Healthy Recipes

Cookbooks may offer supremely healthy recipes, but their food safety advice kinda sucks

"Cook until done" isn't exactly a reliable metric.

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Cracked Eggs With Yolk
Claire Benoist

Who can resist the lure of all those mouthwatering recipes served up by so many of today's top cookbooks. In addition to the glossy images of drool-inducing dishes, cookbooks are chockfull of tips and tricks that you may not easily find online, and are packed with well-thought-out recipes that can make a lasting impression on your girlfriend, family, or even some ungrateful roommates. But, even though they are repositories of decades of culinary expertise, a new study found that most cookbooks are often short on clearly laying out food safety guidelines.

The research, which comes from N.C. State University, checked out almost 1,500 recipes from 29 cookbooks which appeared on The New York Times Best Sellers list—all of the recipes featured steps that required handling raw animal ingredients like meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs. Scientists looked for three main criteria: Does the recipe require the dish be cooked to a specific temperature? Is the indicated temp one that’s been shown to be safe? And does the recipe maintain food safety myths like the idea you should cook poultry until the juices are clear?

Out of all of the recipes studied, researchers found that only 8% indicated that you need to cook to a specific temperature, and of those that mentioned it only 34 out of 123 didn’t give the correct temperature. In total, only 89 out of 1,497 recipes featured reliable info to cook food to a safe temp to reduce the chance of getting sick from undercooked meat. And 99.7% of the recipes gave unreliable, subjective pointers to tell when your meal was done like cooking time, which is not recognized as the correct way to tell if food is done because there are too many variables in play like temperature before cooking, type of cooking equipment, size of the dish being cooked in, etc.

“Ideally, cookbooks can help us make food tasty and reduce our risk of getting sick, so we'd like to see recipes include good endpoint cooking temperatures,” said senior author Ben Chapman, Ph.D., an associate professor of agricultural and human sciences at NCSU. “A similar study was done 25 years ago and found similar results—so nothing has changed in the past quarter century. But by talking about these new results, we're hoping to encourage that change.”

Make a bookmark of this FDA food safety page on whatever digital device you most often use, and print it out and stick a few copies in your favorite cookbooks so you’ll have a handy reference for the next time you whip up a nutritious meal for your loved ones. 

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