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francois

Sous Vide: Recipes, Techniques & Equipment (Part 2)

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I am the new proud owner of a VacMaster 15 (VacMaster), having grown supremely frustrated with my FoodSaver (messy, unreliable, expensive, can't handle liquids, etc.). It's rapidly become a staple in my kitchen for not only sous vide, but for handling leftovers, sealing rust-prone objects, packaging food gifts, and storing my enormous spice collection in mason jars (which probably triples the shelf life of most spices; interested readers can e-mail for details, since this is somewhat off-thread). 8" x 10" 3 mm poly pouches are about half a cent--far cheaper than FoodSaver's pouches.

Vive le VacMaster!

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I bought a chanber vac about 8 months ago, and just love it. I now use it for all my stocks too, since it can do liquids. Bought some narrow bags and have 1/2 cup and 1 cup portions, as well as quart and multi quart for soup. Sorage is so much easier in the freezer with all these equal sized flat packages, that take up no more room than the material being stored :)

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Cool VacMaster, but it certainly isn't cheap.

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I got mine on eBay for $1,425, shipped directly from the factory for an additional $50. It certainly wasn't cheap, but for an appliance I use several times a day, I consider the cost reasonable. Viewed in this manner, it certainly beats the heck out of my $400+ Vita-Mix!

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I figured I was spending a ton, so a little more didn't matter. I went commercial with this unit. They have a great selection of bags, and I think good prices on them as well.

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Food safety question:

I sous vided beef short ribs for 36 hours. I put them in an ice bath as soon as they came out of the circulator and refrigerated them last night. How long can they be stored in the fridge and is it better to store them in the vacuum bags all sealed up or should they be stored out of the bag?

Thanks everyone (and a special shout out to NathanM) for this wonderful source of information. It si hte best I have ever seen on the internet.

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Can't tell you what's safe, but can give you an example.... I had cooked some short ribs, and our dinner plans changed, so I threw them, into the fridge (unopened vacuum bags). I then proceeded to forget about them, until I was making some soup about a month later. I took them out, and they smelled normal. Cut them up and added to the soup. Tasted fine, and no trips to the hospital.

I would suggest that if you follow Nathan's charts, you're killing most the bad stuff in the bag. As long as you don't open it, it "should" stay for a reasonable amount of time... Sous-vide was originally devised for long term storage, similar to canning, but the rules for that are much different than what has been discussed in this thread. Simple answer is that it surely extends the fridge life of cooked meat if left unopened, but there are no stats to my knowledge on how long that extension is..... If you're in my situation, smell and taste first.

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Wow, a month. That's a ballsy move.

On a separate note, where do you keep a vacuum packer like that in your kitchen? I have enough stuff already and, though I have a relativley large kitchen, have no more counter or storage space.

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Well, size was definitely an issue. Had to give something up to make room, just like my water bath configuration. Actually, by most standards, I guess we have a big kitchen, quasi commercial. I just put mine on a stainless worktable I have. I used to keep my Tilia in the same place, and the area in front of the Tilia had to remain vacant so I had room for the bag of whatever I was sealing. Really, the chamber vacuum doesn't take up much if any more space than the Tila WITH the bag extended out of it, ready to seal.... but it clearly looks much bigger due to the height.

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Can't tell you what's safe, but can give you an example....  If you're in my situation, smell and taste first.

I have to interject on this one guys. When I teach sous vide techniques, one of the first questions I ask a chef is "what does botulism smell and look like?". Then, depending on the answer I get, I know if I have to do an FBI (food borne illness) lecture before focusing on sous vide techniques.

If I ever told a health department official I kept PHF (potentially hazardous foods) in an anaerobic environment for 30 days, he would mark my MAP chamber vacuum as "unapproved appliance", slap me with a fine and warn me that continued use would constitute a misdemeanor, as was the case in New York City.

The reasoning behind the New York City ban was botulism. When you vacuum seal a PHF, and let it sit on your counter, as the health inspectors found, you are creating a serious health risk.

Botulism toxin can not be seen or smelt. Botulism can survive and grow at 38F. The USDA has been able to culture the Botulism toxin from Clostridium Botulinum spores in 6-8 days. Botulism will kill you. The better your vacuum, the more anaerobic, the more the chance of Botulism.

If you are going to vacuum seal your PHF, you must either enjoy your meal, or keep it below 36F or, better yet, freeze it.

”smell and taste first “ will kill you.

In New York, most of my restaurants are developing iron clad HACCP plans to address the Botulism issues. Written logs must be kept, stickers must be placed on the bags with temperature warning statements and the bags must meet certain criteria. This is a serious issue with our health department.

