20 January 2017

Careless Cooking

Welcome back. Now that you’re here, how should I begin? I could point out that I’m big on hygiene, as evidenced by multiple blog posts (see Blog Post Topics on right of website). Or I could just say that I’m not big on cooking. Unlike my wife, Vicki, and our son, Noah, I have zero interest in cooking. (Noah telephoned once, excited that he’d prepared a red velvet cake. I was happy for his cooking success, though I neither knew nor cared what a red velvet cake was.)

These thoughts about hygiene and cooking rushed to mind when I came across a study on television cooking shows and celebrity chef food safety. 

TV Cooking Shows
Philip Harben, the first TV cooking show
chef; began 1946, BBC. (Photo from
BBC Genome Blog)
Before I jump into the study, I should note that only 1 in 5 American adults are like me and never watch TV cooking shows, which is to say 4 in 5 adults do watch the shows, even if rarely. (These statistics are from a 2010 survey, but since the number and availability of the shows have increased, I’ll assume the statistics are still reasonable.)

One more statistic. About 1 in 6 Americans experience foodborne illnesses each year. Television is one of the many sources that provide or could provide information on how they could be prevented.

Celebrity Chef Food Safety
To evaluate food safety behaviors conveyed by television cooking shows, researchers from Kansas State and Tennessee State universities watched 100 episodes of 24 different celebrity chefs preparing meat dishes. They chose the shows randomly from cable or online services (e.g., Hulu, Netflix or Amazon) and evaluated each episode using a checklist they developed based on expert food safety knowledge and prior studies.

Their checklist had some 20 food safety practices categorized after the Fight Bac! Program: “Clean,” wash hands and surfaces often; “Separate,” don’t cross-contaminate; “Cook” to safe temperatures; and “Chill,” refrigerate promptly.

Celebrity Chef Behaviors

Dione Lucas, the first female TV
cooking show chef; began 1947,
New York City station.(Photo
from CQUnivNews Archive)
The researchers discovered that the TV chefs either ignored food safety or demonstrated very limited positive behaviors. If viewers adopted the chefs’ practices, there could be a rash of foodborne illnesses.

Some of the most commonly observed poor behaviors were that 88% of the chefs did not wash their hands after handling uncooked meat (or were not shown washing or mentioning handwashing); 79% added food with their hands; 50% ate while cooking; 75% did not use a thermometer to determine if the meat was ready; and 25% used the same cutting board to prepare ready-to-eat items and uncooked meat.

The behavior that won my Oh, come on! prize was that 21% of the chefs licked their fingers while cooking. The same number touched their hair, but that would have slipped by me.

Wrap Up
The study was intended to highlight the problem with food television culture, not shame the celebrity chefs. The chefs may have sterling food safety behaviors when off-camera, or perhaps their good practices were edited out of the shows for time or entertainment. What was broadcast, however, was poor food safety behaviors, which viewers might mistakenly believe are acceptable.

Cooking shows and celebrity chefs are popular with TV viewers. Instead of taking the opportunity to demonstrate or discuss good food safety--to promote the idea that good food and safe food are inseparable--the shows too often promote the opposite behavior.

Thanks for stopping by. Bon appétit.

Celebrity chef food safety study in Journal of Public Health: jpubhealth.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2016/04/18/pubmed.fdw026.full
Article on celebrity chef study on Science Daily website:
Harris Poll statistics on TV cooking show viewers: www.marketingcharts.com/television/8-in-10-us-adults-watch-cooking-shows-13719/
Fight Bac! Program’s clean, separate, cook, chill: www.fightbac.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Basic_Fight_BAC_Brochure_Oct_2011.pdf
The first TV chefs: www.history.com/news/hungry-history/lights-camera-action-the-first-tv-chefs

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