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NY Sous Vide Lockdown


Megan Blocker
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Perhaps I didn't make myself clear.  With regard to "new drugs" (as that term is defined by law) - no one is allowed to sell them until they receive pre-market approval from the FDA.  There is nothing similar when it comes to food (you don't need pre-market approval from the FDA to sell a new breakfast cereal).

As for the New York City Department of Health - I don't live in New York - and don't know anything about it.  I assume that it is supposed to work like other health departments when it comes to restaurants - but have no idea whether it does a good job of it.  Robyn

I really see no reason for any debate here.

The Times piece is pretty clear--

NYC (most places) have rules and regulations re proper and safe handling of food in restaurant kitchens.

Yes, sous vide has been around for a long time but it is just recently becoming prevalent in restaurants. Apparently the health department is in the process of establishing guidelines for what the industry admits is a cooking method that can --if not executed correctly--cause problems. Low temperatures etc.

That's pretty much it--as I see things.

So really--what is to debate?

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As people have mentioned, sous-vide has been around for years.  It is hardly "trendy", it is just becoming more visible.    Have you ever had beef stew, or other stew like dish from room service in a hotel?  Sous-vide and they have been doing that for quite some time.

I think there are far more important food safety issues that the NYC DOH can worry about than this.

Sous-vide has been around for years but not in the context of fiine dining where as yet, it's executed with different and less regulated oversight (often by young cooks feeling their way around in the dark). It's that danger zone temperature range that sous-vide flirts with. Within the everyday hurry up and wait atmosphere in fine dining kitchens, that danger zone could be a problem.

Nobody wants to stand in the way of cool new (sort of) way to cook loin of lamb but I'm sure we all want it done safely. To me, it's unreasonable to suggest that there aren't attendant food safety risks to sous-vide cooking. That said, in the pantheon of risks in NYC kitchens, sous-vide probably ranks pretty low.

You shouldn't eat grouse and woodcock, venison, a quail and dove pate, abalone and oysters, caviar, calf sweetbreads, kidneys, liver, and ducks all during the same week with several cases of wine. That's a health tip.

Jim Harrison from "Off to the Side"

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That is not - however - any reason to abandon or relax public health measures which deal with the safety of food products.  I suspect that most of you arguing to the contrary in this thread would not argue as strongly if you were talking about less trendy things - like ground beef in fast food burger joints.  Robyn

I would safely say that I would feel safer eating something cooked sous-vide than some random supermarket pre-ground beef. I am much more worried about ground beef -- to the point where if I need ground beef, I grind it myself.

As people have mentioned, sous-vide has been around for years. It is hardly "trendy", it is just becoming more visible. Have you ever had beef stew, or other stew like dish from room service in a hotel? Sous-vide and they have been doing that for quite some time.

I think there are far more important food safety issues that the NYC DOH can worry about than this.

No - I have never eaten beef stew in a hotel room. Am I missing anything :smile: ?

Sous vide has been around for years primarily in commercial food production facilities - where the preparation of the food is regulated by the FDA. There are some pretty strict rules (with regard to things like cooling the food down quickly - the shelf life - etc.).

So are you saying that there shouldn't be any rules at all - or that New York health inspectors should simply adopt the FDA standards when it comes to using sous vide in restaurants? Robyn

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That is not - however - any reason to abandon or relax public health measures which deal with the safety of food products.  I suspect that most of you arguing to the contrary in this thread would not argue as strongly if you were talking about less trendy things - like ground beef in fast food burger joints.  Robyn

I would safely say that I would feel safer eating something cooked sous-vide than some random supermarket pre-ground beef. I am much more worried about ground beef -- to the point where if I need ground beef, I grind it myself.

As people have mentioned, sous-vide has been around for years. It is hardly "trendy", it is just becoming more visible. Have you ever had beef stew, or other stew like dish from room service in a hotel? Sous-vide and they have been doing that for quite some time.

I think there are far more important food safety issues that the NYC DOH can worry about than this.

No - I have never eaten beef stew in a hotel room. Am I missing anything :smile: ?

Sous vide has been around for years primarily in commercial food production facilities - where the preparation of the food is regulated by the FDA. There are some pretty strict rules (with regard to things like cooling the food down quickly - the shelf life - etc.).

So are you saying that there shouldn't be any rules at all - or that New York health inspectors should simply adopt the FDA standards when it comes to using sous vide in restaurants? Robyn

I think it's probably more a matter of adaptation than one of adoption - the standards applied to commercial production may be the same for the end product (e.g., how much bacteria is acceptable), while the standards for the setup may differ, simply because the setup needed to reach said end result may be different based on volume (smaller volume in a high-end restaurant than at the airplane food level). This is where the questions about the current restaurant setups come in.

I think.

Edited by Megan Blocker (log)

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

Queenie Takes Manhattan

eG Foodblogs: 2006 - 2007

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I did a little reading about the commercial standards. They involve things like taking the packages after cooking and getting them to X degrees (think it was 34) in X amount of time. And keeping the stuff at 34 degrees for no longer than (I think) 30 days (then you have to toss it). Nothing more onerous than what a salad bar in a fast food place has to do.

Same general concepts about how you'd handle food safely in your own kitchen (e.g., hot should be hot and cold should be cold and you don't want cooked food hanging around in the "danger zone" too long while you're cooling it down if you plan on reheating it). You keep it in the refrigerator - and then you throw it out if you haven't eaten it in a week or so.

By the way - I have no idea how you'd test for bacterial contamination in sealed food packets in the context of (small) restaurant production facilities. I suspect that sampling techniques are used in (large) commercial production facilities - and that they would be impractical in most restaurants.

