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Chowline: How to Carve Pumpkins Safely

Since I’m not crafty in the least bit, I don’t know the best way to carve a pumpkin. Can you help?

Carving a pumpkin can be a fun, festive, fall family event — as long as you know what you’re doing. Even though pumpkins are a beautiful, tasty vegetable (or fruit, depending on who you ask), carving them can result in injuries if you aren’t careful.

One thing to keep in mind is choosing the right pumpkin to carve.

There are several kinds of pumpkins — some that you eat, and some that are typically used for carving, said Jenny Lobb, a Family and Consumer Sciences educator for Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University (CFAES).

Varieties include jack-o’-lanterns, colored pumpkins, pie pumpkins and specialty pumpkins, such as the Rouge Vif d’Etampes, or Cinderella, pumpkin.

“Pie pumpkins, which are smaller and sweeter in flavor, are typically used for baking and cooking, while jack-o’-lanterns are typically used for carving,” Lobb said.

Once you’ve chosen the pumpkin, it’s important to know how to hold them in order to avoid injury when carving. Because pumpkins are round, tough and slippery, carving them can sometimes result in slice, puncture, cut or stab wounds to hands and fingers that could result in a quick trip to the hospital, according to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH).

To reduce the risk of injury, safety experts with the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and ASSH offer these tips:

  • Dry your hands and the pumpkin before carving.
  • Use the right tools. If you can, use a pumpkin carving kit that has specialty tools designed to carve through rinds, poke holes, and scoop out the pumpkin seeds and innards.
  • Stabilize the pumpkin by placing one hand on top of the pumpkin and carve working your way down. You can also cut a hole in the bottom of the pumpkin to scoop out the insides.
  • Use a spoon to remove the seeds.
  • Work in a clean, dry, well-lit area when you carve the pumpkin.
  • Don’t let young kids carve the pumpkin. You can have them draw the pattern that you plan to cut and scoop out the insides, but kids 14 and under shouldn’t use the cutting tools to carve.
  • Stand at least two arms’ lengths away if you are watching someone else carve the pumpkin.
  • To prevent fires, consider using a flashlight instead of a candle in your pumpkin.

If you do cut yourself, apply direct pressure to the wound with a clean, dry cloth. Clean the wound with an antibiotic and a bandage. If the bleeding doesn’t stop in 15 minutes, seek medical attention.

You can also opt out of carving altogether and instead used paint or permanent markers to decorate your pumpkins, said Kate Shumaker, an OSU Extension educator and registered dietitian.

“These options can both be weather-resistant and child-friendly,” she said. “And since you haven’t damaged the integrity of the pumpkin, it will last longer and not rot on your porch.”

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

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