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Aug 27, 2012 09:45 AM

Is sous-vide chicken technically undercooked?

so I recently got the Sous Vide Supreme, and had my first venture into at-home sous vide last night with two chicken breasts. I did everything the directions told me to do - sealed the chicken in the pouches with a little bit of butter, then cooked at 2 hours at 146F. When I took the meat out, its temp was around 143F and it was white all the way through - not pink at all. The meat was very juicy and extremely tasty.

However, a couple hours later, the two of us who ate the chicken started to have the dreaded rumbly tummy, and are experiencing somewhat unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms even this morning. Nothing crazy, but definitely the feeling of "I ate something not so good." I can't imagine that any of the other things we ate with the chicken would have caused this, but then again, you never know.

So tell me this - is there any way we could have gotten sick from using the above method? Though I grew up always thinking you had to cook chicken to 160F in an oven, my understanding is that keeping anything above 140F during the sous vide process is enough to kill bacteria.

Thanks in advance for any thoughts or wisdom you may have!

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  1. Breasts are fine at 145, its the thighs that need to go to 165.

    1. Killing Salmonella has to do with temperature and time.

      From what I remember, sorry I can't find the source, Salmonella can only survive a few seconds at 160F while at 140F it takes more time to knock those buggers down. I don't remember what that time is, but 2 hours sound sufficient. I'm sure someone else here knows those values by heart.

      Also, in terms of cooked, I guess there are different definitions. The way I see it as long as the proteins have "cooked", it's cooked.

      1 Reply
      1. re: dave_c

        10 minutes at 142 degrees is sufficient to kill salmonella.

      2. I recall a routine that Bill Cosby performed where he said "Awww, I ate a dead frog once and I didn't get sick". Well, some people have eaten undercooked poultry without getting sick. But that doesn't mean it's a good idea. Even when groups of people share a meal of contaminated foods not everyone always becomes ill.
        The bacteria danger zone is generally held to be between 40 degrees and 140 degrees. FSIS/USDA insist that poultry cooked below an internal temperature of 165 degrees is risky and temperature dwell times for any food requires careful measurement of temperature throughout the food's mass, not just the cooking temperature of the medium used. Saying that a chicken breast cooked at a given temperature for a given period of time is "safe" misses the point that chicken breasts differ in mass. The time allowed for a 5 ounce chicken breast will be quite different form one weighing 8 ounces (yeah, I know, big chicken) and whether the meat is "bone-in" or boneless is also a factor to consider.
        You survived the sous-vide chicken, whatever the bacteriological contamination might have been. Hope you do as well if some future exposure involves E Coli.

        6 Replies
        1. re: todao

          " Saying that a chicken breast cooked at a given temperature for a given period of time is "safe" misses the point that chicken breasts differ in mass"

          Thats the whole point of sous vide cooking. Its the ability to hold the entire mass as a precise temperature for a given time period. When someone says that a chicken breast needs 12 minutes at 145 degrees, that doesnt mean throw a chicken breast in a water bath for 12 minutes, it means that once the whole breast is at that temperature you need to hold it at that temp for that long to insure safety.

          1. re: twyst

            Thanks, twyst. That's an excellent explanation of sous vide cooking. Using the time you drop the package into the machine as a cooking start time is where problems develop with controlling food borne bacteria.
            Another point that we haven't discussed here is cross contamination. The OPs chicken may have been fully "cooked", in terms of safe consumption guidelines, we can't know that for certain. But when the chicken was handled during preparation there is a possibility that cross contamination with knives, counter tops, momentarily touching items with unwashed hands when handling the chicken, handles on cooking vessels, cutting boards, etc. could have easily caused contamination of other foods prepared for the meal.
            I often read these forums and wonder how many of those offering advice on food safety have experienced a food handler's training course. Some of the information included in those programs will make your hair stand on end and it can truly change your perspective on how to handle food.

          2. re: todao

            I think 2 hours with a setpoint of 146F is longer than is typical for chicken breasts, and should certainly have been OK unless these were truly humungous breasts.

            For some FSIS data, see . See Attachment 2 for the times to reach the recommended 7 log reduction at various temperatures. Of course, we've got to account for the lowest internal temperature rather than the surface or bath temperature. There are data available that let you estimate how long it takes for the internal temperature of chicken with various thickness to get within, say, 1 degree of the bath temperature -- I'll have too look for that when I get home.

