RALEIGH, N.C. — Cookbooks may be great resources when you’re looking to whip up a unique meal to impress guests, but don’t count on them for safety advice. A new study finds best-selling cookbooks provide little help when it comes to food-safety guidelines, and the suggestions they do offer are often inaccurate or baseless.
Researchers at North Carolina State University evaluated about 1,497 recipes from 29 cookbooks that had made the New York Times best sellers list. Each recipe included either raw seafood, poultry, meat or eggs — ingredients that always require proper cooking and handling measures (unless you’re into the whole salmonella or E.coli thing).
The team checked each recipe on the following characteristics:
— Does it advise readers on a specific internal temperature once ready? If so, is the suggested temperature one proven to be safe for consumption?
— 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 the food is cooked well enough?
“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,” says Ben Chapman, senior author of the study and an associate professor of agricultural and human sciences, in a university press release.
The results made it clear food-safety wasn’t a great priority for the publishers: just 8 percent (123 recipes) gave readers a specific temperature that the food should be cooked to — and even those didn’t always suggest a proper temperature that would prevent someone from contracting a 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 says. “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.”
And while they might not be as risky as old wives tales, 99.7 percent of the recipes offered “subjective indicators” for the reader to try and figure out if the food was safe for consumption. The researchers say that cooking time was the most common indicator offered, appearing in 44 percent of the recipes. Even a specific time, however, can be misleading for readers, they warn.
“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.
The authors say that paying close attention to the temperature of cooked food is particularly important because temperatures proven to be safe ensure that pathogens behind foodborne ailments are eliminated.
A list of safe temperatures for common foods can be found at https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/mintemp.html.
The study was published in the British Food Journal in March.