The Science Behind Sous-Vide Food Safety

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How does sous-vide work, and is it safe?

Sous-vide has a long history in the food industry as both a gourmet technique used by world-class chefs, and as a safe and reliable means of producing mass quantities of food in crisis relief situations. But if water-heating food at low temperatures in vacuum-sealed plastic bags sounds strange to you, you may be wondering why it works and if it is really safe to eat. To understand the science behind sous-vide, we have to take a look at food safety guidelines and why precise temperature settings are so important.

Food safety basics.

Let’s start with a very basic question: What makes food safe to eat? First of all, it has to be edible and non-toxic to humans. But it also has to be free of bacteria, pesticides, and parasites that could cause serious illness or death. In the case of most vegetables, the solution is relatively straightforward: rinse your veggies before you eat them, and keep them out of contact with other contaminates.


But with meat and dairy products, the story becomes a little more complicated. With most meats, the biggest concern is bacteria. Killing off harmful bacteria and making food safe to eat is a function of time and temperature. We know that the boiling point for water is 212°F, and that this sterilizes anything you put in it by killing off bacteria. But in fact, most bacteria die at much lower temperatures than the boiling point. Fish and steak, for instance, only need to reach a temperature of 145°F to be safe to eat, while ground meat needs to reach an internal temperature of 165°F.


Sous-vide can yield safer food than otherwise.

Bearing all this in mind, we can see from most sous-vide recipes that they keep food safe by bringing them exactly to the temperature they need to be in order to kill off harmful bacteria. The vacuum-sealed packaging also helps by depriving bacteria of the air they need to grow. Furthermore, many of these temperature guidelines are based on certain cooking times. You can cook some foods at even lower temperatures, provided you hold them there for long enough (often over an hour). The length of time, as well as the temperature, pasteurizes the food making it safe to eat.


But there’s one more principle at play that makes sous-vide particularly safe, and that is the internal cooking temperature. Anyone who’s ever tried to pan fry or grill chicken knows how frustrating it can be to slice into a big chicken breast and find the inside still pink or even bloody. With thick pieces of meat, it can be difficult to know when the internal temperature has gotten hot enough to be safe to eat. This is especially hard when you’re trying to grill and the smaller pieces are done while the larger ones are still half raw.


Sous-vide gets rid of this problem by ensuring an even cooking temperature all the way through. Because your ingredients can only ever reach the same temperature as the water they’re cooked in, you never have to worry about them becoming overdone while you wait for the internal temperature to reach the right point. And oddly shaped pieces of meat don’t have to be a concern either, because sous-vide ensures an even temperature all the way through.


Should I worry about cooking my food in plastic?

Many people worry that cooking food in plastic can be a health risk. Certain kinds of plastic can leach chemicals into food if they reach a softening point. But many of the plastics used to microwave food, as well as many of the vacuum-sealing bags on the market, have been specially designed to withstand high temperatures without chemical leaching. This means that so long as you are using FDA-approved, food-grade plastic, you have little to worry about.


However, for those who are still concerned, we’ve developed a work-around. Instead of using vacuum-sealed plastic, wrap your food in aluminum foil and follow cooking directions as usual. The foil won’t keep all the water out, but it will help retain some of the cooking flavors. We often use this cooking method ourselves, and we believe you’ll enjoy the results just as much as the traditional method.


Sous-vide food safety answered: Yes, it’s safe to eat.

As it turns out, sous-vide is not only perfectly safe to eat, it’s also healthier for you than other cooking methods, and tastes better, too. On top of that, it’s a convenient and time-efficient way to cook for both large groups and individuals. And the CoolCooker is the perfect way for you to try sous-vide with your family. Simply fill the cook pot with water, and use the devices precision controls to set it to the temperature you need. Dinner will be waiting for you the moment you walk in the door.

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