Does sous vide effect "use by" dates?

Hey guys, new to the forum but have been sous viding since around September (and have eaten a dozen or more steaks since then!)

I am currently cooking a chuck roast that probably needs to go until tomorrow night, which would be a total cook time of 36 hours at 136.5 degrees. The “sell by date” was I think yesterday (or maybe the 30th).

I know from Douglas Baldwin’s Practical Guide table that the beef is being well pasteurized, and it will be pulled, seared and consumed relatively immediately. How does this effect spoilage?

I guess to clarify my question, does the sous vide bath above 130 degrees suspend spoilage–similar to the way freezing by a sell-by date does?

Thanks for any input.

Baldwin has a table detailing storage duration for pasteurisation. It assumes correct treatment of food once removed from the cooking bath, ie) shock chilling and refrigeration.

The Baldwin ‘Bible’

Is this what you had in mind?

Hi Ember and thanks for the reply. As I mentioned in my OP, I’ve read Douglas’ tables and understand pasteurization and ice baths for storage, but I’m specifically wondering if a bath above 130F suspends spoilage the way freezing does.

Like, if you start a 3 day sous vide on the “sell by” date, is that essentially the same food-safety-wise as freezing on the “sell by date?” Does holding the meat at or above the pasteurization temperature suspend spoilage?

The question really revolves around multi-day sous vide baths and how that effects the spoilage rate.


Arh. Now I understand your question. And the answer is no. Long, slow cooks are a bit of a race against spoilage (autolysis)… actually, if something is starting to spoil (you might notice an ever so slight greenness or lack of brightness around bones) a long, low bath can speed the process.

Hmm. I’d disagree a little bit. The “best before” or “sell by” dates usually have a little bit of wiggle room that the product isn’t actually bad on that date…often days later. (in the case of eggs, they’re often still good for weeks after - do the float test to see if they’ve turned).

When you pasteurize food, it extends the shelf life…killing all pathogens (but not the toxins that they can create) - generally, once somethings pasteurized, you have about 10 days - provided you don’t open the bag and keep it well refrigerated.

What I meant was if the food is already on the turn a long slow cook isn’t going to halt the process. Bacteria aren’t the only things that cause spoilage.

I think it’s important to define what the dates mean.

In my research, “sell by” is a retailer’s date used to decide how to handle product; “best by” date is a quality (or sometimes referred to as “performance”) date, and “use by” refers to spoilage.

For example, some refrigerated pickles have a “best by” date but it only refers to the crispness of the cucumber used. They are perfectly eatable after this date but might not have the “snap” the company wants when bitten into.

I read that beef’s “sell by” date typically means it’s good for around 5 days or so AFTER the “sell by” date. I personally wish meats only came with “use or freeze by” dates so you can be certain, but alas my chuck roast came from the meat counter and was provided just a “sell by” date.

My suspicion is a constant 3-day heating above 130F is well enough into the pasteurization zone to retard any propagation of the 3 major pathogens we want to avoid.

I also agree that any previous spores or spoilage would not be arrested, but it seems further spoilage would be suspended.

Baldwin discusses the safety zone range of temps below freezing and above 126.1F. Or rIf you keeping the meat above that temperature and eat it immediately after pulling it form the bath, wouldn’t that remain safe? 136.5F is far above the 126.1 threshold.

Hi @Dr.Colossus

You couldn’t be more right about how important it is to be clear about what those dates mean! My wife and I had a talk about it when she was getting rid of some pickles that had passed their “best by” date! :slight_smile:

While I think that you are correct about the constant 3 day cook above 130 retarding pathogen propagation, when you mention further spoilage being suspended you’ve hit a snag. Autolysis, as mentioned by @Ember already, is the problem for which you still have to look out. I had my first experience with autolysis just 2 weeks ago, and lost some beef cheeks I’d been cooking at 132F for 64 hours. While the cheeks had been cooked to pasteurization, this didn’t stop the natural breakdown caused by autolysis. It’s just a chance you take.

I suggest doing a search through this forum on autolysis. @Ember has posted some excellent descriptions and caveats regarding it in the past. (I did this search 2 weeks ago when it happened to me! :slight_smile: )

Based on yours posts it looks like you’re already pretty well informed regarding “things sous vide”, so just add “the perils of autolysis” to your arsenal of knowledge! Best of luck!

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Now that I’m reading up on it, what are some common signs that the meat has spoiled? I would think to look for obviously bad smells or strange flavors, as well as gases causing the bag to expand. What are some other common signs to check for?

I really enjoy learning about this stuff, and part of the appeal of sous vide to me is the experimentation between times and temps, but I obviously still have a lot to learn.

Those are your major ones. The nose knows. There may also be a discolouration (not to be confused with the grey-green bloom caused by myoglobin breakdown) but a greenishness particularly along the edge of bones or fat margins. Sliminess on the surface is usually a sign of bacterial bloom rather than autolysis.

Thank you for the link to “The Baldwin Bible”. I’m purchasing his book now.
I’m an RN and admit that some of the info - tho extremely valuable - was above my pay grade.
Could you please point me to the info on “autolysis”? I didn’t see it - tho that definitely doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.
I’m fairly new to Sous Vide and want to make sure I’m doing everything with food safety in mind.
I DID have one instance in which a large cut of beef chuck that I’d been SV’ing for a couple days puffed up and smelled “off”, so I discarded it. Would like to avoid that in the future, if possible.
Learning so much via this forum. Thanks to all who so generously give their time & expertise to help us newbies.

Nothing in Baldwin on autolysis particularly, but Google is always your friend.