Impact of overcrowding sous vide water baths on the thermal process of pork loins
Background: In the culinary industry, sous vide is a popular cooking method in which lower temperatures are used to cook food to retain more desirable organoleptic characteristics. However, this technique may compromise food safety as the temperature may not be sufficient enough to eliminate pathogens that may be present. The BCCDC’s Guidelines for Restaurant Sous Vide Cooking Safety in British Columbia advises when too many food items are placed in the sous vide water bath, inadequate water circulation may occur with the result that process lethality, measured by calculation of log10 reductions, may not be achieved. The purpose of this study was to determine how overcrowding a sous vide water bath would impact the thermal process of pork loins. Methods: Each pork loin sample had a SmartButton inserted and was vacuum sealed in a plastic bag. The water bath was preheated to 60˚C by an immersion circulator. Under normal conditions, six pork loin samples were held in the water bath for 1 hour and the process was repeated four more times. Under overcrowded conditions, two runs were conducted for 1.5 to 2 hours, each consisting of 15 samples stacked in three layers. SmartButton temperature values were used to calculate whether a 6.5 log10 reduction for Salmonella spp. was achieved, using the American Meat Institute’s formula. Results: Using a 31-minute cook time, pork loins in normal conditions reached an average log reduction of 8.85 (range: 0.51 to 21.07), which was significantly higher than the 6.5 log10 reduction objective (p = 0.006). Conversely, pork loins in overcrowded conditions reached an average log reduction of 1.76 (range: 0.05 to 7.93), which was significantly lower than the 6.5 log10 reduction objective (p = 0.000). Furthermore, cooking lethality between the two conditions, pork loins in crowded and overcrowded conditions, were found to be significantly different from each other (p = 0.000). No differences were found in the mean log10 reductions between the pork loins placed in each of the three layers in an overcrowded water bath at 31 minutes (p = 0.094). Conclusion: Overcrowding sous vide water baths does impact on the thermal process of pork loins. Food products cooked under overcrowded conditions require a longer cook time, (approximately 30 minutes longer) to achieve at least 6.5 log10 reductions. Therefore, it is advised that food handlers using sous vide techniques should avoid overcrowding sous vide water baths. Further research using more samples is recommended to determine potential cold spot patterns in overcrowded water baths due to inadequate water circulation.