These common recipe instructions make food safety experts cringe


With access to sources including cookbooks and blogs, TikTok and TV, we live in the midst of a virtual smorgasbord of culinary inspiration. But you can’t always be sure that hobbyists on the internet, or even seasoned chefs, are covering their food safety bases. Ill-conceived shortcuts and outdated practices can lead to real illnesses, especially if they go viral.

“People have been taught a certain way, or they’re just not aware of certain safety risks, and then they start posting on social media, which goes to a lot of other people,” said Meredith Carothers, chief food safety officer. from the US Department of Agriculture expert.

Carothers said she’s seen more bad advice appear online, especially as short-form platforms leave little room for safe driving advice. Studies have found that cookbooks and TV shows often fall short when it comes to food safety, too.

Millions of people suffer from foodborne illnesses annually in the United States. Carothers said it’s often hard to connect every case to a precise cause; the best prevention is to follow proven practices to keep disease-causing microbes at bay.

So whether in 2023 you find yourself diving first into the latest cooking trend or just looking at an easy chicken dish on a food blog, here are a few phrases — and a few omissions — that should get you thinking.

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Cooking chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, which you can confirm by inserting a food thermometer into the thickest part, kills disease-causing germs, such as salmonella. Rinsing raw chicken, on the other hand, can spread them.

“There’s nothing you can do to kill off any of the harmful bacteria,” said Ben Chapman, who directs a food safety research program at North Carolina State University. “You only increase the risk by depositing it in or around your sink.”

Food safety experts have long discouraged rinsing chicken, but a 2016 US Food and Drug Administration survey found that 67 percent of consumers still wash chicken before cooking.

Carothers said the practice often moves, along with treasured recipes, from generation to generation. It may be a holdover from a time when chickens came to the dirtiest houses, possibly with a few feathers.

If you’re committed to rinsing the chicken, Carothers advises cleaning and sanitizing your sink afterwards (otherwise you risk contamination when, say, you rinse an apple or wash a dish). But, he said, the USDA found that most people don’t clean their sinks well enough to kill bacteria or don’t clean them at all.

When a recipe says “dry” it is not assuming that you rinsed the chicken, but rather suggests that you remove any moisture from the surface so that the seasonings stick and the chicken browns nicely.

While we’re here: Rinsing any raw meat or seafood can also spread bacteria.

‘Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate’

When finished with a hot dish, such as a casserole, the food safety priority is keeping it hot or cooling it quickly.

Disease-causing bacteria thrive in what experts call the “danger zone,” between 40 and 140 degrees. But one type of bacteria that causes a common foodborne illness grows especially fast between 80 and 120 degrees, said Don Schaffner, a food microbiologist at Rutgers University. Often implicated when large batches of poorly chilled food make people sick, this bacterium typically survives the high heat of cooking as thick-walled, inactive spores, then transforms into regular bacterial cells that multiply as the food falls onto the surface. the danger zone.

“The more you can do to get him out of that upper end of the danger zone as quickly as possible, the better,” Schaffner said.

Therefore, it is not necessary to allow food to cool down before refrigerating it. But quickly covering the pot and popping it in the fridge isn’t ideal either; that traps heat, especially in deep dishes and dense foods.

To promote chilling, you can transfer food to shallow containers, then ideally leave food uncovered in the refrigerator (covered once cooled). Assuming the food isn’t underneath the raw meat, Schaffner said, the chances of contamination from an open plate in the refrigerator are less than the chances of disease-causing bacteria growing in food that’s too hot. He also said that leaving a pot out while you eat is usually fine, it’s what he does at his house.

‘Cook until no pink remains’

“The only way to know if something is cooked to a safe point is to use a thermometer,” Chapman said, noting that clear juices, browning and texture aren’t enough indicators. “If someone tells you in a recipe that there’s some other indicator of doneness, it’s not based on any science.”

For example, to kill pathogens like E. coli, hamburgers must reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees; but a hamburger can lose its “pink” below that temperature.

That pink color comes from myoglobin, an oxygen-storing protein that can make raw beef look purple, red, or brown (the liquid you see in packaged meat is myoglobin dissolved in water). Myoglobin typically denatures and browns near a food-safe temperature, but many factors, from the animal’s life experiences to whether you’ve frozen or salted the meat, can lead to an undercooked burger that looks completely browned or overcooked that still has some pink to it.

Chapman noted that hamburgers are much riskier than steaks if they’re undercooked.

“I can cook a steak to a pretty rare level and I know I’m reducing contamination,” he said. “I’m getting very hot outside and I don’t expect pathogens to be inside.”

By contrast, he said, in a ground beef burger, “I’m mixing it all together and now the outside becomes the inside,” so pathogens may not be killed if the burger is left raw. Tenderized and brined cuts of meat can also harbor bacteria below the surface. So if you love rare meat, it’s a matter of weighing the risk.

It’s possible to make a non-perishable infusion of garlic or herbal oil at home, just more complicated than many people (possibly well-intentioned social media posters suggesting an “easy DIY gift”) might assume.

“If you don’t follow a validated step-by-step recipe … you can make someone very sick or even kill someone,” said Carla Schwan, director of the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Because oil and garlic are stored at room temperature, people may mistakenly believe that they can be mixed together and stored in a cabinet.

Spores of the bacteria that cause botulism are common and easily landed on foods like garlic and herbs, where we eat them without consequence. But under specific circumstances, such as the low-acid, room-temperature anaerobic environment inside a bottle of oil, the spores can, over time, germinate into regular bacterial cells and produce toxins.

The correct balance of acid prevents the spores from germinating. After several inquiries about infused oils, Schwan recently posted a recipe.

Botulism is serious, but fortunately it’s also rare. Commercially packaged garlic products must adhere to strict guidelines designed to prevent bacterial growth. And yes, pestos, stir-fries, and other dishes with garlic and oil are fine, as long as you keep them refrigerated and use them within a reasonable amount of time (the USDA recommends four days for leftovers).

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What the recipe does not say

Most recipes don’t mention “wash your hands” as the first step, but researchers have found that when recipes do include food safety measures, people are more likely to take precautions. For food writers, the Association for Food Safety Education offers a “safe recipe style guide.” Food safety people like to see notes like these:

  • Use a thermometer to make sure food reaches a safe temperature.
  • Avoid cross contamination. If a surface or utensil touches raw meat, poultry, shellfish, or eggs, it should be washed before next use. The same for your hands.
  • Use pasteurized eggs in dishes where the eggs are not fully cooked.
  • Only use canning recipes from trusted sources and avoid substitutions or adjustments.

Rachael Jackson is a DC writer and founder of reach her in

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