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Handle With Care : Health: Slicing bagels can be dangerous. They are among the foods most likely to cause you a quick--and embarrassing--trip to the emergency room. Honest.

April 11, 1995|SHARI ROAN | TIMES HEALTH WRITER

If you like bagels, it may be healthier to eat them in a bagel shop or restaurant. That way, someone else will have to slice them.

One of the most common lacerations seen in emergency rooms--particularly during the hours before noon on weekends--involve bagels prepared by the home cook.

So common are bloody bagel injuries that Dr. Joel Geiderman, an emergency room physician who grew up working in his father's deli, says, "I've come full circle." Geiderman is now chairman of emergency medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

"Bagel injuries are quite common. When you work on a Sunday morning, you see someone sitting there with a cut--not too deep--on their non-dominant hand. They're looking kind of sheepish. They may or may not smell of lox. They always start the same way: 'I've done something stupid. . . .' They feel they need to apologize for it," Geiderman says.

Onions, tomatoes and potatoes are also high risk for handling, ER doctors say. Shattering a glass while trying to dry it is another common kitchen accident.

But whether frozen, fresh or stale, with or without raisins, sesame seeds or not, bagels are among the more dangerous foods to handle--especially when teamed with a very sharp knife.

"Definitely," says Dr. Marshall T. Morgan, chief of emergency medicine at UCLA. "It involves an ancient message: Cut away from yourself, not toward yourself."

People usually grip the bagel in their palm, applying pressure between the thumb and forefinger, Morgan says. The knife can slip off the hard dough and pierce the forefinger or web of skin between the thumb and forefinger. Or, if you have a good, sharp utensil, the knife might slide through the bagel into the lower parts of your fingers.

Yow.

It's not usually a serious injury; a few stitches here, there and everywhere.

Most bagel victims suffer more from embarrassment.

"A person's pride is damaged," Morgan says sympathetically. "That's universally true of people who injure themselves in the kitchen. Everyone comes in feeling stupid. But we tell them they're not the only one."

Although he didn't need stitches, Ron Wise, vice president for public relations and marketing at Cedars, says he was deeply chagrined about his bagel injury until he mentioned it to a doctor at a staff meeting and was told "about the bagel injuries that come pouring in on Saturday and Sunday mornings."

Like most sincere bagel connoisseurs, Wise had high hopes for a pleasant weekend morning when the knife slipped.

"Here it is early on a Saturday morning, I had just gone running and I figured I would enjoy myself: have coffee and a couple of bagels with cream cheese and read the papers. I started to cut the bagel and the knife slips off the bagel and produces a startlingly deep cut," he says.

Wise cleaned and bandaged his cut and went looking for some sympathy.

"When I told my wife, she looked at me with disgust and said, 'You're supposed to stab the bagel first, then slice it.' I said, 'Now you tell me.' "

Most people have a particular way of handling bagels and choose not to experiment. Some saw away methodically at the bagel until the midway point before switching to a less death-defying grip.

Others get a perverse joy out of buying frozen bagels, not bothering to defrost them, pressing the knife hard into the pre-sliced-but-frozen center and pulling back quickly when they hear the halves snap apart.

The right way is to cut away from yourself using a cutting board for support. But, for people who will never again slice a bagel without the shakes, you can purchase a bagel cradle at most kitchenware shops. And, if you are really into bagels, there are always the bagel-slicing machines.

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