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Everything about pasteurization with sous-vide

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When we cook our food, whether sous-vide or a traditional cooking method, we do it for three reasons. We heat our food for one better taste, because it makes our meat or vegetables more tender. Moreover, we heat our food to make it safe for consumption.

Baking, stewing, cooking and sous-vide cooking kills a large number of disease-causing microorganisms. Most bacteria are destroyed at temperatures higher than 60 degrees Celsius. Without even realizing it, you are already pasteurizing a large part of the food.

What is pasteurization?

The name 'pasteurization' is derived from the name of the discoverer of this process, Louis Pasteur. He was a French chemist and biologist and carried out the first pasteurization in 1862, together with Claude Bernard – a French physiologist.

Pasteurization is a way to make foods safe for consumption, but also to ensure a longer shelf life. During pasteurization, the product is heated to a temperature below 100 degrees Celsius.

Pasteurize or sterilize?

Pasteurization and sterilization are not the same. Pasteurization is done at a lower temperature and not all micro-organisms are rendered harmless.

With pasteurization, the number of micro-organisms is 'only' reduced to a level at which foods can be consumed safely and their shelf life can be extended. Sterilization uses a much higher temperature. All micro-organisms are destroyed, but the high temperature affects the taste of the product. This is because the proteins in the product change chemically during sterilization.

Taste is very important, especially when it comes to foods, and that is why pasteurizing food at lower temperatures is preferable.

How can you pasteurize?

Pasteurization is nothing more than heating a product to a certain temperature for a certain time. Pasteurization can therefore be done in different ways.

A classic way of pasteurization is the so-called 'hot filling'. A food, such as jam, is first cooked and then immediately sealed airtight. Another way to pasteurize food is by using steam.

By far the easiest way to pasteurize food at home is to use a sous-vide device . The product is first vacuumed, then the product is heated until the desired core temperature is reached. The product is then safe for consumption or we quickly cool it again after cooking. The product can thus be consumed later. In an earlier blog we have already written about the how and why of re-cooling with sous-vide .

Sous-vide pasteurization

With sous-vide you cook a piece of meat, fish or vegetables at a very precise temperature and for a certain time. When you prepare meat, fish or even vegetables using sous-vide, you ensure that the product is completely safe to eat, but at the same time you prevent it from being overcooked. With sous vide the flavors are better preserved. In fact, meat that is allowed to float in the bath with warm water for sufficient time will improve in structure and become much more tender. Sous-vide is therefore an ideal way to prepare food.

When should you pasteurize meat sous-vide?

Some types of meat will need to be completely pasteurized, while other types of meat are food safe when briefly stirred in the pan. There are a number of different factors that go into determining whether you should pasteurize meat.

Ultimately, it's all about parasites and bacteria. Meat can contain these microorganisms. These pathogens can end up on the meat and develop further there. Depending on the density and type of meat, you can sometimes find bacteria deep in the meat.

Pasteurize chicken and other poultry

Chicken meat and other types of poultry should always be pasteurized. Raw chicken is notorious for the presence of salmonella bacteria. A piece of chicken will therefore always have to be heated to the core. It is therefore better to avoid a chicken tartare or a medium-rare fried chicken leg.

Sous-vide pasteurization of beef and lamb

Beef and lamb are safe to eat raw. The method of slaughtering and processing greatly reduces the risk of dangerous bacteria and parasites. Due to the structure of the meat, bacteria will only be on the outside of the meat. This means that when you briefly heat the meat in the pan, you can bring the core of the meat to a temperature that suits you. A fully cooked steak is therefore no safer than a medium cooked steak.

Keep in mind that this is only the case when the outside of the meat is really the outside. When ground meat is ground, the outside becomes the inside and vice versa. Baking the outside of the meat well will not solve anything. A hamburger is therefore rarely served medium or rare. If you want that, you will have to ensure high-quality beef and you will have to cut off the outside of the meat before it goes into the meat grinder.

Pasteurize pork with sous-vide

It is not really common to eat pork rare or even raw. Pig meat can contain bacteria and parasites that can only be rendered harmless by properly frying the meat.

On a piece of meat, most bacteria can be found on the outside of the meat. Meat that consists of one piece, such as the well-known pork tenderloin, can therefore be eaten pink, but only when the outside is well browned.

How to pasteurize meat with sous-vide?

The time needed to pasteurize meat depends on the type of meat and the temperature of the sous-vide bath. In the example below we use a beef steak and a chicken breast fillet of 25 mm thick. These cuts of meat can be pasteurized when cooked at the following temperatures and times.

Sous-vide time and temperature of beef with a thickness of 25 mm:
  • 55°C for 2 hours and 45 minutes
  • 57°C for 1 hour and 50 minutes
  • 60°C for 1 hour and 20 minutes
Sous-vide time and temperature chicken fillet with a thickness of 25 mm:
  • 58°C for 2 hours and 20 minutes
  • 60°C for 1 hour and 40 minutes
  • 65°C for 1 hour

For more specific sous-vide times and temperatures for other types of meat, you can read more in our blog about sous-vide times . You can find the required times for different types of meat, thicknesses and temperatures.

In brief

Sous-vide is an ideal way to pasteurize meat, fish and vegetables. By first vacuum-sealing the food and then cooking it at a certain temperature, you can ensure that micro-organisms, such as bacteria and parasites, are rendered harmless.

The product therefore becomes completely safe for consumption, without negatively affecting the quality of the cooked product. In fact, choosing sous-vide will even ensure a much more tender end result.

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