Do you know what the internal temperature of a medium-rare steak should be? What about the USDA's answer to that question? If you follow the recommendations from a cookbook or many recipe websites, chances are you don't.
A recent study of recipes in cookbooks published on Emerald Insight found that only about 8 percent of the recipes from 29 popular cookbooks provided any type of "endpoint temperature" in recipes that contained raw animal products. Of that 8 percent, about 72 percent gave the correct temperature for food safety, the temperature the animal product needs to reach to no longer be considered a danger for foodborne illness.
The researchers looked at three specific things when evaluating recipes, according to Medical Xpress:
- Does the recipe include instructions to cook the food to an internal temperature?
- If so, what temperature was instructed?
- Did that temperature meet the guidelines that are safe?
The study concluded that further research is needed to know what the effect of these results is on consumer behavior. Translate that to: Do those who cook from the recipes in the books follow food safety guidelines or do they follow unreliable instructions like cooking times or "cook poultry until juices run clear?" The study also concluded that further research was needed to "develop interventions for writing recipes with better food safety guidance" to "increase the potential of reducing the risk of foodborne illness."
My own cookbook research
I did a little not-so-scientific research on my own after reading the results of this study. Let's call it more of a casual evaluation. I pulled four cookbooks off my shelf, ones that I thought would have gone through some serious testing and editing by publishers.
- "How to Cook Everything" by Mark Bittman
- "Comfort Food Makeovers" by America's Test Kitchen
- "The Art of Simple Food" by Alice Waters
- "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" by Julia Child
Bittman's cookbook was the only one to have a specific section that discusses both "doneness temperatures" and "USDA-Recommended Internal Temperatures." There's a chart for each of them and a short discussion of how the USDA recommended temperatures are "higher temperatures, which reduces the potential danger of contracting illness caused by bacteria."
The other three either had no discussion of temperature at all, or if there was a temperature mentioned, it almost always fell below the USDA recommendations.
Since so many of us now research online for recipes instead of reaching for a cookbook, I also evaluated a handful of popular cooking blogs.
I found similar results. A few of the blogs had no discussion that I could find about food safety or internal temperatures — either as stand-alone blog posts or included in specific recipes. Some included internal temperatures on certain recipes but not all recipes; sometimes they were the USDA recommended temperatures and sometimes they fell below the recommendations.
Interestingly, the Lemon Butter Chicken recipe that I've marked to make tonight from Damn Delicious does include the proper internal temperature recommended by the USDA: 165 degrees Fahrenheit. (Not all the recipes on the site have internal cooking time recommendations, but this one does.)
Should you stay away from recipes without food safety information?
Does this mean most of our cookbooks and the recipe blogs we cook from are useless? No, it just means we need to keep safe minimum cooking temperatures in mind.
Here's an easy suggestion: Print the Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures chart from foodsafety.gov and tape it to the inside of one of your cabinets near your stove, and use a meat thermometer when you cook. Not only will it ensure a safe cooking temperature, it will also ensure you don't overcook your meat. (And that's pretty important, too.)