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Most Cooking Shows Don’t Practice Proper Food Safety, Study Says

February 21, 2017

Amid the thrill of competition on shows like “Top Chef,” “MasterChef” and “Food Network Star” producers are missing a critical opportunity to educate viewers about food safety, according to one recent study.

The study, published by researchers at the University of Massachusetts — Amherst (UMass) in the Journal of Nutrition and Education Behavior, used a tool based on the Massachusetts Food Establishment Inspection Report to rate food safety across 39 episodes of 10 cooking shows.

Cooking Shows & Food Safety

Researchers examined how chefs used their utensils and gloves, efforts to prevent contamination and time and temperature control. They found chefs demonstrated proper use of storage and utensils in 78 percent of the episodes, proper contamination prevention in 62 percent of the episodes and proper fingernail care in 82% of the episodes.

But proper food safety techniques weren’t stellar across the board. Researchers found between 50 and 88 percent of the episodes didn’t comply with good personal hygiene. The use of gloves and other barriers to keep food safe also was a problem. This lapse occurred in between 88 and 100 percent of the episodes. Maintaining proper time and temperature controls was an issue in 93 percent of the episodes — not surprising given that these chefs sometimes are asked to prepare an elaborate dish in less than 20 minutes. More than 90 percent of episodes also failed to follow recommendations for preventing contamination, such as washing fruits and vegetables or using wiping cloths. Researchers also discovered that most of the shows didn’t mention food safety at all — only 13 percent of episodes did so.

Modeling Good Hygiene in the Kitchen

The study illustrates a problem on reality competition cooking shows that has been highlighted before. In the quest to focus on entertainment and ratings, these shows may be doing a disservice to viewers. One Kansas State University and Tennessee State University joint study found unsafe food preparation behaviors among celebrity chefs. In that study, researchers examined 100 cooking shows with 24 celebrity chefs and found that 23 percent of the chefs licked their fingers. But the most egregious violation was the lack of hand washing and not changing the cutting boards between preparing raw meat and vegetables.

Anyone who is a professional chef should know better than this, especially if millions of viewers are watching. Cooking shows provide a huge platform for the culinary world, but according to the UMass researchers, this opportunity is being squandered. They say that little attention is paid to food safety on cooking shows, but “celebrity and competing chefs have the opportunity to model and teach good food safety practices for millions of viewers.”

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 out of 6 Americans — or 48 million people — get sick every year from foodborne illnesses. As the agency states, food safety is a public health priority, as these illnesses lead to 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths each year.

Cooking shows are fun to watch, but they’d still be just as entertaining with the introduction of food safety education. So next time you watch one of these programs, marvel at the finished product but don’t model the kitchen behavior these chefs display on TV.

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