Majority of Canadian cookbooks lack appropriate food safety instructions: Study

If you follow the recipes in most Canadian cookbooks accurately, there is a good chance you could get sick.

A new study by researchers at the University of Guelph has determined that instructions in many popular Canadian cookbooks are largely inadequate when it comes to details on food safety.

The study analyzed 770 recipes in 19 books deemed to be the best in the country, and found necessary steps related to the prevention of food borne illness were often nowhere to be found.

Researchers discovered that 96 per cent of cookbooks provided incorrect temperatures or failed to include a minimum internal temperature that would indicate when the food would be cooked, while only 0.3 per cent of recipes advised readers to wash their hands prior to meal preparations and after touching raw materials. 

Just 2.7 per cent of recipes advised their readers to work on a clean surface or use clean utensils. 

Prof. Jeffrey Farber, who lead the study, said the results were concerning given that 50 per cent of food-borne illness can result from unsafe food handling in the home. 

“The household kitchen is often the last line of defence in the prevention of food-borne illnesses, of which there are about four million cases annually in Canada,” he said in a press release. “For that reason, it is vital that the cookbooks Canadians use at home make every effort to protect users from illness.”

Researchers broke the study down by food category, which included seafood, eggs, fresh pork, poultry, fresh meat, ground meat and meat mixed. Each recipe was graded based on its ability to give appropriate food safety instructions related to what was being prepared. 

Preparation of pork had the highest occurrence (24.6 per cent) of unsafe thawing and washing instructions. 

Seafood recipes were unsafe 12.3 per cent of the time with ground meat at 8.7 per cent. 

In an effort to be proactive, Farber recommended that cookbooks include information on cross-contamination prevention and how long to keep meat and seafood at room temperature for. He also suggested that recipes include instructions that encourage thermometer use to measure endpoint temperature.

“They have a role to play in providing food safety information and in not providing misleading or inaccurate information,” he said. “They could be helping to prevent food-borne illness.