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    Friday, 16 December 2016

    Celebrity Chefs in Hot Water Over Food Safety Practices

    Celebrity Chef Lynn Crawford, star of the Food Network's Restaurant Makeover - Img source: NAIT
    A new report published in the Journal of Public Health, which saw researchers thoroughly analyse the ways in which food safety measures are exercised on television shows by celebrity chefs like Martha Stewart, Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay, has concluded that ‘there is a large gap that needs to be bridged to help our society improve its food safety behaviors.’ As Science Daily reports, researchers watched over 100 television shows with 24 celebrity chefs and ‘found several unclean food preparation behaviors.’

    The report itself found overall that ‘Proper modeling of food safety behaviors was limited, with many incidences of errors.’ Specifically, the chefs were falling down in terms of washing hands, eating whilst cooking, and potentially facilitating cross-contamination by not using separate pieces of equipment for different types of food. The report claims to illustrate ‘a larger problem present with our food television culture.’

    ‘Although all chefs washed their hands at the beginning of cooking at least one dish,’ the report claims, ‘88% did not wash (or were not shown washing) their hands after handling uncooked meat. This was compounded with many chefs who added food with their hands (79%) or ate while cooking (50%). Other poor behaviors included not using a thermometer (75%), using the same cutting board to prepare ready-to-eat items and uncooked meat (25%), and other hygiene issues such as touching hair (21%) or licking fingers (21%).’

    When we’re watching cooking shows, it’s perhaps difficult to understand why we should care about the enforcement of food safety practices on television. After all, multiple studies have shown that such programmes are not necessarily all that influential in determining our food preparation techniques.

    In 2000, for example, researchers found that although health promoters often claim that TV chefs influence the way in which food is prepared and cooked, TV cooking programs actually ‘rate low as an influence on cooking behavior. The viewers of TV cooking programs see them as entertainment and adopt a sophisticated approach to their viewing.’

    Besides, isn’t the thrill which follows that little moment of transgression as Jamie Oliver sips onion and mash soup from a spoon, or Heston Blumenthal tries to make hot ice cream with his teeth, exactly the spice which makes life so exciting? In fact, can’t it be the very shock to the system which makes us feel we’re seven again, watching older people riding bikes with no hands. ‘Gosh, I really have no idea what I’m doing,’ we’re meant to think. ‘I wish I could handle a plucked hen like Heston.’

    Well, perhaps. Although, this year, another report claimed that ‘the audiences of educational and edutainment TV cooking shows do not overlap. Although there is little connection between watching specific shows and eating behaviour…the results [of this study] demonstrate that the relationship between watching TV cooking shows and cooking habits warrants further investigation.’

    Indeed, it is the conclusion of the most recent report that ‘The behaviors modeled by the chefs could lead to incidences of foodborne illness, especially amongst those who mimic their behaviors at home. As potential educators of appropriate cooking behaviors, these chefs instead either ignore food safety or at best demonstrate only very limited positive behaviors. As consumers observe this behavior at home, it could lead them to believe that the food safety behaviors they know are not that important, or that…poor behaviors are acceptable practice.’ 

    In recommending ways to redress the problems identified, the report closes by saying: ‘It is essential that those who produce cooking shows include basic food behaviors and information or that public health educators of food safety help those they reach realize that the shows likely demonstrate poor behaviors. In addition, public health advocates should push television shows to help education by modeling appropriate food safety behaviors.’ 


    James Stannard

    James has a Bachelor’s degree in History and wrote his dissertation on beef and protest. His heroes list ranges from Adele to Noam Chomsky: inspirations he’ll be invoking next year when he begins a Master’s degree in London.
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