Why would I order food that has been cooked in a vacuum-sealed bag?
This particular cooking method is called "Sous Vide,” translated from French it means "under vacuum." It has recently been the center controversy in the foodie world as it has gained popularity over the past couple of years (the cheftestants on Top Chef LOVE a good sous vided chicken breast). Cooks are fond of this method because it intensifies flavors, keeps foods moist and "maintain the integrity of the ingredients." Sous-vide cooking uses vacuumed sealed plastic bags which are submerged in hot water, usually around 60°C or 140°F for an extended amount of time (*Water boils at 212°F).
The FDA's Argument: This cooking method puts the diner at a greater risk for food borne illnesses. By cooking meat at a lower temperature you are increasing your foods exposure to the food temperature Danger Zone. The temperature Danger Zone is between 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit and it is the ideal temperature range for bacteria to flourish. Although the air has been removed from the bag, clostridium botulinum bacteria (the bacteria that produces botulinun toxin) can still flourish without the presence of oxygen when in the Danger Zone. *Not a good thing unless you are looking to host a DIY Botox party post-dinner.
The Chef's Rebuttal: If the food is properly handled and all Serve Safe™ procedures are followed, the risk of spreading a food borne illness using the sous vide method can be controlled. Most commercial kitchens that use the souse vide method are equipped with a 'Thermal Immersion Circulators ' (i.e. expensive water-bath machines that circulated water heated water to an exact temperature) which helps controll the risk. And finaly, it makes food taste darn good!
*Do you dine is the Danger Zone?? If you enjoy your steaks rare to medium rare, on average you would have consumed meet that has been cooked to 135 degrees – that’s 5 degrees below the safe zone! Yikes - Whoever said weren't born to be wild?!?!
Ways to reduce the spread of food borne illness:
- Keep meat in refrigerator (colder then 40 degrees) until ready to cook
- Portion meat into single serving to help reduce cooking time and exposure to the 'Danger Zone'
- Make sure water is heated to the desired cooking temperature before adding meat
To read more about the sous vide trend check out http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/09/nyregion/09cook.html