The story of chocolate, as far back as we know it, begins with the discovery of America. Until 1492, the Old World knew nothing at all about the delicious and stimulating flavor that was to become the favorite of millions.

The Court of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella got its first look at the principal ingredient of chocolate when Columbus returned in triumph from America and laid before the Spanish throne a treasure trove of many strange and wonderful things. Click here

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Beware Watch what you heat

A COOKING FIRE can quickly turn deadly. Sadly, many begin and end the same way. In Wisconsin, three children under the age of six died when smoke and heat filled their second-floor apartment, preventing escape.

Their mother managed to climb out a window and call the fire department from a neighbor's house, but she was unable to save the children. The fire occurred in a two-story, wood-frame, multi-unit dwelling. The unsprinklered apartment had no smoke alarms. The fire began when a pan of food left cooking unattended on the apartment's stove overheated.

Flames spread from the pan to the kitchen cabinets and other combustibles until it involved the entire room. The woman, who was in her bedroom, smelled smoke shortly before 1 a.m. and went to investigate.

When she saw the fire, she ran from the apartment, leaving her three sleeping daughters, ages 5, 4, and 3. Home cooking fires kill hundreds of Americans and injure roughly 4,000 more each year. Aside from death and injury, other personal losses are suffered with half a billion dollars in homes and their contents destroyed annually. During Fire Prevention Week emphasis is placed on raising the public's awareness of fire prevention and safety with a special focus this year on the importance of preventing cooking fires in the home. This year's theme for Fire Prevention Week is "Prevent Cooking Fires: Watch What You Heat.

" Fire Prevention Week is scheduled to take place October 8 through October 14. NFPA has been the official sponsor of Fire Prevention Week for more than 80 years. According to NFPA statistics, cooking fires are the number one cause of home fires and home fire injuries. Most cooking equipment fires start with the ignition of common household items such as food or grease, cabinets, wall coverings, paper or plastic bags, curtains, etc. Cooking equipment, most often a range or stove top, is the leading cause of reported home fires and home fire injuries in the United States, says Marty Ahrens, manager of NFPA's Fire Analysis Services. Cooking equipment is also the leading cause of unreported fires and associated injuries or illnesses.

When cooking equipment is described as a cause, it means that cooking equipment provided the heat that started the fire, not that the equipment malfunctioned. More cooking equipment fires are caused by human error than malfunction. According to the most recent research on cooking fires, the leading cause of cooking equipment fires is unattended cooking. Cooking oil, grease and frying are frequendy factors in these fires. Fifty-five percent of the civilians who were injured in home cooking equipment fires in 1999 to 2003 were injured while trying to fight the fire themselves. Most reported home cooking fires stay small, with 71 percent of the incidents either coded as confined cooking fires or having flame damage confined to the object of origin.

Even so, 38 percent of the reported injuries and 8 percent of the fatalities resulted from these small fires. Stand By Your Pan "Prevent Cooking Fires-Watch What You Heat," reminds us that leaving cooking unattended and other unsafe kitchen practices are a recipe for disaster. In Massachusetts, a mother and her child died in a fire that started when heat from an unattended cooking pot ignited food, and fire spread to overhead cabinets. The blaze, which spread throughout the house, is believed to have burn for 30 to 40 minutes before a passerby discovered it. The wood-frame, single-family home had a truss roof covered with asphalt shingles. There were no sprinklers but there were battery-operated smoke alarms near the bedroom; and at the bottom of the basement stairs.

The 38-year-old woman came home around midday, leaving her 10-month-old child in a car seat in the garage. She lit two burners of a gas stove and began cooking, when she apparently went to lie down in her bedroom and fell asleep. She'd been taking medication that apparently made her sleepy. Heat from the stove ignited the contents of the pot and the flames ignited the kitchen cabinets. From there, the fire spread to other combustibles before entering the attic, causing the roof to collapse near the area of origin. At that point, the are spread into the basement.

