New York Times – March 9, 2006:

The phrase sous vide was a mystery to most diners when it started popping up on menus around New York City. Waiters at restaurants like Per Se and Sumile, Blue Hill and Cru could tell them that it was French for “under vacuum” and referred to the use of airtight plastic bags in which chicken breasts, for example, were infused with herbs, or lobster was slow poached at temperatures too low for simmering.

Innovative chefs here and throughout the country — from food meccas in Manhattan to chef hangouts in small Southern towns — have embraced the technique, which makes food more tender and flavorful than conventional cooking methods. Some are using it in most of their dishes.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has quelled the sous vide revolution, for the moment.

The department’s actions seem to represent the first time a city agency has singled out the technique, and how chefs use it.



  1. Improbus says:

    Those who can do. Those that can’t join the government and get their revenge.

  2. Lou says:

    Lay off the city… It has health dept rules which say things should be cooked at a certain temp, to protect us, the consumers. I’m sure the new under vacuum technique is perfectly safe (and tasty), but you can’t expect consumer protection organizations (either public/private) to accept every new invention without testing.

    Personally, as a libertarian, I would rather see the restuarants allowed to serve this type of food, as long as the diners are fully informed of the technique.

  3. The health dept is on top of a serious issue. In Europe where sous-vide is common, regulations and general knowledge avoid the terrible mistake of assuming that food in a vacuum will not breed bacteria.

    In NYC, the health dept is worried (resonably I think) that some cooks will make this mistake. Sos-vide food has to be cooked!
    – PrBl

  4. gquaglia says:

    Reminds me of a stupid law that was passed and then recinded in NJ several years back which forbid the serving of runny eggs. Public outcry forced a reversal of that decision.

  5. Jim B (changing to JeeBs soon) says:

    According to the cuisinetechnology.com website, cooking is done by putting a sealed bag in 180-200°F water. Food cooked to 160 °F is sufficient to kill bacteria.

    I spent two minutes doing some quick research (see the links above), and was able to determine that sous vide cooking kills bacteria, so what’s the problem? Why couldn’t the NYDOH (New York Dept of Health) do the same thing? (You would think they would already know safe cooking temperatures.)

    This has to be about something else, and this the “perceived correct way” to deal with the problem. So what is the underlying issue?

  6. Brenda Helverson says:

    If I recall correctly, the NYT Magazine had an article (now behind the paywall) saying that the cooking temperature for sous vide was chosen to be high enough to kill bacteria but low enough not to rupture the cell walls of the food being cooked.

    As was once said (in a different context), you can always recognize the pioneers because they are the ones with the arrows in their backs.

  7. Lou says:

    Jim B.

    I don’t think going on the internet and looking at some websites constitutes “research”. And in fact, that particular site that you cite is commercial, they sell the technology for the vacuum stuff. Not exactly impartial.

  8. moss says:

    Lou, it may have been a commercial site; but, any serious cook knows that 160F is sufficient. Fact is, if you’re at any successful restaurant in any major American city and you order rare beef or lamb — you’re probably eating a cut that didn’t make it past 145F.

  9. James Hill says:

    Anthonly Bourdain should be allowed to kill these fools on his show.

  10. Jim B (changing to JeeBs soon) says:

    “…Looking at websites does not constitute research…”

    Thanks for the response, Lou. I do think looking at websites is a perfectly legitimate way of doing research, as long as you pick good sources and give them credit, which I did. The site that sold the equipment was not chosen because they made any statements about the safety of their equipment, but rather because it described the equipment needed and process of sous vide cooking. And I think that offering an opinion after doing some research is far better that offering an opinion based on nothing more than gut feeling.

    So, that leaves the question I posed — is this about something else?

    Turns out, it is indeed.

    After reading the original story in the NYTimes (found here), the process being used is this (simplified):
    (1) vacuum seal food in a bag
    (2) cook bag with food at temperatures high enough to kill bacteria (cooking times vary considerably depending on the food)
    (3) chill bag with food until it is ready to be served
    (4) reheat still sealed bag in warm water
    (5) open bag and serve

    It is these last three steps that are of concern to the NYDOH.

    I think that if the food was cooked and served immediately as you would normally expect in a restaurant, there would be no problem. If you read to page 6 of the NYTimes article, it states that the bags of food are being reheated and served.

    So, are the cooked sealed bags enough to prevent the growth of bacteria after they have been chilled and stored? I buy mayo that’s been sitting on a shelf (presumably pasteurized), and it is good at room temp until opened (not the best analogy, but you get my point).

    So until the question about bacteria growth in a cooked, chilled and stored bag is answered, the NYDOH has a valid concern. If the food is being served immediately after being cooked, then I say “No problem”. IMHO.

  11. Mr. Fusion says:

    Lou makes a very good comment. Looking at a web site does not constitute “research. Too often, as Lou pointed out, references are to biased blogs or opinionated pieces. And, as Lou stated, one of these sites does refer to the actual manufacturer of the equipment.

    I do give credit though to Jim, though. That was a good response and justification.

    I do think the government has a vested interest in this process. The analogy about mayo, though similar, is totally different. The manufacturer of the mayo is using a proven tested method of manufacture, canning, and preservation. They will use quality control to measure and verify the safety of their product. And, lastly, they are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. This process in the restaurants does not use any quality control to measure contamination; they rely on the pretense that the process is good, therefore the product must be good too.

    My last comment to all those worried about the government intrusion. If there had of been some people sickened by this process, then there would be no end to people screaming “where was the Department of Health”. “How could the DOH let this happen”? When people complain about silly regulations, maybe they should start to think about the ramifications of this POSSIBLE problem.

  12. Gregory says:

    Wayne… that makes no logical sense whatsoever.

  13. Mr. Fusion says:

    Wayne

    The government already does regulate what we can and can’t do or eat.

    To the best of my knowledge, these are all covered under Public Health laws and are there for our protection. This is in spite of the Governments lack of involvement in health. Because of government regulations, cases of Botulism, E. Coli, Salmonella, Listeria and other food borne illnesses are at such low numbers.

    Two of the major causes of these food poisonings are because of inadequate cooking temperatures / time and because of post processing contamination. For the publics health, food preparation needs to be regulated.


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