What You Shouldn’t Learn from Celebrity Chefs

In today’s culinary culture, we get to learn how to cook and find new recipes through so many outlets. Gone are the days of Julia, Jacque, and Yan­—PBS is not the only cooking channel in town! Today, we have networks dedicated to cooking shows and finding the next celebrity chef. Publishers release so many cookbooks that newspapers around the country rank the best ones each year. And rather than scouring the “Joy of Cooking”, you can go online, enter the ingredients you have at home, and get thousands of hits from cooking sites, blogs, and videos to inspire your next meal. I can’t even check Facebook without getting sidetracked by a flashy, 45-second video that makes me want to try that green smoothie, molten chocolate souffle, and slow-cooked ribs RIGHT NOW!!!!! (I’m not even going to include those links because if I had to go find them, I’d never finish this post.)

While these entertaining and engaging sources help level-up your cooking skills and party menu, research shows that they rarely provide accurate steps for safely preparing your food. So, you could be serving your family and friends a beautiful roast with a side of sick leave.

A study of almost 1500 recipes showed that 99.7% of those recipes provided “subjective indicators” to determine doneness. You’re probably familiar with the typical guidance: set oven to whatever degrees and cook for however many minutes, or until golden brown. But all ovens differ, and the outside of the meat can often be golden brown, while the inside is still pink and bloody. The best way to ensure a safe cook is to check the food’s internal temperature.

Turkey with Thermometer_USDA
“It looks golden brown, but is the breast meat really done? Is it overdone?” Anyone who has cooked a Thanksgiving turkey knows this dilemma. Only a meat thermometer can ensure a safe cook, and keep you from over-cooking. Pro Tip: Just toss the useless pop-up timer away. (Photo by the USDA.)

Another study checked how often celebrity chefs practiced safe food handling skills on their shows and found that they weren’t modeling safe food handling to their viewers. Important food safety practices—like washing hands before and during food preparation, using a separate cutting board for raw meat, and checking meat with a meat thermometer—were rarely done.

Since food safety is rarely demonstrated or directed, UME Educator Dr. Shauna Henley, advises people to be flexible when learning food safety practices. As one of the primary researchers behind the “Don’t Wash Your Chicken!” campaign, she knows how hard it can be to accept new practices that may differ from how your grandma or mom cooked. She notes, “Science has a way with keeping you on your toes.” So to keep home cooks abreast of the latest food safety practices, Shauna hosts Kitchen Kaizen workshops, which cover safe food handling, hand washing, managing leftovers, and more.

African American mother washing hands with her son
It’s hard to unlearn some of the habits that we learned from our parents and grandparents. But ensuring that your meals are prepped and cooked safely can keep everyone in the family healthy. Take a Kitchen Kaizen workshop to learn all the newest food safety practices and then teach them to your kids. Just remind them that they may need to adapt in the future as newer research inevitably shows us how we can improve even more.

If you can’t attend one of Shauna’s workshops, but want to learn more, you can also contact your nearest Family and Consumer Science Educator. And, in the meantime, check out some new and delicious recipes that include steps to ensure a safe cook.

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