Once the fire was under control, firefighters found the mother in the master bedroom and the child in the garage. Born died of smoke inhalation and bums. Often when fire departments are called to a cooking-related fire, the residents state they only left the kitchen for a few minutes. Sadly, that's all it takes for a dangerous fire to start. The bottom line is that there's really no safe period of time for the cook to step away from a hot stove. A few key points to remember: * Always use cooking equipment tested and approved by a recognized testing facility.

* Never leave cooking food on the stovetop unattended, and keep a close eye on food cooking inside the oven. * Keep cooking areas clean and dear of combustibles (e.g. potholders, towels, rags, drapes and food packaging).

* Keep children away from cooking areas by enforcing a "kid-free zone" of three feet (1 meter) around the stove. Keep pets from underfoot so you do not trip while cooking. Also, keep pets off cooking surfaces and nearby countertops to prevent them from knocking things onto burner. * Wear short, close fitting or tightly rolled sleeves when cooking. Loose clothing can dangle onto stove burners and catch fire. * Never use a wet oven mitt, as it presents a scald danger if the moisture in the mitt is heated.

* Always keep a potholder, oven mitt, and lid handy. If a small fire starts in a pan on the stove, put on an oven mitt and smother the flames by carefully sliding the lid over the pan. Turn off the burner. Don't remove the lid until it is completely cool. Never pour water on a grease fire and never discharge a fire extinguisher onto a pan fire, as it can spray or shoot burning grease around the kitchen, actually spreading the fire.

* If there is an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door dosed to prevent flames from burning you and your clothing. * If there is a microwave fire, keep the door closed and unplug the microwave. Call the fire department and make sure to have the oven serviced before you use it again. Food cooked in a microwave can be dangerously hot.

Remove the lids or other coverings from microwaved food carefully to prevent steam burns. Pattern for fatalities Although reported cooking fires, and associated injuries and property damage show very similar patterns by time of fire, me pattern for cooking fatalities more closely resembles that of other home fire fatalities. Forty-one percent of the people killed in U.S. home cooking fires during 1999 to 2003 were sleeping when fatally injured. Alcohol or drugs were mentioned in fire department reports as possibly contributing to fires that resulted in 20 percent of the cooking fire deaths.

Studies have noted that this is frequendy underreported. In 2004, more than 28,300 people were seen in hospital emergency rooms for cooking related thermal burns, often contact burns, and scalds associated with cooking equipment, cookware, or table ware. Children under five were particularly at risk of non-fire related thermal burns and scalds.

Ahrens also notes that the majority of cooking fires are never reported to the fire department. Based on a survey done for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in December 1983 to November 1984 using a one-month recall period, it was estimated that kitchen or cooking equipment was involved in 12,244,000 unreported residential fires and 642,000 associated injuries or illnesses (headaches, dizziness, etc.) Overall, 5 percent of these types of fires resulted in some type of injury or illness.

Unreported fires The same study estimated that only 4 percent of all types of residential fires are reported to fire departments and that kitchen or cooking equipment was involved in 49 percent of the unreported fires. NFPA estimates that in 1983, U.S. fire department responded to 641,500 residential structure fires that resulted in 21,450 civilian injuries.

Responses to all types of fire in 1983 totaled 2,326,500, only one-fifth of the unreported kitchen and cooking equipment fires. Unfortunately, studies of unreported fires in the U.S. are uncommon. The United Kingdom routinely collects information about any domestic fires experienced in the past 12 months. Overall, 1.

5 percent of the population had at least one fire in the past 12 months. Fifty-four percent of the fires were described as "accidents while cooking." The fire brigade was called to 16 percent of these cooking fires. The U.S.

Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) used data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) to estimate the number of non-arson residential civilian fire injures treated in hospital emergency rooms from July 1, 2002 to June 30, 2003. Ovens or ranges were involved in 11,731, or 24 percent of these injuries; the fire service was in attendance at 6,560 of these injuries (56 percent). The fire service also attended 370 (23 percent) of the 1,650 grill fire injuries. These estimates of injuries resulting from reported cooking fires is higher than estimates developed by NFPA. In some cases, individuals may have been taken to the emergency rooms by private individuals or non-fire service agencies without fire department knowledge. Young and old Older adults and children under five account for a disproportionate share of cooking fire deaths while those age 15 to 64 suffered more than their share of cooking injuries.

