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Celebrity Cookbooks Causing Food Poisoning

cook book open on a random page on top of a red checked table cloth

Researchers are warning that celebrity cookbooks could be causing food poisoning.

The books do not include enough guidance on how to avoid food poisoning and sometimes even use bad guidelines for hygiene.

Cookbooks analysed for advice

Researchers from North Carolina State University put together the study, which involved 29 cookbooks. These provided nearly 1,500 recipes for analysis. They included It’s All Good by Gwyneth Paltrow, and books by Giada De Laurentiis (Food Network presenter), Ina Garten (known as the Barefoot Contessa), and Rachel Ray.

old cookbook

They noted that recipes involving meat often did not have warnings about endpoint temperatures, or how to ensure that the meat was properly cooked. This was not as bad, however, as the books which actually provided incorrect information.

Professor Ben Chapman, who was involved with the study, said: "Cookbooks aren't widely viewed as a primary source of food safety information. But cookbook sales are strong and they are intended to be instructional."

He gave the example of recipes cooking chicken, which do not note that the required endpoint temperature is around 74C. Chicken can carry salmonella, which should be eradicated when cooked to the correct internal temperature. Anyone who works in food hygiene will know the huge risks that these can provide, but it is not being made clear to the consumer who reads these cookbooks – something which needs to change as soon as possible.

All of the recipes analysed included some form of produce which could cause danger in its raw form – such as eggs, meat, poultry, and seafood.

They were checking for guidance on cooking the food to a safe temperature, as well as food safety myths. Shockingly, while only 123 recipes actually mentioned cooking at a certain temperature, not all of them were even high enough to reduce the risk of food poisoning. That was an 8% rate of warnings.

"Very few recipes provided relevant food safety information, and 34 of those 123 recipes gave readers information that was not safe,” said Professor Chapman. "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."

Incorrect indicators

While the recipes did include indicators to show when the dishes would be ready, 99.7% of them were subjective – describing the dish as finished cooking, rather than being safe to eat.

Katrina Levine, the study's co-author, said: "The most common indicator was cooking time, which appeared in 44 per cent of the recipes. And cooking time is particularly unreliable, because so many factors can affect how long it takes to cook something: the size of the dish being cooked, how cold it was before going into the oven, differences in cooking equipment, and so on."

"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,” added Professor Chapman. "A similar study was done 25 years ago and found similar results - so nothing has changed in the past quarter century. But by talking about these new results, we are hoping to encourage that change."

It seems clear that those in chef jobs have a need to exercise more influence over the cookbook industry. If a dish must be cooked a certain way to be safe, then this must be emphasised in the recipe. After all, the author has no way of knowing who will pick up the book. If that person is a student or first-time cook with no prior knowledge of food safety, then food poisoning could easily be on the table.