Cookbooks aren’t the greatest source of food safety info

Every year for Christmas Dani and I buy a couple of cookbooks for each other. Maybe it’s from a chef at a restaurant we’ve been to. Or someone we’ve seen on Top Chef. Yeah, thousands of recipes are available on the Internets but the books become something we keep going back to.

According to the LA Times, we’re not alone.

Ten Speed will have published at least 30 books in the food and spirits category by the end of 2016; Phaidon will have released 20 titles. Culinary dynamo Ina Garten’s latest “Cooking for Jeffrey: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook” is currently holding the No. 8 spot in all categories on Amazon.

Print isn’t totally dead.

Since folks still go to these books for ideas, instructions and information on what and how to cook, extension associate Katrina Levine and I (with the stats help of Ashley Chaifetz) decided to go look at the type of food safety info is in the books. Katrina looked at the New York Times best seller lists for food and diet from Sept 2013-Jan 2014 and evaluated the food safety messages in over 1700 recipes. Some of the stuff she found was that although there are a lot of recipes that could benefit from instructions about safe endpoint temperatures only about 8 percent mentioned a specific temperature. And just under three quarters of those recipes even had the science-based temperature.

Lots of other insights, the paper was published as an early cite late last week and will be in an upcoming special issue of the British Food Journal. The abstract is below:

Evaluating food safety risk messages in popular cookbooks

British Food Journal, Volume 119, Issue 5 2017

Katrina Levine , Ashley Chaifetz , Benjamin Chapman



Medeiros et al. (2001) estimate 3.5 million cases of foodborne illness in the U.S. annually are associated with inadequate cooking of animal foods or cross-contamination from these foods. Past research shows home food handling practices can be risk factors for foodborne illness. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the communication of food safety guidance, specifically safe endpoint temperatures and cross-contamination risk reduction practices, in popular cookbook recipes.


Recipes containing raw animal ingredients in 29 popular cookbooks were evaluated through content analysis for messages related to safe endpoint temperature recommendations and reducing cross-contamination risks.


Of 1,749 recipes meeting study criteria of cooking raw animal ingredients, 1,497 contained a raw animal that could effectively be measured with a digital thermometer. Only 123 (8.2%) of these recipes included an endpoint temperature, of which 89 (72.3%) gave a correct temperature. Neutral and positive food safety behavior messages were provided in just 7.2% (n=126) and 5.1% (n=90) of recipes, respectively. When endpoint temperatures were not included, authors often provided subjective and risky recommendations.

Research limitations/implications

Further research is needed on the effect of these results on consumer behavior and to develop interventions for writing recipes with better food safety guidance.

Practical implications

Including correct food safety guidance in cookbooks may increase the potential of reducing the risk of foodborne illness.


Popular cookbooks are an underutilized avenue for communicating safe food handling practices and currently cookbook authors are risk amplifiers.

Food fraud – a current issue but an old problem; where the science of deception and detection interact

Food fraud has been around a long time.

A new paper in the current issue of the British Food Journal by Peter Shears (abstract below) reinforces the notion that with all the scientific developments and analytical techniques that seem so mind-bendingly sophisticated, there remains the basic problem of a lack of resources and that without a considerable increase in the resources made available for the appliance of the science currently available and that being developed, the battle against food fraud will never be fully engaged, yet alone won.

As today’s society grapples with how best to validate that food is indeed what it says it is — and safe — and as the huskers and buskers emerge with cure-alls, I turn to the words of Madeleine Ferrières a professor of social history at the University of Avignon, France, in Sacred Cow, Mad Cow: A History of Food Fears, first published in French in 2002, but translated into English in 2006:

"All human beings before us questioned the contents of their plates. … And we are often too blinded by this amnesia to view our present food situation clearly. This amnesia is very convenient. It allows us to reinvent the past and construct a complaisant, retrospective mythology."

Ferrières provides extensive documentation of the rules, regulations and penalties that emerged in the Mediterranean between the 12th and 16th centuries. Shears reviews current efforts in his new paper. But rules are only as good as the enforcement that backs them up.

Food fraud – a current issue but an old problem


British Food Journal, Year 2010, Volume 112, Issue 2, Page 198 – 213

Peter Shears;jsessionid=9912FEB61D0FDD96E3A0E8D64EA89F2A?contentType=Article&contentId=1838362


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to address the topic of food fraud which has been so widely and variously reported over recent months and years. Its purposes are to set current experience into an historical context and to illustrate the tension between the science of deception and the science of detection.

Design/methodology/approach – This is a desk study of published literature and historical documentation, together with interviews with those professionally concerned with detection and enforcement.

Findings – The piece concludes that with all the scientific developments and analytical techniques that seem so mind-bendingly sophisticated, there remains the basic problem of a lack of resources.

Practical implications – It is asserted that more is owed to the memories and the reputations of those who pioneered the effort to combat food fraud. Without a considerable increase in the resources made available for the appliance of the science currently available and that being developed, the battle will never be fully engaged, yet alone won.

Originality/value – This review is unique in that it seeks to take a long view of current concern, and even scandal, showing that the situation is not new and lessons should have been learned from past experience.