            Also see the nice graph entitled "Bacteria and Safety" about 2/3 of the through the following PDF:

            1. re: drongo

              OP here. The chicken breasts were not humongous, and I am always very careful with food safety and cross-contamination. The one thing I can think of is that when we took the breasts out, after 2 hours at 146, the internal temp was only 143. They were just refrigerated, not frozen. Maybe they internally spent too long below 140? Or maybe I should have rinsed them before sealing, as a precaution?

              1. re: violet42

                Did you measure the temperature of the bath with the same thermometer you used for the internal temperature? My sous vide setup has a significant offset in the measured temperature vs setpoint, so I have to make an adjustment.

                I looked in Douglas Baldwin's "Sous Vide for the Home Cook" and he has a table of pasteurization times for poultry in a 140F water bath. For a thickness of 3/4", the required time is 60 minutes; for a thickness of 1 1/4" it's 105 minutes; for 1 1/2" it's 135 minutes. Baldwin uses very conservative estimates -- e.g. he calculates based on Listeria rather than Salmonella, because Listeria is more heat resistant than Salmonella. He also uses worst-case scenario for heating up -- assuming "slab" of uniform thickness into which heat is transferred into the poultry only through top and bottom (with no heating through sides). So for "not humungous" breasts you should have been fine (even if the water bath temperature were to have been only 140F rather than 146F).

                1. re: violet42

                  Rinsing doesn't make any difference — it just spreads the stuff around. That is why the USDA-FSIS recommends against it.

            2. Is sous-vide chicken technically undercooked?


              1. Believe it or not, I use my XL Butterball Indoor Electric Turkey Fryer (model 20011210) for sous vide since at the moment I can't afford the Sous Vide Supreme. I have the rack for the SVS and a Foodsaver with long rolls of Italian-made bag material which I cut long and fold the collar over several inches while I put the food in the bag so the seal isn't compromised when I take the air out. The fryer holds the water at whatever temp I set it for for a long as I need and it works great even without circulating the water. I recently made boneless lamb shoulder which I had brined/marinated in yogurt and spices, (divided into 5 or 6 packages with olive oil, Greek herbs, lemon, and salt) for, I kid you not, three days at 134-135 (as per thermometer reading-NOT the machine's setting which was123-124! I rotated the bags occasionally. The meat never overcooked. It stayed pink and was silky-tender and yummy. We ate one package the first day (after about 6 hours) but the others stayed in the machine. I added hot water a time or two but very little ever really evaporated off. Next time I plan to give the meat a quick, hot sear before I put it in the bags so it looks somewhat brown when I take it out but without the risk of cooking it more after sous viding it.
                Having said that, I have several different thermometers and every one shows a different temp when I use it. Specifically, for sous vide I use as my default thermometer (Polder foldable instant type, less than $20 from QVC) the one that registers the lowest temperature compared to my other ones. If it says my meat's internal temp is 145, my other thermometers probably say the temp is above that. Your 143 reading is so close to the margin of safety it makes me suspect that the thermometer could be off, and even a degree or two in this range could make a difference in food safety. I would 1. start my (rinsed) chicken while very, very cold and simply let it cook longer, 2. sous vide chicken breasts at 147-150, and 3. check the temp of your finished product with more than one thermometer and consider the one with the lowest reading as the most accurate. Glad you didn't get real sick! It may not have been the chicken at all. In my experience, it usually takes at least 10-12 hours for food poisoning to set in. We had a quickie dinner using an unfamiliar jarred spaghetti sauce (Mrs. something) the other night, and we were all, let's just say, rumbly in the tumbly all the next day!
                One last thought on sous vide cooking: salt tends to dissipate for some reason and many of my early experiments came out needing salt. I have learned to add a bit more than I would ordinarily use when I sous vide. There's a book called Cooking For Geeks which has a long chapter on sous vide cooking that explains the science behind how sous vide works to break down connective tissue, leaving really tender meat without "drying" it out or causing stringiness as pressure cooking, crock-pot cooking, or even braising can do.
                Hope that helps! Have fun with your SVS!

                1 Reply
                1. re: jilkat25

                  I use the same XL turkey fryer for sous-vide cooking. It does the job. I also use a Turkey Fryer Remote Thermometer made by Maverick Industries. It is off by 5* so I adjust for that. Helps allot. It has a alarm to warn you if the Temps. go to high-or low, it also tells you the average temp. Your the only other person I know of that uses this turkey fryer for Sous-Vide It is really good to be able to use it because of the versatility. Sous-Vide, Boil, Steam, or Deep Fryer. The Temp. swing is 6*(+or-3*).