TV kitchen crimes more about ratings than risk

Rob Mancini, the best–looking food inspector in Canada, writes:

The use of media in relaying food safety information can be a powerful tool. Food safety reality shows seem to be the fad these days as consumers are increasingly becoming aware of what actually occurs behind the scenes in restaurants. Truthfully, the more disgusting a restaurant is the better the ratings.

Rob_Mancini_001That’s reality I discovered when we shot Kitchen Crimes in Canada.

A well run, clean and sanitary restaurant will not draw in the ratings, but cockroaches and over-the-top chefs (Gordon Ramseys) will, so take what you see with a grain of salt. Either way, it gets people talking about food safety, which is a good thing. The BBC will be airing a new series of Food Inspectors that will focus on restaurant inspections, complaints, foodborne outbreaks, and providing food safety information to the public.

Real Housewives, Really Gross

 We’ve been away from our American television channels and DVR for a few months already, and I’ve had some odd cravings for bad television. So last night I loaded up the season premiere of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills only to watch some unsanitary behaviour and food safety mistakes.

The entire episode was weirdly awkward, but when Ken, the stiff-upper-lipped British gentleman, claimed that therapy would make him feel weak, and then proceeded to let his little celebrity-pooch Jiggy drink from the very expensive crystal glass set before him, I cringed. Not to worry, it got worse. Once Jiggy had finished shoving his whole head into the glass, Ken picked it up and had a drink, too.
Bad television? The Housewives never disappoint. In the outtakes for upcoming episodes, Lisa (Jiggy’s mommy) is demonstrating to Adrienne how to prepare a large bird. She says that first it needs to be washed. Adrienne has her own bird, follows Lisa to the sink, and proceeds to use hand soap on it. Lisa thinks this is utterly ridiculous, of course. I can’t wait to see the cross-contaminations continue.
I’m no real housewife but I do know better than to wash my bird in the sink or to let my doggy drink from my glass at a dinner party.

Is there too much (food safety) filth on TV?

So asks Laura Day in the U.K. Guardian’s Word of Mouth blog in yet another take on the food safety silliness on many TV cooking shows.

Over recent weeks, MasterChef has been pushing contestants through their "toughest challenge yet" (again), which seems to have led to competition-induced amnesia when it comes to basic standards.

"Former Miss Swansea" Alice has been sporting a shock of bright red nail polish before she rustles up the goods. She’s taken some flak from viewers online for kneading dough with her chipped nails, with suspicions that some of the polish made it into her miniature lasagnes.

Compulsive hair grabber Polly has attracted ire for her flyaway strands (she should take a cue from bandana-wearing Jackie), and then there are the men, arguably the clammier end of the spectrum, who persist in adding many beads of sweat to their pan-fried cuisines. Not to mention Tom, who consistently creates an epic mess, and this week drew quite the dressing down from John who offered a disparaging shake of the head towards the floured floor at his feet.

This is the kind of behaviour we would more commonly associate with the string of cooks on Come Dine With Me, whose contestants are often to be found scraping crème brûlée off the lino and leaving sushi unguarded to be snacked on by their cat. But it’s not just the amateurs, and it’s not just recently.

Pudding-fiend and glamour puss Nigella, all boobs and spoon-licking, has always had her hair perfectly coiffed. Sure, her luscious locks look pretty good flowing all over her shoulders (and who wouldn’t want a head of hair like that?), I just wouldn’t want to admire it in my plate of brownies.

We covered this ground years ago, and while I’d like to redo the study, Food Network ratings have recently flattened, so maybe people are doing less watching and more cooking Thanks to Bobby Krishna in Dubai for sending along the story.

Mathiasen, L.A., Chapman, B.J., Lacroix, B.J. and Powell, D.A. 2004. Spot the mistake: Television cooking shows as a source of food safety information, Food Protection Trends 24(5): 328-334.

Consumers receive information on food preparation from a variety of sources. Numerous studies conducted over the past six years demonstrate that television is one of the primary sources for North Americans. This research reports on an examination and categorization of messages that television food and cooking programs provide to viewers about preparing food safely. During June 2002 and 2003, television food and cooking programs were recorded and reviewed, using a defined list of food safety practices based on criteria established by Food Safety Network researchers. Most surveyed programs were shown on Food Network Canada, a specialty cable channel. On average, 30 percent of the programs viewed were produced in Canada, with the remainder produced in the United States or United Kingdom. Sixty hours of content analysis revealed that the programs contained a total of 916 poor food-handling incidents. When negative food handling behaviors were compared to positive food handling behaviors, it was found that for each positive food handling behavior observed, 13 negative behaviors were observed. Common food safety errors included a lack of hand washing, cross-contamination and time-temperature violations. While television food and cooking programs are an entertainment source, there is an opportunity to improve their content so as to promote safe food handling.

People don’t wash hands on television

Tracy Hughes has a bone to pick with television shows.

People rarely wash their hands

Hughes writes in British Columbia’s Salmon Arm Observer that,

on medical dramas, you almost never see hand-washing unless it is a top-notch surgeon scrubbing up before he goes into the operating room and a nurse whispers some tragic secret to him just before he has to complete the first-ever super-duper, resection of the quadruple nerve -ending bypass.

What really gets Hughes is the number of scenes that place characters in washrooms and they don’t wash — even after they use the toilet.

I agree. When we looked at TV chefs a few years ago, very few washed their hands. There was a food safety infraction on average every four minutes.