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Homemade boil-in-a-bag?

An elderly relative lives in another state and has difficulty eating properly, so we're trying to think of ways to cook and freeze meals to take her that she can reheat easily. She prefers using the oven to the microwave, but we do have one of those vacu-seal machines and the idea of heating some foods in boiling water came up.

Has anyone used this method? I've heard for ages that there are issues with heating some plastics and food safety so I'm hesitant (it's not like there aren't other methods we could use). I looked at the bags at the store but didn't find any information one way or the other; next step is to ask them directly, but I thought I'd throw the idea out here first.

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  1. I recently bought a food saver; I have reheated frozen rice in a sealed bag before with no problem. I will be trying other things such as cooked meats.

    1. I do it all the time! As long as you use the "Food Saver" or any other brand of plastic pouches designed for sous vide cooking or freezing you won't have any problems. One great advantage might be making stews, soups, whatever, in the pouches, freezing them, then shipping them to her packed with dry ice. I buy my dry ice from the customer service desk at WalMart. I've read about using Ziploc bags for this purpose but I don't trust it. I only use plastic pouches designed for boiling/cooking food.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Caroline1

        A ha! Thank you Caroline and Cheryl for the good tips. I agree about the Ziploc misgivings (in fact I would never even freeze a Ziploc storage bag--freezer bag only) but if Food Saver has reheating in mind, that makes a difference in my confidence. No one wants to poison family!

        1. re: ennuisans

          You may also want to be sure to use only BPA free plastic bags (ziplock bags are bpa free, generic bags will not be)

      2. Foodsaver makes Freeze 'N Steam bags that are microwave and simmer safe. Check their website or Amazon.

        1. You can simmer in them. From the FoodSaver Site:

          "When simmering food in a FoodSaver® bag, why does it split open at the seam?
          Only place bags with frozen food inside the simmering water. The coldness of the food will keep the bag from becoming too hot while the food is heating up. If the food in the bag was frozen, but the bag split anyway, your bags are most likely defective."

          1. I started doing this around thirty years ago when I was single. I put leftovers (gumbo, jambalaya, whatever) into a seal bag, froze it, and boiled it to reheat it. Be very careful that the pot used is big enough, if part of the bag hangs over the edge of a pot on a gas or traditional electric stove, it can melt and open the bag.

            1. Bags made specifically for sous vide are tested to be safe for heating up to boiling temperatures. There is a big downside though - the price of the chamber vacuums designed to use them.

              There's not a whole lot of evidence out there either way that I've seen about the safety of heating BPA-free bags that are not designed for sous vide. You won't find much evidence from the bags themselves, since they are not tested for heating and I think manufacturers would rather avoid the issue entirely. I can tell you off-hand that many such bags appear to be more or less unchanged when heated to temperatures below about 160 f (very rough figure), and tend to become somewhat softer when heated to simmering temperatures, which presumably indicates an acceleration of some kind of chemical change in the bag. It would be mere speculation for me to write about the exact nature of this change or its health implications. At either temperature range, I've never detected any flavor change from using either ziplock freezer bags, the original vacuum bags some foods (like frozen fish) are packed in, or food saver style vacuum bags.

              Steamer bags made by food saver or other companies might be a good bet, or they might just be a solution to a problem that doesn't really exist. Couldn't really say.

              In any case, there's no real evidence of harm from heating BPA free bags. Which isn't quite to say there's evidence that its harmless.

              4 Replies
              1. re: cowboyardee

                Oooooops! You're usually so "on the nose" with your information, but things have gotten better in the world of sous vide! You DO NOT have to have a chamber vacuum sealer to package foods for sous vide cooking. I have a Sous Vide Supreme water oven, and I use a Food Saver brand vacuum sealer with rolls that I cut and seal to the bag size I want. YES! A chamber vacuum machine would be fantastic, but at a minimum of about a thousand bucks a pop, I'll continue to "make do" with the Food Saver and do things like freeze any sauces or wet ingredients I want to include prior to vacuum sealing the cook-in pouch. But if Santa is reading this, hey, a chamber vacuum sealer is a great gift!!! '-)

                1. re: Caroline1

                  I'm aware that people can and do use the foodsaver and other home model vacuum sealers for sous vide - that's been the case since the first home cooks started messing around with it. I've done it myself, though I eventually switched over to mainly using ziplock freezer bags. But I'm unaware of any bags foodsaver has tested and advertised as safe for sous vide cooking. I feel relatively safe using foodsaver or bpa-free ziplock bags at lower sous vide temperatures, but there is likely some leeching from plastic with these kinds of bags.
                  (see stuart yaniger's comments below the article


                  I have been reluctant to try steamer bags for sous vide, mainly because I'm not certain they contain any fewer leeching additives, and also because I worry that they might have tiny perforations to let steam out (which would obviously be problematic for sous vide). I could very well be incorrect on both accounts, as I haven't researched the matter thoroughly.

