27 November 2018

Cookbook Food Safety

Welcome back. Nearly two years ago, I reviewed a study that found chefs on television cooking shows either ignored food safety or demonstrated very limited positive behaviors. If viewers adopted the chefs’ practices, there could be a rash of foodborne illnesses (Careless Cooking).

Bad as that is, the Berkeley Wellness Letter pointed me to a more recent food safety study that I find more personally alarming. This one is about cookbook recipes. Though there’s no chance that I would watch a TV cooking show, I might buy a cookbook--oh, not for me; as a gift. Well, I might have if I hadn’t seen this study.

How could I go wrong following
recipes in the cookbook my mother
gave me when I was in college?
Recipe Analysis for Food Safety
Researchers from North Carolina State University and the US Department of Agriculture reviewed 1,497 recipes from 29 cookbooks that were popular enough to be on the New York Times food and diet best sellers list in 2013 and 2014.

Unlike the TV chef study, which flagged chefs’ behaviors against a checklist of 20 food safety practices, the cookbook study was much more selective. The researchers only considered recipes that contained raw animal ingredients (meat, poultry, seafood or eggs), whose dishes could effectively be measured with a digital thermometer.

They evaluated the recipes for guidance related to (1) the endpoint temperatures of what’s being cooked and (2) avoiding cross-contamination, the potentially harmful effects of inadvertently transferring microorganisms from one substance or object to another (e.g., raw food to ready-to-eat food).

Most Recipes Fail at Food Safety
In assessing endpoint temperatures, the concern was if the recipe stated to cook the dish to a specific internal temperature and if that specified temperature was indeed safe. (See www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/mintemp.html for safe minimum cooking temperatures.)

Of the nearly 1,500 recipes, only 123 (8%) mentioned cooking the dish to a specific temperature. Of those, 89 (6%) gave accurate information regarding endpoint temperatures, while 34 (2%) gave temperatures too low to kill the most likely food pathogens.

In lieu of or in addition to temperature, nearly all of the recipes offered subjective and risky recommendations of when the dishes would be done cooking, most commonly noting time, color and texture. None of these indicators could be relied on to determine if the dish had actually reached a safe temperature, though presumably all were more informative than “cook until done.”

Guidance on avoiding cross contamination was largely absent from the recipes. For example, only 12 recommended washing hands after touching raw animal protein, and only 29 recommended that raw and cooked foods be kept separate by using different or clean cutting boards, utensils and dishes. Worse, some recipes recommended that raw poultry be washed before cooking. That’s a no-no, since washing risks spreading harmful bacteria through splatter or aerosolization. 

OK, so maybe the “wash bird inside and outside” needs
updating, but at least I learned to first remove the feathers
and cut off the head.
Wrap Up
TV cooking shows forego the opportunity to demonstrate or discuss food safety; they fail to promote the idea that good food and safe food are inseparable.

Cookbook authors have, but are failing to take advantage of, that same opportunity. Including food safety guidance in cookbooks could go a long way toward reducing the risk of foodborne illness, which affects about 1 in 6 Americans each year.

Thanks for stopping by, and as I wrote in that earlier blog post, Bon app├ętit.


Research study on evaluating cookbook food safety in British Food Journal: www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/BFJ-02-2017-0066
News release on the study from North Carolina State University: news.ncsu.edu/2017/03/cookbooks-food-safety-2017/
University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter, Nov 2017, “My cookbook made me sick.” pg 6.
The Charlotte Observer article on inclusion of Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook in the study: www.charlotteobserver.com/living/food-drink/article142547159.html

A version of this blog post appeared earlier on www.warrensnotice.com.

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