A while back, I had a little incident with a chef's knife. I was moving too quickly while chopping lettuce with a dull blade and bad technique. My husband and I can laugh about it now, but at the time the future of the index finger on my left hand was in question.

That event prompted me to do a report on knife safety. But I wanted to learn more about how to properly handle, sharpen and store knives. And I wanted to know which knives I really needed to safely accomplish my chopping chores in the kitchen. So I reached out to Jen Welper, an executive chef at the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program.

She gave me a lot of fantastic and helpful information, but I boiled it down to five main points:

  • Choose knives that fit your hands
  • Keep knives sharp
  • Wash and store knives properly
  • Use kitchen knives safely
  • Three knives for every kitchen

Welper says kitchen knives are like shoes. They've got to fit right. She suggests that you choose knives that are a good size for your hands. She emphasizes that you don't need to go buy a bunch of expensive knives. You can use the ones you have, but make sure that they're sharp.

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"It's important to understand that you just need a sharp knife," says Welper. "It doesn't need to be top of the line. If it's comfortable in your hands, that's all that matters."

A sharp knife helps prevent hand injuries because it allows the blade to enter the object you're cutting, instead of sliding off.

Welper explained that there's a difference between sharpening and honing. Sharpening removes metal to form a point, whereas honing is a way to crisp up the blade between sharpening sessions. To keep the shoe analogy going, Welper says honing is like when you don't need a new pair of shoes quite yet, so you give them a good buffing and polish. She says you can buy steels or other devices for honing. The same is true for sharpeners. But she also says that you can always trust your butcher to know how to sharpen knives well.

When it's time to clean your knives, Welper taught me the golden rule: never put them in the dishwasher. If knives clink against other objects, they can dull and even chip. Hand wash them carefully. Store clean knives in a block, in a drawer or even on a magnetic strip. Blade guards will help keep them sharp and people in your home safe. If you don't use blade guards, store with the sharp sides facing down.

What are Welper's choices for the three knives you may want to consider for your kitchen? A chef's knife, a serrated knife and a boning knife.

For more info and a demo on how to use knives properly, check out the video podcast.

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For comments or other podcast episode ideas, email Viv Williams at vwilliams@newsmd.com. Or on Twitter/Instagram/FB @vivwilliamstv.