Don’t Follow the Lead of Celebrity Chefs!
Judging by their popularity, a lot of us like to watch cooking shows on TV. It can be fun to “Bam” along with Emeril, wait for Gordon Ramsay’s latest outburst, or find out what Jamie Oliver is up to. And in addition to their entertainment value, these shows can be a great source of new and interesting recipes. Except that if you mimic their style in the kitchen too closely, you may be setting yourself up for some serious health problems. New research suggests that some of the actions of these chefs might be nothing short of unsanitary.
The study, which took place at Kansas State University in Manhattan, found that most celebrity chefs on television employ poor food safety practices in front of the camera.1 The determinations were based on an analysis of 100 cooking show episodes that were hosted by 24 different celebrity chefs.
The investigators viewed each one and graded them by the chef’s adherence to proper food safety techniques as outlined in the Fight Bac! consumer food education program sponsored by the United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This campaign focuses on raising awareness of the need to clean hands and food preparation surfaces, separate raw meat and fish from other foods, cook foods to the correct internal temperature, and refrigerate foods promptly to lower the risk of foodborne illness.
As they analyzed each show, the researchers discovered some seriously unsanitary practices. The most common transgressions included a failure to wash their hands after handling uncooked meat (88 percent), adding food to a dish using their hands (79 percent), and not checking whether meat was fully done with a meat thermometer (75 percent). (Although, let’s be fair here. Good cooks can tell the internal temperature of meat simply by touching it.)2 Somewhat less common—although in some cases more disturbing—issues were eating while cooking (50 percent), using the same cutting board for preparing raw meats and vegetables that were not being cooked (25 percent), and touching their hair then putting their hands right back into the food (21 percent). And 21 percent actually licked their fingers during food preparation!
Of course, it’s certainly likely that some of these neglected food safety practices are taking place (or would take place if the food was actually being cooked for consumption) but simply not shown to viewers. One would hope that every chef does some hand washing at multiple points during their food preparation process. But when a producer only has 22 minutes of air time, they are not going to waste a precious portion of that showing something as mundane as the chef scrubbing up at a sink or poking a thermometer into a side of beef and waiting for the temperature to register.
In other words, we probably won’t see many improvements in safe food handling behaviors on television any time soon. This doesn’t mean that we should stop watching these shows, obviously. It just means we can adopt their recipes, cooking tips, and flare in the kitchen, but not follow along blindly without stopping to put food safety practices into use throughout our cooking, even if we don’t see our favorite chefs doing the same.
So make sure you wash your hands regularly as you cook, especially any time you touch something that might possibly be unclean or handle any raw meat. Keep uncooked meat, fish, and eggs separate from other items and use a different set of cutting boards and utensils for their preparation. Look up the temperature at which a specific food is fully cooked and use a thermometer to ensure you reach that temperature. And clear the table as soon as everyone is done eating in order to get any leftovers into the refrigerator right away.
All of this should go a long way toward preventing foodborne illnesses from striking. The germs lurking in food—including salmonella, E. coli, and listeria—can be quite harmful, causing nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea that may last for days. And they can be downright dangerous to small children, the elderly, and those with immune system problems. Plus, they’re more common than you probably realize, with an estimated 48 million cases of foodborne illnesses among Americans every year, according to the USDA. So don’t take any chances. You may love to emulate the way a certain celebrity chef creates dishes, but don’t try to emulate their food safety habits.
- 1. Maughan, Curtis; et al. "Food safety behaviors observed in celebrity chefs across a variety of programs." Journal of Public Health. 10 April 2016. Accessed 18 December 2016. http://jpubhealth.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2016/04/18/pubmed.fdw026.
- 2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8YQX-QgbXc