In Maryland, a 71-year-old man died trying to rescue his disabled 63-year-old wife from a fire that started when he left food cooking unattended on the stove. The wife suffered smoke inhalation. The one-story, single-family house was constructed of unprotected wood framing. A smoke alarm was located near the bedrooms in the hallway, but its operation wasn't determined. There were no sprinklers.

The husband returned from church to find fire spreading through his home. He immediately went to the master bedroom where his non-ambulatory wife was located. He called 911 from the bedroom at 12:01 p.m. Arriving firefighters rescued the couple, but the man succumbed to smoke inhalation injuries. The fire began when food left cooking on an electric stove ignited, and the heat eventually ignited combustible wall coverings.

Flames then spread through the kitchen to other rooms. Those with disabilities The kitchen is often the very center of our homes, a place where we gather to talk, cook and eat. That's why it is so important that the kitchen be accessible to individuals with a wide range of physical abilities. The good news: adapting your kitchen for maximum accessibility need not be prohibitively expensive or require top-to-bottom renovations.

Here are some tips and design elements that can help make your kitchen a place for everyone. * Universal design-If you're building a new home, consider incorporating elements of Universal Design. This approach to designing and building homes is based on the idea that spaces and products should accommodate people of all ages, heights and physical abilities. Universal Design isn't for anyone. It's for everyone. For more information, contact the Center for Universal Design.

* Room to move-Another design tip: open kitchens or kitchens that are 'L' or 'U' shaped can most easily accommodate wheelchairs or walkers. * Extreme makeover-Consider installing appliances that can easily be operated by individuals with a wide range of physical abilities: a built-in dishwasher with front controls; a front-loading washer and dryer; and a lowered wall oven, installed at a height of 30 to 42 inches off of the floor. * Easy to reach-Most kitchen cabinets are placed 1 1/2 feet above the countertop. Placing them closer to the counter makes them easier to reach. Easier still: add a free-standing storage cabinet. * Lots of light-Make sure that your kitchen has sufficient lighting to eliminate safety risks.

* Adding options-Typical countertops are 3 feet above the floor. Adding a section that's lower, approximately 30 inches, gives you more workspace options and can accommodate a wider range of physical abilities. * A la carte-Place commonly used items in a rolling cart with pull-out drawers. If the cart has drop-leaves, these can be raised for food preparation. * Side-by-side-If you're in the market for a new refrigerator/freezer, consider a model with side-by-side doors that can be opened without having to reach overhead.

In-door ice and drinking water dispensers help everyone, and save energy. * Hardware helpers-Replace fixtures on cabinets or drawers with large easy-to-grasp "D" handles. * Remote control-While switches and outlets are often located high above the floor, remote control devices are available that can be used to operate them from any level or location within the home. NFPA has also selected October 10 to highlight the fire-safety needs of people with disabilities. On that day, NFPA hopes that you'll reach out to a local organization that works with people with disabilities or highlight some of NFPA's specific fire-safety tips for people with disabilities. NFPA has taken the lead in public fire-safety outreach by serving as the official sponsor of Fire Prevention Week for the past 83 years.

The annual campaign, which is proclaimed by the President of the United States each year, is observed by North American fire departments to mark the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. As in years past, NFPA is spreading the word and offering materials for FPW dirough its firepreventionweek.

org Web site. The site includes detailed information for teachers, fire departments, families, people with disabilities, as well as links to the newest products for Fire Prevention Week. NFPA members can also download NFPA's "Home Cooking Fire Patterns and Trends" for an analysis of patterns and trends in all measures of fire loss for all types of home cooking equipment. There is a link to a Fire Prevention Week blog being written and moderated by Judy Comoletti, NFPA's Assistant Vice President of Public Education.

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