While the food presented on television cooking shows look good enough to eat, recent studies claim these programs may pose a public health threat if the food safety practices of the chefs are mimicked.
Research out of Kansas State University reveals these shows primarily portray unsafe food preparation and cooking practices. The study in the Journal of Public Health examines 100 cooking shows that involve 24 popular celebrity chefs, observing their food safety behaviors while on air.
The study found the most common hazards included lack of handwashing, failure to change cutting boards between ingredients, and failure to use a thermometer when cooking meat, which can all cause foodborne bacteria to develop.
About 1 in 6 Americans are exposed to foodborne illnesses each year, according to the CDC. This amounts to about 48 million people in the U.S., contributing to 5,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths annually.
Ultimately, foodborne illnesses are 100 percent preventable using proper food safety procedures, such as washing hands, avoiding cross-contamination, and sanitizing a cooking area—essential steps that are often overlooked in television shows. In fact, no chef observed in the study received a perfect score in terms of safety practices.
According to the researchers, this finding “proves a need for improvement in demonstrated and communicated food safety behaviors among professional chefs. It also suggests that public health professionals must work to mitigate the impact of poorly modeled behaviors.”
In a similar 2016 study by the University of Massachusetts, a panel of state regulators and food safety practitioners assessed food safety on cooking shows to determine whether chefs present a positive or negative model for viewers.
While in most episodes food preparers used sanitary utensils (78 percent), cleaned cutting board between ingredients (62 percent), and had visibly clean fingernails (82 percent), there were also behaviors typically responsible for spreading bacteria—including incorrect handling of raw foods (91 percent) and improper use of wipe cloths (93 percent).
This issue has also been examined within other forms of food media, such as cookbooks. A study out of North Carolina State University examined 29 cookbooks from The New York Times’ food and diet best sellers list, including over 1,700 recipes, and found a potential danger in the language being used.
“Many of the cookbooks gave subjective ways to tell that food was done,” says Katrina Levine, extension associated, Agricultural and Human Sciences, North Carolina State University, and primary author of the study. “Over 99 percent of recipes mentioned at least one non-science based way to determine doneness.”
These subjective comments included using the color of the meat or amount of time cooked as ways to determine if food is cooked properly—both of which are not science-based and heighten risk of foodborne illness.
As seen in the Massachusetts study, 73 percent of surveyed consumers use media for their food safety information. Likewise, according to a 2016 food and health survey by the International Food Information Council, four out of 10 people were likely to use a thermometer if cookbooks listed proper cooking temperatures in the directions. Therefore, the instructions given in the various forms of food media may consequently affect the way consumers behave in their own kitchens.
“While our society seems to be more and more interested in healthy foods, sometimes they forget about its safety,” Levine says.
TV chefs and authors can supply fun entertainment, but they need to also be good role models for consumers. Demonstrating safety practices in books and on television can lend a hand to avoiding foodborne illness in home kitchens.
Robles is an editorial intern for Wiley’s U.S. B2B editorial division.