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Cookbooks – Great on Recipes, Bad on Food Safety

Posted in Food Safety on August 15, 2018

Food safety has become a major concern these days as easily seen by the number of recalls and outbreaks we read about in the news on a regular basis. And this concern has spread to our kitchens as well. There is no surety that the food we prepare is completely safe, unless we follow proper food safety guidelines. According to a new study, our favorite cookbooks are definitely not helping with that.

Cookbooks are our favorite tool when we want to impress our guests or just cook a fancy meal to satiate our taste buds, but you shouldn’t rely on them for safety advice. Here’s why:

A new study from North Carolina State University has suggested that best-selling cookbooks offer little to no help when it comes to food safety guidelines. Even when some of them do offer some insight, the suggestions are often incorrect and inaccurate. The researchers from the university examined 1497 recipes from 29 cookbooks that made to the New York Times Best Seller list.  And here’s what they found:

The study checked the recipes on the following parameters:

  • Does it recommend to keep food at any specific internal temperature? If yes, then is the temperature mentioned safe?
  • Do the recipes preach about food safety myths or any other old wives’ tales that are proven to be unreliable and unsafe when testing if your food is safe or not.


  • Only 8 percent (123 recipes) provided readers with a specific temperature that the food should be cooked to – and even among these recipes, the temperature wasn’t appropriate enough to prevent foodborne illnesses. The number is quite low.
  • Only 24 of these 123 recipes provided relevant food safety information. In other words, only 89 out of a total of 1497 gave readers information on food safety that would reduce the risk of foodborne illness.
  • 99.7% of the recipes provided “subjective indicators” to help them figure out whether the food was safe or not.
  • The most common indicator offered was cooking time and appeared in 44 percent of the recipes. But readers should know that a specific time can be misleading too.
  • Many recipes provided information such as ‘cook until done’ or till the meat is this color and none of these are proper measures to ensure that the food is safe.

It is proven from these points that the food safety information is mostly unreliable. If we consider an example of cooking time, there are so many factors that can affect it like cooking equipment, size of the dish being cooked, how cold it was, etc. which was not mentioned in the recipes.

The only reliable way to know that the food is safe or not is by paying close attention to the temperature of the cooked food. Temperature is the best to way to ensure that all the deadly pathogens are killed.

Senior author of the study and associate professor of agricultural and human sciences, Ben Chapman said that even though cookbooks aren’t considered as a source of food safety information, their sales are high and they are intended to be instructional.

One particular book that faced the fire was Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook ‘It’s All Good’ – which was included in the study. According to Dr. Chapman, the book advises to wash raw chicken (which is strictly forbidden under food safety rules) and in one recipe for rotisserie chicken, she doesn’t mention at what temperature should the chicken end after cooking.

It’s not just the cookbooks which are overlooking food safety:

A study done at University of Massachusetts also showed that television cooking shows are also missing valuable food safety information, too. They are slipping up on teaching food safety practices whilst teaching cooking techniques. Researchers developed a 19-question survey to check the food safety culture and methods shown on cooking shows. A panel of state regulators and food safety practitioners assessed 10 popular cooking shows and watched a total of 39 episodes with 2-6 episodes per show.


  • In at least 70% of the episodes, food safety practices were out of compliance. Food safety practices were mentioned in only three episodes.
  • Only four practices conformed to the proper food safety recommendations in more than half of the episodes.
  • The percentage of shows that were in line with proper food safety practices was much lower than those seen in employees and consumers in general.

Do the instructions in cookbooks and cooking shows really matter?

Yes, it does. A research done at Tennessee State University found that consumers do pay attention to the food safety information in their recipes. When the recipe mentioned to use the thermometer to check internal temperature, 85% of the cooks used it as compared to 25% when it was not mentioned. Also, when the recipe asked them to wash their hands, 70-80% of them did it as compared to 40-50% when it was not mentioned.

Here is a table showing safe minimum cooking temperature along with rest time:

Ground Beef, Pork, Lamb, Veal 160 None
Steaks and Roasts 145 3 minutes
Turkey & Chicken (Ground/Whole) 165 None
Poultry parts (legs, thighs, etc.) 165 None
Duck and Goose 165 None
Pork 145 3 minutes
Raw Ham 145 3 minutes
Precooked Ham 140 None
Egg Dishes 160 None


Rest Time is important for some kinds of meat as during the time the temperature either rises or stays constant which helps in killing off the pathogens. So, don’t ignore the rest time.

How to know if seafood is done?

  • Fish should be cooked until it’s opaque or milky white.
  • Shrimp and lobster should be opaque in color.
  • Scallops should be milky white and firm.
  • Clams, mussels and oysters open when they are done. Throw away those that do not open.
  • Shucked oysters and shucked clams are fully cooked when they are firm and milky white.

It is a good idea to follow other common food safety instructions while cooking, such as: separating raw meat from cooked meat or fresh foods, wash your hands frequently, wash produce even though you plan to eat it after cooking it, use food thermometer to check internal temperature, store food properly and microwave leftovers to a safe temperature.

By: Pooja Sharma, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)