PhotoLate last year, we reported that TV cooking shows often fell short of the mark when it came to promoting food safety. In fact, a study showed that 70% of all episodes displayed practices that were out of compliance with current standards, a worrying statistic.

However, television isn’t the only medium where food safety information is lacking. A new study conducted at North Carolina State University shows that many cookbooks also detail processes which don’t ensure that a dish has reached a safe internal temperature.

“Cookbooks aren’t widely viewed as a primary source of food-safety information, but cookbook sales are strong and they’re intended to be instructional,” said senior author Ben Chapman, an associate professor of agricultural and human sciences. “Ideally, cookbooks can help us make food tasty and reduce our risk of getting sick, so we’d like to see recipes include good endpoint cooking temperatures.”

Cookbooks fall short

For the purposes of the study, Chapman and his colleagues analyzed nearly 1,500 recipes from 29 cookbooks that were featured on the New York Times best sellers list for food and diet books. Included recipes all featured the handling of raw animal ingredients, such as meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs.

Each recipe was judged on three criteria which asked:

  • Does the recipe tell readers to cook the dish to a specific internal temperature?
  • If it does include a temperature, is that temperature one that has been shown to be safe?
  • Does the recipe perpetuate food-safety myths – such as saying to cook poultry until the juices “run clear” – that have been proven unreliable as ways of determining if the dish has reached a safe temperature?

Out of the 1,497 recipes analyzed, the researchers found that only 123 – or 8% -- answered all their questions, and some of those weren’t safe in other ways. The findings are dangerous, says Chapman, because many of the recipes did not guarantee a high enough internal temperature to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

"Very few recipes provided relevant food-safety information, and 34 of those 123 recipes gave readers information that wasn't safe," Chapman says. "Put another way, only 89 out of 1,497 recipes gave readers reliable information that they could use to reduce their risk of foodborne illness."

Ensuring food safety

The researchers say that many of the cookbooks relied on vague language to let consumers know when their food was ready, such as references to color, texture, or directions to “cook until done.”

Consumers should keep in mind that officials for food safety have detailed which internal temperatures should be reached for a large array of foods. That information can be found here, and the researchers say that referencing it is extremely important.

“This is important because cooking meat, poultry, seafood and eggs to a safe internal temperature kills off pathogens that cause foodborne illness,” explains lead author Katrina Levine. “These temperatures were established based on extensive research, targeting the most likely pathogens found in each food.”

“A similar study was done 25 years ago and found similar results – so nothing has changed in the past quarter century,” adds Chapman. “But by talking about these new results, we’re hoping to encourage that change.”

The full study has been published in the British Food Journal.

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