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Published on November 18, 2016

TV cooking shows get low ratings for food safetyTV cooking shows get low ratings for food safety

Julia Child pioneered the medium popularized today by Bobbi Flay, the Barefoot Contessa and the other television cooks we welcome into our kitchens every day. But a study from the University of Massachusetts Amherst shows that the TV cooking shows we love to watch are probably not teaching us safe ways to handle food.

In the study, Compliance With Recommended Food Safety Practices in Television Cooking Shows, food safety practices were mentioned in only 13 percent of the TV cooking shows. The survey also revealed that more than 90 percent of the shows failed to conform to recommendations regarding preventing contamination through wiping cloths and washing produce—a mistake that might result in illness.

Further, in 93 percent of the episodes, chefs failed to maintain proper time and temperature controls. Complete survey results can be found in the November 10, 2016, issue of Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

“Overall, television food shows are not modeling recommended food safety practices related to hygiene, proper use of utensils and gloves, protection from contamination and adherence to proper times and temperatures,” concluded authors Nancy L. Cohen, PdD, RD, LDN, FAND, and Rita Brennan Olson, MS. “There appears to be little attention to food safety during most cooking shows. Celebrity and competing chefs have the opportunity to model and teach good food safety practices for millions of viewers.”

A Local Study Participant

Kim Concra, LDN, a nutrition and food safety specialist with Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, is one of several experts who watched random episodes of several national cooking shows and rated them for the University of Massachusetts Amherst study. She and other experts measured:

  • Hygienic food practices
  • Use of utensils and gloves
  • Protection from contamination
  • Cooking time and temperature control.

“I was not surprised that the TV shows are more about entertaining us than modeling good food safety practices,” said Concra.

She remembered watching what was probably her first TV chef, Ann Fields, and laughed.

“She was a pretty lady with long hair that was never pulled back, and her long, red fingernails would have been so hard to keep clean during food prep. Today’s shows are not like that!”

The TV show that best reflects food safety, according to Concra, was the Cooking Channel’s Drag My Dinner Party.

“I did not review this show as part of the survey, but I watched an episode at home,” she said. “They talked about how important it is to wash your hands, and although they laughed about it, everyone had to wash their hands while they prepared the food. It was funny, but it was memorable.”

Smart Tips for Safe Food Prep

Even though TV food shows are now better about practicing food safety, there is still cause for concern. More than 70 percent of us admit that we get our food safety information from the media, and the study rated the majority of TV cooking shows as out of compliance or conformance with recommendations in at least 70 percent of the episodes.

The authors recommend several steps that TV cooking shows can take, including using food safety as a criterion for judging competitions and incorporating helpful messages in their scripts.

Concra, who regularly teaches nutrition and food safety, said food prep safety is not just important for TV chefs. She offers these tips to make your Thanksgiving and other holiday meals easy and safe.

Keep Your Cool

  • Food should not be allowed to sit at room temperature for more than two hours..
  • Keep hot foods hot (140 degrees or higher) and cold foods cold (41 degrees or below).
  • Refrigerator thermometers should be set at about 38 degrees to allow food to stay at 41 degrees throughout.
  • If you have a large amount of hot food, divide it into smaller portions and put them in the refrigerator as soon as possible.

Keep Cutting Boards Clean

  • Use separate cutting boards, plates and utensils for raw roasts and cooked roasts to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Wash items such as cutting boards that have touched raw meat and poultry with warm water and soap, or place them in a dishwasher.

Wash Fruits and Vegetables

According to the UMass study, fruits and vegetables are the leading sources of foodborne illness in the U.S., exceeding poultry, seafood, beef and other sources.

“Wash using running water and the friction of your hands,” said Concra. “That’s all it takes to clean fruits and vegetables.”

Do NOT (repeat:  do not!) wash poultry

Washing the turkey first can spread salmonella, as pathogens spatter.

“You will kill salmonella when you heat it to a minimum of 165 degrees during cooking,” Concra assured.

Calibrate Your Food Thermometer

Food thermometer?  Yes! Those of us who just “cook it until it is done,” are risking exposure to pathogens that cause illness.

“Food thermometers are inexpensive tools that help you avoid undercooking,” she noted.

  • Poultry should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F. Temperatures should be taken in three areas of the bird: the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the wing, and the innermost part of the thigh.
  • Beef, veal, pork and lamb roasts should be removed from the oven when they reach a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F and allowed to rest for three minutes before serving.

Cook the stuffing separately

Another Thanksgiving tradition—stuffing the turkey, duck or goose—dashed! Concra noted that if you heat the stuffing inside to 165 degrees, your turkey will probably be overcooked and not as tender as you would like because it will be 175 to 185 degrees outside.  It’s a tradeoff.

In the end, no matter if you’re hosting a crowd or your immediate family, Bobbi, Ree, Rachel and Lydia will inspire and guide you through any meal. Their recipes and cheerful approach to cooking make life a little easier and a lot more fun. Just take note of how many times they wash their hands and their lettuce!