By: Heather Williams
It’s getting hot in the kitchen with cookbooks under fire for omitting important safety information in recipes. A study from North Carolina State University evaluated 29 cookbooks from the New York Times bestsellers list. Of these, 1,497 recipes contained ingredients that always require a proper cooking time or safe handling procedures, such as raw seafood, poultry, meat, or eggs. A startling ratio of just under 6% of recipes gave readers reliable food safety information in the recipes. While home cooks should be responsible for understanding the safety requirements of cooking their own foods, people tend to defer to the recipe for instructions assuming they are correct.
Cookbooks Under Fire
While most cookbooks are guilty of not providing readers appropriate safety information, some cookbooks are more publicly criticized than others. One author in particular, actress Gwyneth Paltrow, is in the hot seat for her cookbook It’s All Easy: Delicious Weekday Recipes for the Super-Busy Home Cook that released April 12, 2016 and previous cookbooks My Father’s Daughter published in 2011.
Some critics enjoyed the book, focusing more on the recipes rather than the safety content.
USA Today writes, “Some of the recipes call for ingredients that your local grocery store might not stock. But there are several recipes, like the grilled chicken chopped salad which calls for already cooked chicken, that can be whipped up in a jiffy. In my opinion, this book certainly accomplished what it set out to do, make preparing a fairly healthy meal or snack a pretty simple task.”
Food52 promoted the book, saying “This book is going to be loved by many, simply for being beautiful and delivering on its easy-breezy promise and cutting out extra information. (People are so used to being pandered to these days, told half the story because it’s for their own good, that they won’t miss the big picture.) They will hear about this book, gift this book, and even try cooking from this book because it is Gwyneth’s book. They will be charmed to pieces by the pictures of her gorgeous family and the novelty of this hitherto unknown dish called Zuni Sheetpan Chicken.”
Refinery29 says, “I think it’s fair to say that Gwyneth is the clear winner here. Her recipes were easy to follow and were faster (or almost as fast as) delivery. Many of the ingredients were things that I already had in my pantry (like almond butter and capers) or were well priced and easy to find at my local market. She clearly adjusted since It’s All Good and has become for thoughtful about what is doable and accessible to her followers.”
Others like researcher Ben Chapman of North Carolina State University explains, “I wanted to see in the Gwyneth Paltrow recipe somewhere that we know a chicken is done when it reaches 74C (165F).” The study analyzed recipes in It’s All Good and found that recipes for Tandoori turkey kebabs, Thai-style chicken burgers, turkey meatballs, and other dishes provided no safe endpoint temperatures. According to a spokesperson from Paltrow’s camp, it does include proper cooking temperature and cook time. Chapman’s study also explains that in her book It’s All Good, she advises washing raw chicken before cooking, a technique that increases the risk of food poisoning by spreading potentially harmful bacteria in the kitchen. While her intentions are good, she and so many other cookbook writers fail to use appropriate safety precautions in their cookbooks.
North Carolina State University researchers evaluated two characteristics to determine if the recipe followed safe cooking practices. Statistics were obtained based on two simple characteristics. “Does it advise readers on a specific internal temperature once ready? If so, is the suggested temperature on proven to be safe for consumption” and “Does the recipe preach supposed food-safety myths, such as cooking poultry until the juices “run clear,” or other old wives tales that have been proven to be unreliable – and potentially unsafe – ways of deciding whether or not food is cooked well enough?”
It’s All in the Details
While 99.7% of the recipes offered some kind of subjective indicators to determine if the food is safe for consumption. The most common indictor provided was cooking time. But only 44% of the recipes reviewed even included that information. While cooking time is a starting point, it can be a misleading reassurance of safety. “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,” says lead author Katrina Levine, an extension associate in NC State’s Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences. Many recipes included a subjective “cook until done” or cook “until meat was a particular color”. Neither of these statements indicate safe internal temperature. In fact, only 8% of recipes mentioned a final internal temperature and some of those who did provided did not include the correct temperatures that would avoid foodborne illness.
Another study from researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that most consumers want and will use food safety information if it is provided in recipes. According to that study, when the internal temperature is written in the recipe, 85% of cooks would take the extra step to use a food thermometer to check it while only 25% would use a food thermometer if it was not listed. While we all know that we should wash our hands before food preparation and after handling food that could cross-contaminate, only 40 – 50% actually do wash their hands prior to food preparation compared to 70 – 80% that do it when prompted in the recipe instructions.
Safe Cooking Temperatures
The CDC and USDA recommend specific temperatures and when applicable, rest times for different food types. It is important to note that you cannot tell if a food is cooked to a safe temperature to kill harmful microorganism just by looking at it or using color as an indicator. For example, uncured red meats (even pork) can reach a safe internal temperature and still appear pink. It is also important to note that resting time after removing meat from a heat source serves a critical purpose. During rest time, the internal temperatures of meats can either remain constant or even rise, destroying harmful bacteria. Observe the following cook temperatures and when necessary, rest times as appropriate for the food you are cooking.
- Ground Meat and Meat Mixtures (Beef, Pork, Veal, and Lamb) – Cook to internal temperature of 160 ⁰F.
- Ground Meat and Meat Mixtures (Turkey, Chicken) – Cook to internal temperature of 165 ⁰F.
- Fresh Beef, Veal, and Lab (Steaks, Roasts, Chops) – Cook to internal temperature of 145 ⁰F with rest time of 3 minutes.
- Poultry (Whole Chicken or Turkey, Poultry Breasts, Poultry Roasts, Poultry Thighs, Poultry Legs, Poultry Wings, Poultry Stuffing) – Cook to internal temperature of 165 ⁰F.
- Duck and Goose – Cook to internal temperature of 165 ⁰F.
- Pork and Ham (fresh/raw Pork or Ham) – Cook to internal temperature of 145 ⁰F with 3 minutes rest time.
- Pork and Ham (Precooked Ham – reheating) – 140 ⁰F.
- Eggs – Cook until yolk and white are firm.
- Egg Dishes – Cook to internal temperature of 160 ⁰F.
- Leftovers and Casseroles – Cook to internal temperature of 165 ⁰F.
- Seafood (Fin Fish) – Cook to internal temperature of 145 ⁰F or until flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork.
- Shrimp, Lobster, and Crabs – Cook until flesh is pearly and opaque.
- Clams, Oysters, and Mussels – Cook until shells open during cooking.
- Scallops – Cook until flesh is milky white or opaque and firm.
Regardless what a recipe book says, or in some cases doesn’t say, keep safety in mind when cooking. Wash your hands before beginning preparation and after handling raw food. Avoid contaminating the soap dispenser or sink knobs by using a paper towel to depress the spout or turning on the tap. Follow appropriate internal temperature guidelines and always use a food thermometer. Wash all equipment and utensils appropriately to remove any harmful bacteria that can make its way into your cooked food. Supervise children when cooking in the kitchen. Above all, use common sense safety practices and enjoy!