Food safety errors abound in TV cooking shows

June 23, 2004 in Food Safety

Food safety errors abound in TV cooking shows

Watching TV may truly be hazardous to your health. New research from the University of Guelph reveals that chefs on popular television cooking programs make food safety errors 13 times as often as they handle food correctly.

The study, published in Food Protection Trends, says an average of seven food-handling mistakes are made during a typical 30-minute show. The most frequent errors include poor handwashing; contamination between raw and ready-to-eat food; failure to wash fresh fruit and vegetables; and inadequate washing of cooking utensils and cutting boards.

The researchers emphasize the connection between the mistakes made on shows and those commonly made by consumers. "There is a possibility that some consumers are developing their poor food-handling behaviours based on the instruction from television cooking programs. It's sort of like having your parents teach you how to drive; they teach you the same mistakes they make," says Dr. Doug Powell, professor, researcher, and director of Guelph's Food Safety Network.

Researchers analysed television food and cooking programs that aired in June 2002 and 2003, mostly on the Food Network Canada. They studied 60 30-minute segments from 2002 and 56 from 2003. About 30 per cent of the shows were produced in Canada. The remainder came from the United States and the United Kingdom.

The researchers used a defined list of food safety practices, but accounted for the fact that many of the steps for meal preparation are completed before a cooking program is recorded. During the more than 60 hours of programming, 916 poor food-handling incidents were observed.

The most frequent error was poor handwashing, which occurred in 75 per cent of the segments from 2002 and 96 per cent of those from 2003. Although the sinks on many programs are not equipped with running water, the researchers note that it is important for hosts to acknowledge the importance of hand-washing.

Another prevalent mistake was not separating raw and fresh foods - a practice that could lead to the transfer of pathogenic organisms. Other examples of poor food handling included wiping off a cutting board with a raw meat wrapper, using a knife as a fly swatter, using food that had fallen on the floor, and adding ingredients with an unwashed spoon that had been used to taste food.

Television cooking shows represent a unique opportunity for assessing food safety practices because of their popularity and availability. Numerous studies have also shown that North Americans rely on television cooking shows as one of their primary sources for information on food preparation and food safety.

The same characteristics make cooking shows ideal for raising awareness about food safety. The researchers suggest that taking the time to correctly point out risky behaviours can lead to a program that is both entertaining and informative by opening up a dialogue about food safety. They assert that the food safety aspect of these shows need to be correct, because incorrect practices can introduce or reinforce improper food handling, and potential illness.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.