Is sous vide cooking safe?

Sous vide, which is a slow-cook method that uses relatively low temperatures, is risky, except when done by professional chefs trained to do it. Sous vide (pronounced "sue veed") means "under vacuum" in French. In sous vide cooking, vacuum-sealed packets of raw or partially cooked food are poached in hot water for up to several days. Fans say sous vide dishes are more intensely flavored and textured than conventionally prepared foods.

Until recently, only professional chefs could afford sous vide equipment. These days, lower-cost devices are being marketed for home use.

Sous vide cooking poses several health concerns. While vacuum sealing reduces spoilage and the growth of pathogens that thrive in oxygen, it has no effect on anaerobic microbes, which do well in airless environments, including the bacterium that causes botulism.

Sous vide generally requires long cooking times in temperatures that range from 110° to 190°F—not always hot enough to kill bacteria. Food can cook for several hours or even days, adding to the risk of bacterial growth, says Richard Vergili, an expert on food safety and professor at the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, New York.

Laws on commercial use of sous vide cooking vary across the country. New York City, for instance, prohibits restaurants from using the method if they don't have detailed hygiene plans for the practice. To date, only 30 restaurants in New York City are allowed to do sous vide cooking (though many establishments may be using it unofficially).

Sous vide cooking at home is risky, despite the claims made by equipment marketers. "My advice to the home cook is don't do it," says Vergili, adding that sous vide cooking as taught at his school requires lots of tests and measurements that are unrealistic for most nonprofessionals.

Source: Originally published in The University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter (March 2011)

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at HealthCommunities.com

Published: 26 Apr 2011

Last Modified: 19 Nov 2014