Does Food Safety Really Matter in Cookbooks?

updated May 30, 2019
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A new study from researchers at North Carolina State University looked at best-selling cookbooks and found that 99.7 percent of recipes don’t address food-related risks. Is this a problem?

The study, published in the British Food Journal, looked at 1,749 recipes containing “raw animal ingredients” from 29 cookbooks featured on the New York Times best-sellers list. The team looked at the following three things: If the recipe says to cook a dish to a specific internal temperature, if the temperature provided is accurate, and if any food-safety cooking myths are perpetuated. Of the recipes, only 8 percent (123 recipes) stated the internal temperature.

“In other words, very few recipes provided relevant food-safety information, and 34 of those 123 recipes gave readers information that wasn’t safe,” researcher Ben Chapman says in a statement. “Put another way, only 89 out of 1,497 recipes gave readers reliable information that they could use to reduce their risk of food-borne illness.”

Also problematic in their eyes is the vagueness in directions — some recipes only say “cook until done” while others impose a cooking time that can be subjective.

“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,” researcher Katrina Levine says.

What’s the proposed solution? According to the researchers, cookbooks could make things right by citing safe cooking temperatures. “This is important because cooking meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs to a safe internal temperature kills off pathogens that cause food-borne illness,” Levine says.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

But Does This Really Matter?

The team admits further research needs to be done, but the findings do raise the question of if food safety is that critical in cookbooks. The researchers have a point about sharing incorrect temperatures or publishing food safety myths — if a cookbook is volunteering up this kind of information, then it should be accurate.

But before calling for an overhaul where all cookbooks cite safe internal cooking temperatures, it is important to gather data on how many people actually get sick from cookbook recipes. There are also other logistical issues, like if published food safety information becomes outdated and does more harm than good, for example.

Read more: Evaluating Food Safety Risk Messages in Popular Cookbooks from North Carolina State University