Television cooking shows lack food safety

Common mistakes seen on popular cooking shows.

Cooking shows and competitions have become standard fare on television over the past few years. A 2010 Harris Poll showed that eight out of 10 American adults watch cooking shows on television on a regular basis. I am, admittedly, one of those people. Although I watch mostly for entertainment value, many studies have shown that Americans utilize information from these shows in their own kitchens. Unfortunately, when it comes to food safety practices, television cooking shows fall incredibly short, potentially portraying dangerous practices that, if repeated in the home kitchen, could make people sick.

Several studies have been conducted over the last decade in the U.S., Canada and Britain to examine food safety practices in cooking shows. One such study found that for every positive food handling practice, there were 13 food handling violations. The majority of these violations were incidences of cross-contamination due to the host not washing their hands. From my own TV watching experience, I have noticed this as well. Many times the host will be preparing chicken or ground beef and not wash their hands after handling raw meat and before starting their next task. This creates an opportunity for foodborne illness – causing bacteria to be transferred from raw meat to ready to eat foods, kitchen tools and other surfaces. Michigan State University Extension recommends thoroughly washing hands after handling raw meat to prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen.

Another practice I often see on these shows is the use of a cloth towel to wipe off cutting boards or knives, as well as flipping cutting boards over after cutting raw meat or fish on one side. These practices can also lead to cross-contamination. Wiping a cutting board with a cloth towel will not remove bacteria from the surface adequately to be safe for continued use. Also, now the towel is potentially covered in bacteria that can be spread to hands and other tools. If raw meat or fish are used on one side of a cutting board, simply flipping it over does not reduce the chances of cross-contamination as there may be juices that have spread beyond the surface that was used to cut on. It is best to rinse, wash and sanitize cutting boards after cutting raw meat or fish to prevent cross-contamination. Better yet, designate a specific cutting board just for raw meat and fish, and another just for vegetables.

Finally, food show hosts rarely use food thermometers when cooking meat. Many hosts use “touch” or color indicators to know when meat is done to their liking, but neither of these methods ensures that the meat is cooked to a food safe temperature. Always use a food thermometer and cook foods to their minimum internal temperature.

Cooking shows are a great way to learn new techniques and get inspired to get into the kitchen. Just beware that these shows are for entertainment purposes and don’t necessarily reflect all the food safety practices necessary to keep you and your family healthy. Visit MSU Extension Food and Health for more food safety tips.

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