Teachable Moments

Educators call lessons learned in real life “teachable moments.” That’s the time that is just right for someone to learn something.

Wouldn’t you think that would be true with food safety? Especially when it’s related to cooking.

Cookbooks and on-line recipes could be a really good source of food safety information.  Putting the appropriate information—like cooking temperatures, cross contamination risks or storage times — right into a recipe would provide the cooks the info right when they need it.

This seems so simple. But it’s not being done. A study at North Carolina State University, that was recently published in the British Food Journal* looked at cookbooks and the advice they gave about food safety. The researchers evaluated a total 1,497 recipes from 29 cookbooks that appeared on the New York Times best sellers list for food and diet books.

One thing they specifically looked at was if a recipe did tell the reader to cook the food to a specific internal temperature. In other words—did they encourage the use of a food thermometer?

They also looked to see if the recipe perpetuated food myths. Some of these were cooking poultry until the “juices run clear” or hamburger until it is brown.  Both of these are unreliable for determining if the food has reached a safe temperature.

Some of the cookbooks recommended cooking temperatures. Yeah!  But not very many—only 8% or 123 of the recipes reviewed even mentioned a temperature.  But unfortunately not all of these temperatures were right. So even if a person followed the recipe exactly they may not be cooking the food to a high enough temperature reduce the risk of a foodborne illness.

Overall, only 89 out of 1,497 recipes gave readers reliable information that they could use to reduce their risk of foodborne illness.

This isn’t new info. A similar study was done about 25 years ago, and found similar results. So nothing really has changed in the past quarter of a century.

Ideas for educators:

  • put minimum cooking temperatures into recipes that you share with students
  • when doing food demonstrations use and explain good food safety practices including hand washing, heating to a proper temperature quickly, refrigeration or ice chests to keep cold food cold, avoiding cross contamination on cutting boards and with utensils, and using a food thermometer when appropriate
  • don’t use vague terms such as “cook till done” or “bubbly inside” to describe when a food is done; explain the process like cook chicken until the juices run clear and the internal temperature is 165 degrees F.
  • offer storage tips for finished products like refrigerate in shallow pan immediately

Here is one example from foodandhealth.com

Chili on The Grill

Serves: 4 | Serving Size: 1/2 cup
Total Time: 20 min | Prep: 5 min | Cook: 15 min

Ingredients:

2 cups cooked pinto beans
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1/2 onion chopped
1/2 bell pepper chopped
1/2 jalapeno, chopped fine (no seeds)
Dash of cumin
Dash of chili pepper
Dash of dried oregano
Drizzle of olive oil
Juice of 1 lime

Directions:

Place all items, except for the lime, on foil with the drizzled olive oil. Place on preheated grill of 400 degrees F. Grill until the beans are heated through and the veggies are caramelized and tender, about 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle with lime juice.

Serve the beans and vegetables with grilled chicken that is cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F and steamed brown rice. A side salad is great, too! Serve all food hot immediately. Refrigerate leftovers immediately.

Serves 4. Each 1/2 cup serving: 172 calories, 4g fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 8mg sodium, 27g carbohydrate, 9g fiber, 2g sugars, 8g protein.
© Food and Health Communications

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS
Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

*Katrina Levine, Ashley Chaifetz, Benjamin Chapman, (2017) “Evaluating food safety risk messages in popular cookbooks”, British Food Journal, Vol. 119 Issue: 5, pp.1116-1129, https://doi.org/10.1108/BFJ-02-2017-0066

Here is our food safety temperature poster:

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updated on 11-20-2017