Even for home use, you should always follow certain guidelines. For example, if you’re going to sous vide a piece of salmon, you’d better freeze first or risk the anasakid nematode parasites (round worms). They’ll get into you intestinal tract and bury themselves while they continue to grow. Whatever the PHF, you have to do your homework.

Have fun guys.

Harry Otto

Restaurant & Hospitality Management Services

New York


Edited by harryotto (log)

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Even for home use, you should always follow certain guidelines.

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Can't tell you what's safe, but can give you an example....  If you're in my situation, smell and taste first.

Botulism toxin can not be seen or smelt. Botulism can survive and grow at 38F. The USDA has been able to culture the Botulism toxin from Clostridium Botulinum spores in 6-8 days. Botulism will kill you. The better your vacuum, the more anaerobic, the more the chance of Botulism.

Have fun guys.

Harry Otto

Restaurant & Hospitality Management Services

New York

That is the most helpful piece of information we have had to date on the possible health issues. I am a home cook. Do I understand that if I cook some protein sous vide, chill it an an ice bath and refrigerate overnight at approximately 38° - ie 24 hrs max - that botulism toxin will not have had time to develop?

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Ruth,

I think you're well within the safety limits.

The point of my little tirade earlier was that we've already seen most of this information posted here, but this topic has grown so huge (approaching 500 posts now!) that it's hard to track down the specific details that we need when actually cooking sous vide.

Harryotto provided a nice succinct guideline for avoiding botulism (as far as it goes), but we really need a master index to this thread, or some sort of FAQ, to consult on a daily basis. Honestly, I've got my own in the form of links to useful posts.

NathanM started this topic with a few simple questions about sous vide practice, and got summarily drafted as the eG sous vide authority. :smile: If you look all the way back to the start of it all, you'll see suggestions of an eCGI course on sous vide. I can't draft Nathan, but he's the obvious candidate. :raz:

Seriously though, I think that eGullet is being sought out as a reference on sous vide, and we should consider carefully the information being put forth on the subject. We can serve as a clearing house of useful information, or we can chase our collective tails with the same old confusion. I vote for the former. :biggrin:

<span style='font-size:8pt;line-height:100%'>Sorry for yet another tirade.</span>

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Ruth, 24 hours is a pretty "safe" envelope of time. However, you may want to "nix" the reference to protein in your question. Clostridium Botulinum spores are found on just about any organic compound whether it be a carrot or an osso buco. Here's what's needed for a quick growth:

1. Food with a pH value of 4.6 or above (the less acidic the more chance), and

2. An anaerobic environment (could even be within a sausage casing), and

3. An optimum growth temperature of about 79F.

When these 3 guidelines are met, you're almost guaranteed to allow for toxic growth. The scariest part of this is that the Botulism toxin that we are concerned with is "non-proteolytic" which means it creates its own protein and does not break down the cells in the food it infects. This is why it can’t be seen or smelt.

If anyone in this thread has legitimate concerns on whether their “techniques” are safe, just post and I’ll provide a safety plan along with references to the 2005 FDA Food Code & USDA guidelines.

References to food pH values can be found here: http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~mow/chap2.html

Harry Otto

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Unfortunately there isn't a very good source for sous vide cooking at the moment. The Joan Roca book is the best that is out there but mainly because it is the only one out there.

A proper treatment of food safety, including botulism, is something that is really needed. Most existing food safety or HACCP standards are not suitable for sous vide.

As I have said in other posts there is a dearth of good, trustable information. Unfortunately many authorities cannot be trusted fully because the have a tendency to try to simplify the standards - for example telling you to cook to a temperature and ignoring time, or ignoring other important issues like aerobic / anaerobic conditions, pH (acidity) and so forth. These simplifications may be well meaning, and in conventional cooking techniques they may be adequate. I say "may be" because I am very skeptical of trying to artificially simplify a complicated topic.

However, even if conventional food safety guidlines are acceptible for conventional cooking techniques, they don't work for sous vide. The technique involves anaerobic conditions, low temperatures and (sometimes) prolonged storage.

An eGullet course would be one way to help get this information out, and I would be willing to participate. However, to really do a good job requires more content that would fit in an eGullet course.

I have considered writing a book on sous vide, and if I have the time I may do this. There are a couple sous vide books that are coming out, but given the large amount of information required there is probably room for several books.

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Nathan - Please do consider writing a sous vide book. It would be an invaluable resource and getting the input of someone with a scientific background would be fantastic.

