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Beware, even bestselling cookbooks give unreliable advice on food safety

Most of the information provided by cookbooks is inaccurate and not based on sound science, say researchers.

health and fitness Updated: Mar 28, 2017 19:08 IST
Very few recipes in cookbooks provide relevant food-safety information, say researchers.
Very few recipes in cookbooks provide relevant food-safety information, say researchers.(Images: Shutterstock)

Bestselling cookbooks give little useful advice about reducing the risk of foodborne illness, especially in recipes involving meat products, say scientists who found that most of the information in the books is inaccurate and not based on sound science.

“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 Ben Chapman, from the North Carolina State University in the US.

“Cookbooks tell people how to cook, so we wanted to see if cookbooks were providing any food-safety information related to cooking meat, poultry, seafood or eggs, and whether they were telling people to cook in a way that could affect the risk of contracting foodborne illness,” Chapman said.

Researchers evaluated a total 1,497 recipes from 29 cookbooks that appeared on the New York Times best sellers list for food and diet books.

All of the recipes included handling raw animal ingredients such as meat, poultry, seafood or eggs. Specifically, researchers looked whether the recipes tell readers to cook the dish to a specific internal temperature, and if that temperature has been shown to be “safe”.

They also looked at whether the recipes 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.

The researchers found that only 123 recipes — 8% of those reviewed — mentioned cooking the dish to a specific temperature. Not all of the temperatures listed were high enough to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

“In other words, very few recipes provided relevant food-safety information, and 34 of those 123 recipes gave readers information that wasn’t safe,” Chapman said.

“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,” he said.

In addition, 99.7% of recipes gave readers “subjective indicators” to determine when a dish was done cooking. None of those indicators were reliable ways to tell if a dish was cooked to a safe temperature.

“The most common indicator was cooking time, which appeared in 44% of the recipes,” said Katrina Levine, from NC State’s Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences.

“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,” Levine said.

Other common indicators used in the cookbooks included references to the colour or texture of the meat, as well as vague language such as “cook until done.”

“This is important because cooking meat, poultry, seafood and eggs to a safe internal temperature kills off pathogens that cause foodborne illness,” Levine said.

The study was published in the British Food Journal.

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