Our battle with Gwyneth: cookbook edition

The coverage of extension associate Katrina Levine’s research on cookbook food safety messages took an unexpected turn yesterday. Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘people’ weighed in.

By ‘people’ I think it’s the folks who published her cookbooks.

It started with a string of emails from some folks in the UK who saw the NC State press release about the research. After analyzing 1700+ recipes from cookbooks on the New York Times best seller list we found that safe endpoint temperatures only appeared in just over 8% of the instructions.

Not great.

A few journalists want to know who are the biggest offenders are (quick answer: it’s pretty well everyone we looked at – but not all the time).

One of the books included in our study was Paltrow’s It’s All Good. In a flurry of questions, and without being able to find all the recipes online, I sent one of the enquiring minds a recipe from another book, My Father’s Daughter as an example of what we were looking at, with this note:

“Here’s one from chef Paltrow that does not have a safe endpoint temperature included (165F or 74C).

Heat oven to 400°. Mix butter, garlic salt, paprika, pepper and salt in a bowl. Rinse chicken inside and out; pat dry. Insert fingers between skin and breast to separate the two. Rub seasoned butter over chicken and under skin. Tuck wings underneath bird and tie together with a piece of twine. Tie legs together with another piece of twine. Place chicken on its side in a heavy roasting pan and roast 25 minutes. Turn onto its other side and sprinkle with several tbsp water; roast 25 minutes more. Turn chicken on its back; roast 10 minutes more. Turn on its breast; roast until skin is crispy and chicken is golden brown, 10 minutes more. Remove from pan and let rest, breast side down, 15 minutes, before carving (remove skin).”

The Paltrow folks responded, through the journalist with this:

“The recipe for “Roast Chicken, Rotisserie Style” was published in MY FATHER’S DAUGHTER in April 2011. While it did not have an endpoint temperature included, the directions called for the chicken to be roasted at 400F for 70 minutes, which is ample time to cook a 3-4 pound chicken.

IT’S ALL GOOD, which was published in April 2013, does include endpoint temperatures. “Super-Crispy Roast Chicken” in IT’S ALL GOOD is baked for 1-1/2 hours at 425 degrees and the recipe advises “The chicken thigh should register 165 degrees F on a digital thermometer at the very least (I usually let it get to 180 Degrees F just to be completely sure it’s cooked all the way through the bone).”

So we went back to the data – and yep, we noted that the Super-Crispy Roast Chicken had a safe end point temperature. What they omitted was that the first instruction in the recipe was to wash the chicken; one of the steps that can increase the risk of foodborne illnesses.

There were these other recipes from It’s All Good that don’t have the safe endpoint temperatures (and tell the reader to do non science-based things like touch it, look for clear juices or color to ensure doneness):

The row (I think that’s the correct colloquial British term) made the front page of the Daily Mail (above, exactly as shown).

As for this comment, ‘the directions called for the chicken to be roasted at 400F for 70 minutes, which is ample time to cook a 3-4 pound chicken.’

Maybe, show me the data. Lots of variables that can impact the final temperature – starting temperature of the chicken, thickness, oven heat calibration.

Isn’t it just easier to tell folks what the safe temperature is and tell them to stick it in?

Food and Wine points out exactly what we found. It’s not just Gwyneth.

But for once, let’s cut Paltrow some slack. Out of the whopping 29 best-selling cookbooks these experts analyzed, only nine percent of them included specific temperature information. She’s in good company. Meanwhile, only 89 — 89! — of the 1,497 recipes included in the study were deemed instructionally safe.

Honestly, none of this seems too egregious, and we almost wish Paltrow didn’t have to deal with the PR headache.

Oh well.

This entry was posted in Celebrity, Food Safety Culture, Thermometers and tagged , , , , by Ben Chapman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is an associate professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.
  • Alokin

    Why don’t cookbooks just provide a summary page with safe endpoints for all foods described and maybe a few universal food safety tips? Seems a lot less trouble and maybe even more effective than trying to incorporate that info in every recipe.

    • Katrina

      You certainly bring up a good suggestion – there could be benefits to putting all of the information in a central place in a cookbook. But let me ask you – when was the last time you flipped to another page to look up an endpoint temperature in the middle of reading a recipe? Point-of-purchase and reduced cognitive load research that shows that what people see right before they make a purchase decision can impact their decision (Allan et al., Health Psychology, Vol 34(7), Jul 2015, 750-755). In the case of food safety info in recipes, having that info as part of the recipe, where it will be read as someone is making the recipe, could make a greater impact on getting someone to do that food safety behavior than putting it on another page. I think the easier we can make it for people to choose to practice safe food handling, the better.

      • Alokin

        You may be right, I don’t have evidence either way, all I can say is that in cookbooks that do have them, I refer to summary tables in appendices a lot for things like unit conversion and cooking times. Perhaps it is time for cookbooks to start bringing attention to food safety by highlighting it in a tabbed section of its own. Just add “See section on food safety for endpoint temperature” at the bottom of every recipe. There really aren’t a lot endpoint temperatures one needs to remember in the context of food safety. In any case, we shouldn’t overlook any option.

  • oxb0

    ‘the directions called for the chicken to be roasted at 400F for 70 minutes, which is ample time to cook a 3-4 pound chicken.’

    Maybe… except for the fact that the vast majority of residential oven’s temperature pre-sets are never re-calibrated after leaving the factory. Depending on the energy (fuel) source, and things like altitude of the residence vis-a-vis where the oven was manufactured, and originally calibrated for temperature, this can be a problem. Field calibrating can be done by an appliance technician, or by a handy homeowner at any time, but seldom is. It’s not uncommon for temperature settings to vary by upwards of 50 degrees, plus or minus. This means that if you rely solely on your oven’s temperature setting for baking or roasting, you’re very likely to be either overcooked, or undercooked. (I mean, everyone’s heard the complaint of a hot or cold oven, right?)

    50/50… not worth the risk of getting sick — not even worth the risk of overcooking your recipe.

    Stick a thermometer in it, and know your endpoint temperatures.