Kitchen knife accidents are equal opportunity threats: Whether you're a professional chef or a home cook, if you spend any significant amount of time slicing and dicing, there’s a good chance you’ll cut yourself sooner or later. Kitchen knife cuts send more than 300,000 people to the emergency room every year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

A surefire recipe for cutting yourself? Using a dull knife.

It's true: A dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one. That's because a dull knife requires more force, and you end up sawing food instead of slicing it. This makes the knife more likely to slip — and boosts the risk of a ghastly slash.

And as every chef knows, sharp knives are easier, faster and safer to use. Here's how to get your knives sharp and keep them that way.

Start sharp. Knives should slice though food with little resistance. If you find you need to use a lot of force, it's time for sharpening.

Chefs sharpen their own blades using a wet stone. But most home cooks are better off going to a professional blade master. These pros often set up shop at farmers' markets and will do the job for a few dollars per knife. Kitchenware stores may also offer knife sharpening, sometimes for free.

How often should you get your knives sharpened? That depends on how often you use them, how well you maintain them and what type of food you cut.

Use a steel. Sometimes called a honing or (incorrectly) sharpening steel, this tool is a long, thin, pointed steel or ceramic rod that's really used to maintain a sharp edge. When you cut food, the knife's blade actually starts to "roll," creating a burr that's the beginning of a dull edge. Regularly using a steel helps straighten the edge to keep it sharp. But a steel can't revive a dull knife. Check out the video below to learn how to use a steel properly.

Clean with care. Want your knife to stay sharp? Never put it in the dishwasher. Abrasive detergent and shifting during the wash cycle can make the blade dull and warp the handle. (It's also dangerous for anyone unloading the dishwasher.) Instead, wash kitchen knives with warm, soapy water, wipe them dry and put them back in the knife rack.

Store knives correctly. Never keep them loose in drawer. First, it's easy to cut yourself while rooting around for the right tool. Second, knives dull quickly when they rub up against other utensils. Store them in a knife block or on a magnetic strip mounted on the wall.

Always use a cutting board. Chopping on countertops makes knives dull. Wood, plastic or composite cutting boards are easy on knives (avoid glass, which is too hard). And here's a bonus safety tip: Place a damp kitchen cloth or paper towel under your cutting board to anchor in place so it doesn’t slide around

Use the blade for cutting only. If you use your knife to sweep chopped food off the cutting board, do it with the spine (top of the knife) rather than the sharp edge. Sweeping the blade across the cutting board will make it dull in a hurry.

Want more kitchen tips? Discover 9 simple hacks for a hazard-free kitchen.

Alison Ashton is a freelance food writer, recipe developer and Cordon Bleu-trained chef based on Los Angeles.