Celebrity TV Chefs Fail at Food Safety, New Study Finds

Chef and TV personality Guy Fieri, one of many who show up in a new study on food safety, cooks at his restaurant Guy Fieri's Mt. Pocono Kitchen at Mount Airy Casino Resort. Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images

If a queasy, rush-to-the-bathroom moment has ever caused you to wonder what you ate — and how it went so very, very wrong — you're not alone. For one in six Americans, a seemingly innocent meal will wreak digestive havoc at least once a year. And more often than not, these cases of foodborne illness will begin at home.

The home kitchen is a pretty obvious spot to start practicing proper food safety, like handwashing and temperature monitoring, but there may be one other place that is just as important: the TV. Turns out, celebrity chefs can display subpar food safety habits on their shows, which could be passed on to people who watch them.

Food safety experts at Kansas State University and Tennessee State University studied 100 cooking shows featuring 24 celebrity chefs — Bobby Flay, Ree Drummond, Guy Fieri and Rachael Ray, among others — and found a number of unclean food preparation behaviors displayed on air. The study "Food Safety Behaviors Observed in Celebrity Chefs Across a Variety of Programs" was published in a recent issue of Journal of Public Health.

"Twenty-three percent of chefs licked their fingers; that's terrible," Edgar Chambers IV, director of the KSU Sensory Analysis Center and co-author of the study, says in a press release. An equal percentage of chefs touched their hair, clothing or other objects while preparing food, and there was a general lack of handwashing. The study also found that many of the chefs did not switch out cutting boards between cutting raw meat and vegetables that would be eaten raw, and rarely did any use a meat thermometer to ensure cooked foods reached temperatures high enough to kill bacteria. (We can always be optimistic and assume that all that happened, but that the footage ended up on the editing room floor.)

Analysis of food safety activities by personalities Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain also showed up in the new study.
Owen Hoffmann/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

Australian celebrity chef Curtis Stone was one of the worst when it came to finger licking, but Emeril Lagasse, Gordon Ramsey and Jamie Oliver did it, too. Overall, most of the chefs fail to following food safety rules — or at least make a point of showing proper procedure — and the study's authors caution that these potentially dangerous shortcomings could be copied by home viewers.

"I think that celebrity chefs have a responsibility for entertaining us, but they also have a responsibility to give us good food," says Chambers. "We want celebrity chefs to teach us how to make food that not only tastes good, but is good for us — and part of that good is food safety."