Sous vide safety put under the spotlight

An in-depth study into the safety of sous vide cooking that draws on the expertise of equipment manufacturers and other industry parties has been published for the first time.

The research, which can be accessed here, was carried out by the Institute of Food Research (IFR) on behalf of the Food Standards Agency in response to the rising popularity of the sous vide cooking technique.

Sous vide uses lower temperatures to improve food quality and could be a step closer to being more widely adopted after ISR scientists assessed the steps needed to ensure the process is safe.

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Recently, there has been an increase in the number of sous vide foods being cooked at lower temperatures, such as 42°C to 70°C.

Most data on microbial growth in food is based on temperatures below 40°C, with studies focusing on how bacteria grow at ambient temperatures, for example during storage. Other studies have looked at the temperatures at which bacteria are killed, usually around 55°C to 60°C and above.

Lack of information in the range of about 40°C to 60°C makes it very difficult for cooks, manufacturers, regulators and enforcement officers to calculate the lethality of such low temperature heat treatments and judge the risk of foods containing pathogens.

To address this issue Dr Sandra Stringer and her colleagues gathered the information needed to properly assess the hazards associated with lower temperature cooking.

The scientists also carried out a feasibility study on extending models in the ‘Combase Predictor’, a national database that records how food poisoning bacteria grow and survive in different foods at different temperatures.

Specifically they investigated how much work would be needed to upgrade the database to model the hazards E. coli, Salmonella and L. monocytogenes between around 40 and 60°C.

This would help ensure that the safety assessment for sous vide foods is consistent, effective and commensurate with any risk to public health.

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