So I would think that the rules have to be based on how a restaurant handles the food (in terms of heating/cool down/storage/etc.). And I guess there would be labeling requirements too - because food cooked this way should only be kept for X days (and food inspectors can't tell how long the food's been sitting around unless it's labeled when it's cooked). Robyn

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I wonder where they got that 30 day shelf life limit. That's that kind of thing that can usually be extended if the business in question can supply the data. It would be tough for a restaurant to show sufficient consistency etc to satisfy the FDA but a commerical processor should be able to. I'm guessing that's enough to let the big guys manage inventory easily. I would hope that a 30 day shelf life on cooked food wouldnt be a problem for a restaurant. Robyn, did you get your info from the FDA website?

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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I wonder where they got that 30 day shelf life limit. That's that kind of thing that can usually be extended if the business in question can supply the data. It would be tough for a restaurant to show sufficient consistency etc to satisfy the FDA but a commerical processor should be able to.  I'm guessing that's enough to let the big guys manage inventory easily. I would hope that a 30 day shelf life on cooked food wouldnt be a problem for a restaurant. Robyn, did you get your info from the FDA website?

I got it from a discussion of the FDA rules - not from the FDA website. Robyn

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A new article in today's Dining section of the New York Times...click.

From the article:

Something officials say they are most concerned about, which some sous vide chefs in New York do, is the practice of vacuum-sealing raw food for storage. Experts who are helping the department draw up the rules say that is forbidden in restaurants in France because it increases the risk of botulism...Mr. Goussault said that by law, chefs in France have to cook food immediately after it is vacuum wrapped, to an internal temperature of at least 132.8 degrees, a temperature at which the French authorities say most potentially harmful bacteria are killed.

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

Queenie Takes Manhattan

eG Foodblogs: 2006 - 2007

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I'm pretty sure that the Roca / Brugués book mentioned in the NYT article has a section on processing and apportioning food into vacuum pouches before refrigerating it. I don't have the book here so I can't verify that.

If the book recommends storage of raw food sealed in pouches, that would run counter to the E.U. guidelines. I could be mistaken though - I'll check the book when I get home.

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A new article in today's Dining section of the New York Times...click.

From the article:

Something officials say they are most concerned about, which some sous vide chefs in New York do, is the practice of vacuum-sealing raw food for storage. Experts who are helping the department draw up the rules say that is forbidden in restaurants in France because it increases the risk of botulism...Mr. Goussault said that by law, chefs in France have to cook food immediately after it is vacuum wrapped, to an internal temperature of at least 132.8 degrees, a temperature at which the French authorities say most potentially harmful bacteria are killed.

An interesting post. Over the weekend I was talking to a French chef (a chef born and bred in France where he's cooked in three star kitchens and who's been cooking in NY for close to 15 years including in a four star kitchen) and his reaction was mixed, but he did not think the Health Department's concerns were outrageous. He noted that twenty years ago in France, he was alreay using the technique and that he's more comfortable eating food prepared sous vide if he knows there's a Frenchman in the kitchen simply because the French have the experience using the technique. I also suspect French chefs have reputation for less creativity, experimentation and consequently may be seen as having less of a tolerance for risk than Americans.

Note that he's not for a ban--he's used the technique here in NY for 15 years, and wants to continue to have the right, or privilege, to continue doing so--but he's not convinced all kitchen staff are properly trained. Although a fan of many un-haute cuisine foods, he's often far more particular in some ways than I am about where he eats.

Among the best chefs, and I include Americans as well as French, there really doesn't seem to be the sense that regulations are necessarily a bad thing, but that heavy handed reaction, by those who may understand the process far less than the chefs who are using it today, is unreasonable. At Bouley, Daniel, Per Se, Blue Hill and a number of other places, I have no qualms about the safety of the food I am served. Accidents can happen anywhere and most food poisoning in the US happens at home. Indeed accident statistics tend to suggest we're least safe at home than anywhere. I've been in a few of those kitchens and have first hand reports that tell me about the almost excessive regard for health and safety concerns. For perverse reasons, there are diners that will thrive no matter the number of health violations, but food poisoning at a respected temple of haute cuisine can be a death notice.

What we have here is a disregard for talent and dedication to protecting the consumer in enforcing blanket rules. It's not unlike the situation that arises from a universal speed limit on the highway. It slows the race driver with keen insticts and quick reactions but allows the feeble to legally drive at speeds which are probably dangerous for them. As Ned said, "in the pantheon of risks in NYC kitchens, sous-vide probably ranks pretty low," but it's always hard to fight the attempt to eliminate one risk simply because there are worse. "Your honor, I pretty well beat the shit out of the victim, but you really shouldn't prosecute me until all the murders are solved," just doesn't cut it. Bureaucratic hacks making and enforcing the laws that affect our life seem to be part of the price of daily life. Life is inherently unfair and instances of culinary unfairness are always foder for eG discourse.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Given that chefs seem to be using Sous Vide for bulk storage in some cases, it seems to me that it is quite possible for a single restaurant to make quite a few people sick, or dead. Take a look at http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/fc01-a6.html.

If you Google Sous Vide and botulism, you'll come up with a fair amount of material......

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akwa, I may be dense at this hour, but what is "haccp"?

HACCP is an acronym for hazard analysis and critical control point, its a plan for safely serving food that goes above and beyond health and sanitation.

In a nut shell, you analyze all aspects of the food you serve, from the way it is recieved at the door (how it comes in temperature, etc) to the production and ultimately it's service.

That's a very generic definition.

Patrick Sheerin

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