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I'm trying to cook beef short-ribs sous-vide at 140° for 72 hours. Imagine my shock this morning when I went into the kitchen and found the machine had turned itself off! It could not have been for long because the temp had only dropped to 80° so given the heat in my kitchen I'm guessing it was only off for an hour or two.

I've since set it back to 140° for at least another 36 hours of cooking...but any damage done from this drop? I'm more worried about bacteria and the like than any effect it will have on the meat.

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Yes, according to the common food-handling procedures, having food in the 'danger zone' for some time is bad ... however, you've likely pasteurized your meat, as you only need to hold it at 140°F for 12 minutes to pasteurize pork against its normal pathogens.

Mind you, it's more than 12 minutes to get the middle up to 140°F, so it's not simply 'it needs to be cooked for 12 minutes'.

As you had pasteurized it for 24+ hrs before it was in the 'danger zone', you would've had a significant reduction in microbes, and the vacuum seal would've prevented it from being re-contaminated.

The only problem might be botulism, as you have to hold it at 185°F to kill the spores and destroy the toxin:

... so if there's garlic in the bag, and it's not in an acidic environment, you're at an increased risk.

You might be able to 'test' the contamination by holding it the warmer sections of your fridge for a week, and if the bag doesn't puff up, assume it's not at risk of botulism. Of course, if you hold it too cool the botulism won't give off enough gas to indicate that it's a problem, so I don't know if it's a 100% accurate test.

I'm not going to say that it is or isn't a problem, as everyone should make their own decision on risk. I wouldn't recommend serving it to others, especially not without informing them of the situation. You should be able to ensure safety by holding it at 185°F for 15-20 minutes, but that would likely defeat the purpose of your sous-vide cooking.

  • Hmm...so first of all, it's beef which I did not mention above <edited>. "short ribs" does usually mean beef, but no biggie no harm no foul. But second of all, I consulted multiple sources for this temp and they all say to cook between 138 and 142 depending on desired done-ness. Does this past answer re: botulism (or are we now more worried about e-coli) change knowing it's beef and not pork? I do plan to sear but probably not enough to get the internal temp up to 160 for any great length of time. – Dave Kanter Mar 2 '15 at 23:02
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    Botulism normally dirt, or stuff that's grown in dirt (garlic being one of the main sources), not from the meat itself. You've pastuerized it long enough to deal with most things that cause food poisoning ... but botulism takes a lot of heat to kill in the first place, and even more heat to break down the toxins that it creates. The good news is that the main issues with botulism are from storing things for a long time (ie, why to avoid puffy cans or jars whose lids have popped). I don't know enough about botulism activity vs. temp to know what's most dangerous for it. – Joe Mar 2 '15 at 23:31
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    Oh ... and I've used sous-vide on beef at 135°F for 3+ days, well within the 'food danger zone' ... and it was delicious. – Joe Mar 2 '15 at 23:36
  • Also thought this was some great accidental reading: nytimes.com/2006/03/09/nyregion/… – Dave Kanter Mar 2 '15 at 23:44
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    Follow-up, it smelled kinda funky when we opened it. Probably the meat and not the process. So my wife chucked it. We'll be trying again with better beef. – Dave Kanter Mar 5 '15 at 18:44
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As I understand it, botulism spores are harmless and in pretty mich everything, it's once the botulism spores has germinated, which takes a long time in an basic, anerobic enviroment (right now the only thing I can find on the internet says 3-4 days, I thought it was more like 6 weeks, I would really like to know so this is not just an answer but a question)... anyway I found this thread because my sous vide oxtail was in for 2 days at 140F & then my power was our for a day, but... its back in now so... que sera sera :)

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    If you want an answer, it is best to start by reading through similar threads (there are a lot of them) and if you can not find the answer, start a new question. Questions asked within answers tend to not get any response. Welcome to the site though! – Richard ten Brink Dec 2 '15 at 10:40
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Well your in that so called "Danger Zone" for 1-2 hours, but IMO it comes down to whether or not your a germaphobe or not. For me and pretty much everyone I know, that is nothing but for others they may be scheduling a doctors visit as we speak.

According to FDA standards and such, you should be mildly concerned. According to real world standards I wouldn't worry about it. It really just boils down to what your comfortable with. If your nervous then don't risk it. Nothing worse then putting all that effort into your meal and can't enjoy it because your worried.

  • Would the people who have downvoted care to explain why? – Dave Kanter Mar 2 '15 at 20:50
  • Another way to put this...I'm assuming I have not introduced new toxins into the vacuum-sealed bag and was cooking at 140° for quite a bit before this which is above what I understand to be temperate for germs. So does dropping back in cause toxins to...rebirth? Anyone? – Dave Kanter Mar 2 '15 at 22:56

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