TV chefs turn viewers into dirty cooks with bad kitchen habits

Celebrity chefs have the power to turn TV viewers into dirty and unhygienic cooks by inadvertently transferring their bad habits, a study has found.

Viewers pick up basic hygiene errors including wiping hands on tea towels, not washing chopping boards between preparing different foods, using finger tips to sprinkle salt or pepper and not washing hands after coughing, sneezing or touching their hair.

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) in Germany ruled that kitchen hygiene often only plays a “minor” role on TV after carrying out a landmark research project.

“The results show that important hygiene measures are often neglected in cooking shows, with one hygiene error being observed every 50 seconds on average,” said BfR president Professor Dr.Andreas Hensel. “The good news is that if kitchen hygiene is demonstrated properly, TV cooking shows can also take on a role model function by promoting kitchen hygiene measures to prevent foodborne infections.

Every year hundreds of thousands of cases of illness are linked to food-related infections with micro-organisms such as bacteria, viruses or parasites.

BfR said that while cleanliness and hygiene should be observed every day when working in the kitchen, consumers often underestimate the health risks of poor hygiene.

In the first part of the study, 100 episodes of cooking shows were viewed and analysed with regard to the hygiene practice visible on television.

On average, one hygiene error was observed every 50 seconds. Among the most common, for example, was that dirty hands were wiped on a dish towel and that chopping boards were reused without first being cleaned. Pathogens can spread in this way and germs transferred from one food to another.

To answer the question of what influence the kitchen hygiene behaviour shown on TV has on hobbyist chefs preparing dishes at home, in the second part of the project study participants prepared a poultry salad with home-made mayonnaise in a test kitchen based on a cooking video.

The video showed either a chef who visibly followed all recommended hygiene measures or a cook with poor kitchen hygiene.

The result was that the people who had seen the cooking video with the exemplary kitchen hygiene complied with the recommended hygiene measures more frequently when cooking the dish by themselves.

BfR concluded the results show that the kitchen hygiene presented in cooking shows may have an influence on the hygiene behaviour of the viewers. It said that TV cooking shows can therefore take on a role model function by sharpening awareness of kitchen hygiene instead of neglecting it.

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