1. Opening with pressure still built up inside: When cooking with a pressure cooker, it’s important to release pressure before opening the lid. More on this below, but well-designed cookers need to make it very difficult or even impossible to open the lid when there is still pressure inside. If the lid can be opened while still under pressure, the contents can explode outward when it’s opened.
  2. Blocked safety valves: We’ll get into this more below, but many cookers have safety valves, which are designed to release pressure if it becomes too high. If these valves become blocked, pressure can build up and cause an explosion.
  3. Damaged, defective, or worn-out parts: The sealing gasket in a pressure cooker needs to create a seal to keep pressure inside, and the metal parts need to then withstand that pressure. If any of the parts are damaged, defective, or worn-out, pressure can escape suddenly and cause an explosion.
  4. Mistakes in use: companies like to blame everything on the victim, but sometimes it’s true. Doing something contrary to the instructions can cause an explosion, though good design should account for the fact that many people misinterpret instructions, try to read them and miss something, or just forget them over time. Good design should make common mistakes a lot less likely to cause explosions.

Choosing a Cooker with Necessary Safety Features

Here are just a few of the safety features to look for, though they certainly don’t make these things perfect, and improvements can still be made:

  1. Well-Designed Pressure Release Valve: The pressure release valve is one of the most important safety features of a pressure cooker. This valve allows users to release steam from the cooker when it’s time to stop cooking. It can also be designed to break open when the temperature and pressure get too high, before they get high enough to threaten the lid lock or the tank strength. This is really important, because it’s a backup against other defects, like temperature sensors that might fail and cause the cooker to keep heating the food. Some cookers have systems that allow for emergency pressure release even when multiple things go wrong. Many of them have guards over them on the inside to keep them from getting blocked. These systems are not expensive to install.
  2. Automatic Lid Lock: The locking lid is another essential safety feature of a pressure cooker. This feature makes it so the lid of the cooker cannot be removed until the pressure has been released and the pressure inside the cooker has returned to a safe level. This prevents users from accidentally opening the cooker and releasing hot steam that can cause burns or other injuries. Companies can use pins and other mechanisms that, if designed well, can make it so the lid physically cannot be opened when the cooker is pressurized. Again, these are not hard or expensive to install.
  3. Automatic Sensors and Shutoffs: With modern technology, pressure cookers can be designed to shut off if temperature or pressure get too high. This can be another important failsafe.
  4. Clear Instructions: While many of us suffer from “dad brain” sometimes, users can be pretty smart. We just need good instructions, and many of them really aren’t good. Good instructions should be concise and clear. Some companies get way too litigious and just let lawyers write their instructions. Unfortunately, this can just end up flooding users with stupid warnings that don’t focus on what people actually need to know. Critical points need to be put onto the product itself. There’s plenty more we could go into here, but just a few points are that you should be able to read and understand the instructions, it shouldn’t feel like memorizing a novel, and key reminders should be printed right on the lid.

Get Help from a Defective Product Lawyer

I’m hoping that people who read this post are in the market for a safe product and end up finding a good one. We’re in this business to improve things. But beyond spreading the word, sometimes all we can do is hold manufacturer’s accountable for making bad choices. If you’re doing research because you’ve been hurt by an exploding or fast-releasing pressure cooker, I’m sorry for what happened to you and happy to talk further about your legal options through a Denver defective product injury case. Contact us to set up a free consultation.