I think it will be interesting to see what HACCP plans are approved in NYC for sous vide cooking (if they are publicly available). I would also think that Cuisine Solutions (right name?) would have a real interest helping to draft safety standards.

I know this is a complicated issue but are there any surefire guidelines that we can rely on (rapidly chilled we can keep it for 2 days, 4 days??) or any tests that we could incorporate?

Thanks again everyone for all the wonderful information in this thread.

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I know this is a complicated issue but are there any surefire guidelines that we can rely on (rapidly chilled we can keep it for 2 days, 4 days??) or any tests that we could incorporate?

Previous posts on this thread cover most of the sure fire stuff that I know, but here are some simple rules:

- If you cook to a core temperature of 130F/54.4C or higher for long enough to meet the temperature vs time tables (in FDA documents I posted), then you are completely food safe for immediate consumption. The rough rule of thumb is the food has to reach 130F and stay there for 112 minutes (or longer). At higher temp the time is less - 12 minutes at 140F/60C.

- If you cook below 130F and/or you cook for less time than in the food safety limit, then keep the total time between taking it out of the refridgerator and consuming it to 4 hours or less. Do not chill and store food cooked this way

- It is always safer to eat immediately than to store sous vide.

- However, it certainly seems safe to chill fast and store for a "short" period. A few days seems to work well for me. I can't honestly tell you what the limits are. Only chill and store sous vide that you have cooked to the food safety limits. Chill rapidly (plunge bag into ice water).

- If a sous vide bag puffs up, throw it out! Many pathogenic bacteria generate gas. Also, if the bag smells "off", throw it out.

- Some preparations will last much longer. An example is traditional duck confit - this will keep for 6 months or more (regardless whether sous vide, or conventional) because it is highly salted. But "confit" style dish without the salt curing would not work.

Note that ALL of these precautions apply to conventional cooking too! Sous vide is NOT more dangerous than conventional cooking. However, sous vide is so convienent to cook and then heat up later that it tempts you to store for longer.

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Thomas Keller is going to cover a great deal of Sous Vide in his soon to be released book, "The Complete Keller". July, Maybe.

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In the Hungry Magazine podcast interview, Michael Ruhlman says that the Sous Vide book is "on hold". Is this a different book?

One interesting tidbit from Ruhlman is that Keller wants to market affordable sous vide equipment along with the book. Check out the portion of the interview starting at about minute 38:00.

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How are you going to market sous-vide to home cooks when the health department doesnt even allow restaurants to do it anymore ?????? :huh:

Isnt this the very worst case scenario ?

At least, most of the pros are more aware of the dangers ?

Sous vide is NOT more dangerous than conventional cooking.

The health authorities seem to disagree with you since conventional cooking rarely generates anaerobic pathogens ?

Isnt botulism quite serious ?


Edited by Vadouvan (log)

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My understanding is that the NYC Health Department (or whatever this bureaucracy calls itself) has a number of professionals developing guidelines for them. Fortunately, for the moment at least, semi literate bureaucrats cannot cotrol what we do in our own kitchens anymore than they can prevent us from eating real cheese when we are able to find it.

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At least, most of the pros are more aware of the dangers ?
Sous vide is NOT more dangerous than conventional cooking.

The health authorities seem to disagree with you since conventional cooking rarely generates anaerobic pathogens ?

Isnt botulism quite serious ?

As we have repeated ad nauseum:

- Sous vide that you cook and serve immediately has no botulism risk.

- Sous vide that you cook and serve immediately has no greater risk than any other cooking method. You can mess up any method of course.

- Sous vide that is stored between cooking and serving can have a botulism risk - but it is a much lower risk than say, home canning. You need to chill promptly after cooking, keep refridgerated during storage, and only store for a few days.

- Health departments generally don't have a clue about the true dangers in food safety, they just have rules that they follow. They generally have no rules about sous vide one way or another, which leads to fear, uncertainty, doubt.

- In NYC there was a health department crackdown based on their ignorance which has largely been reversed by having sous vide training for the health department.

Nathan

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Maybe this has been covered elsewhere in this enormous thread but it seems to me a "danger" would be the cooking of foods at lower temperatures for extended periods of time in addition to the generation of the botulinum toxin in a anaerobic environment. The most robust culture temperature for bacteria lies between 40-140 degrees. You may cook a lamb in an oven to 130 degrees but it doesnt necessarily stay in this range for a long time to give bugs a chance to grow.

How do you get around that potential problem in terms of proper preparation? Perhaps you can avoid botulism with proper technique but isnt the temperature range another issue?

Just curious.....


Edited by shacke (log)

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