Is sous vide cooking in plastic safe?

Sous vide cooking at low temperatures in a water bath can only be achieved by packing the food ingredients in plastic, either vacuum packed or in a ziplock bag. Thinking of food and plastic, thoughts around food safety come to mind so an important topic to review. 

At SousChef we’re just as concerned about our health as you are. Our lifestyle is designed around living the healthiest lifestyle possible as we’re mindful about risks of developing obesity, cancer, heart disease and diabetes.  That’s why we’re conscious about what to do to avoid these risks: we cook from scratch as much as possible to avoid hidden ingredients and processed foods, and we keep moving throughout the day as our office is equipped with a treadmill desk. Sitting is the new smoking, so we want to avoid long sedentary hours that have proven to be a major risk factor of developing chronic diseases.

So while we love cooking from scratch with the best ingredients, and sous vide cooking ticks all the boxes with regards to respecting the quality of the meat and vegetables you prepare, bringing out the best flavour and texture, while retaining all nutrients, it comes with the downside of plastic.

The drawback of use of plastic is two-fold:

  1. It adds to plastic pollution problem that we have in the world, as simply everything around us is or contains (or comes packaged in) plastic.
  2. Risk factors of plastic on human health are heavily debated, and the jury is still out to be able to give conclusive recommendations 

Many plastics around us are found to release low levels of plasticizer [ https://citizensustainable.com/plastic-health-risk/ ], from the plastic bottles and straws that we drink from, the toys our kids play with, the sunscreen that we apply to our skin. Important to consider, is the heat in combination with duration of exposure: a study showed that it took 38 days for a bottle of water heated up to 55C started to leach harmful levels of plasticides. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/07/exposed-to-extreme-heat-plastic-bottles-may-become-unsafe-over-time/

As sous vide cooking is done at low temperatures (never in boiling water), and for up to 48 hours this means that concentrations aren’t harmful. We wouldn’t suggest to boil your food in plastic, and with sous vide cooking this is never done.

Aside from duration, the actual plastic that is used is important, as not all plastics are the same. For sous vide cooking, we recommend using food grade bags (either polyethylene or polypropylene) as these are safe for preparing food in a warm water bath [ https://nomnompaleo.com/post/12463202060/cooking-sous-vide-plastic-safety ].

Considering the effects on the environment, the aim is always to reduce plastic where possible in your day to day life, especially where it doesn’t add any value as opposed to another solution.

  • Buy fresh vegetables and fruit, without packaging, using reusable bags where necessary
  • Bring reusable shopping bags for your groceries
  • Store or cover leftover food or lunch with bees wax wrap instead of cling foil
  • Make your own yoghurt using glass jars, as opposed to buying plastic containers or individual cups
  • Buy bulk, which always saves on packaging and is generally cheaper too
  • Use reusable glass straws, they’re hygienic and the ocean will love you for it

For sous vide, the value add of plastic is significant as no other method provides the same flavour and texture, and retains all nutrients of the food. To keep the use of plastic to a minimum we recommend the following: buy bulk, and freeze and sous vide in the same bag. Prepare your cut adding spices, olive oil, and garlic, and vacuum seal for freezing and use the same bag for sous vide. This is a perfect way for meal prepping too, saving you time on the day you want to serve it for dinner. Alternatively, you can also opt for a reusable solution: using a silicon bag. These can be washed and reused, saving on plastic in general.

So before you decide to shelve the idea of introducing sous vide in your kitchen, consider options where you can reduce unnecessary plastics, to reap the rewards from (safe) plastic where it is beneficial.