They're the ones we turn to when we're hoping to impress with our culinary skills.

But following the example of celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver and Nigella could be a recipe for disaster, warn scientists.

A study found that the poor on-screen hygiene of many chefs - including not washing their hands and failing to check food is properly cooked - could be responsible for giving fans food poisoning.

Campylobacter alone is responsible for 280,000 infections and 100 deaths a year in the UK.


After watching nearly 100 TV episodes featuring 24 popular chefs, US researchers found that a raft of household names - including Mary Berry and Nigella Lawson - were guilty of health and safety faux pas. Healthy meals campaigner Jamie Oliver was one of the worst transgressors, displaying a whopping 58 bad habits over four episodes - including 24 instances of adding food to ready-to-eat dishes with his bare hands.

"The behaviours modelled by the chefs could lead to incidences of food-borne illness, especially among those who mimic their behaviours at home," said the team from Kansas and Tennessee State Universities in the Journal of Public Health.

"These chefs ... either ignore food safety or at best demonstrate only very limited positive behaviours."

Although all the cooks washed their hands at some point during the shows, 88 per cent failed - or were not shown - to do so after handling raw meat. Around one in five was guilty of touching their hair while preparing food, while 21 per cent licked their fingers. Miss Lawson's hand-washing was deemed inadequate - as well as her habit of dipping her finger into dishes while cooking.

Of all the cooks, Miss Berry was the most hygienic. However even she was seen wiping her nose and fiddling with her grandson's hair.

Last night Dr Lisa Ackerley, of the Royal Society for Public Health, said: "It is irresponsible for famous personalities ... to ignore safe practice because people will inevitably copy what they see."

A spokesman for Mr Oliver said: "Jamie's programmes are all about getting people excited and engaged with cooking and clearly food hygiene is an important part of this."

Miss Lawson declined to comment, while Miss Berry was "unavailable due to filming commitments".