                  If you know of any bags (besides those designed for sous vide using a chamber vac) that have been tested not to leech at boiling or simmering temperatures and not to contain any estrogen-mimicking compounds, please let me know. I could be behind the times on this, but my google-fu has failed me so far.

                  At any rate, it wouldn't surprise me at all if the foodsaver and ziplock bpa-free bags commonly used for home sous vide were at least as safe as those initially used for 'boil in bag' in the 1960s or still used for things like rice.

                  1. re: cowboyardee

                    I most often use these: http://tinyurl.com/lzjgr8n

                    which are one hell of a lot cheaper when bought at Sam's Club than from amazon.com: http://tinyurl.com/kn6jts7 or probably your local vendor.

                    I trust Vacmaster more than I trust Food Saver or Sous Vide Supreme bags simply because Vacmaster is one of the pioneer companies in sous vide equipment and is the company that makes those very expensive chamber vacuum machines. (Dear Santa...!


                    All manufacturers of any brand of sous vide bags CLAIM they are safe, but.... As a dyed in the wool cynic, I happen to know for a fact that the FDA and the food safety folks are fully capable of lying through their teeth!!! So are they REALLY safe? Frankly, My Dear, I don't give a damn! At age 80, I can well afford to live dangerously! One of the few blessings of old age... '-)

                    But I'll also add that I do feed my grandson, age 10, foods that I have cooked sous vide and don't spend any sleepless nights worrying about it. I figured out a long time ago that my only choice is to make decisions based on the very best information I can garner on any given subject, then just be comfortable living with it the rest of my life... Still, it would be nice if life came with a few guarantees beyond death and taxes... '-)

                    Post Script: I THINK the plastics that have the "estrogen mimicking" problems are made from plastics made of soy beans. Soy beans AND garbanzo beans have a very high content of natural plant estrogens, and anyone -- male and female -- can have trouble when they put too much plant estrogens into their bodies.

                    I do recall a HUGE public relations program from Monsanto??? or some other manufacturer who was developing plastics made from soy beans in the '40s and '50s... One ad featured a steering wheel for a car "made from soy beans." There are LOTS of people in the world today who have serious health issues they're unaware of because they have no idea (nor do their doctors) about how much extra estrogen they get simply because of the massive increased use of soy in everything from filler for hamburger to soy bean burgers in the frozen food section. Caveat emptor....! And more importantly, keep informed!

                    1. re: cowboyardee

                      And after having read your referenced article on estrogen and plastic (I had not read it when I wrote my above response), let me add a bit of information that is not covered in that very interesting article.

                      First off, if you love sous vide (and I do!) there are a few tricks you can do to mimic a chamber vac, but that will also limit food contact with plastic sous vide containers. I SOMETIMES (not all the time, it has to be a special dish!) put my food (entire recipe contents) in a Pyrex casserole WITH A GLASS LID and vacuum seal it in large custom sized bags I make myself, then carefully lower it into my water oven. The vacuum sealer CAN NOT suck the content out of the dish with the lid on it, but it CAN suck as much air as possible out of the bag AND the glass container, but is incapable of "sucking" hard enough to implode the glass dish. If any of the liquid should ever start climbing through the sealing strip because I FORGOT to put the lid on, then I can manually stop the suction and that prevents the sealing part because it only happens AFTER suction! Except in "heat only" mode.

                      I haven't tried this method with simple cuts of meat, such as the chuck roasts I sous vide into medium rare Porterhouse flavor, color and tenderness because I simply do those in a fresh sous vide bag I make myself, but if I was truly worried about leached estrogen because of plastic contact with my food, that's the method I'd use rather than messing with silicone bags! Too many people have problems with silicone! I have a (lost through time) girlfriend who used to be a Vegas show girl and had to have a double mastectomy because of silicone contact inside her body. Bottom line seems to indicate there is risk in most, if not all modern plastics. GLASS is tried and true and been in use since ancient Egypt. Therefore I personally attach a food safety stamp of approval to my Pyrex glass in a sous vide bag method of protection from plant estrogens inherent in plastics. Think of Pyrex as a glass condom! '-)

                      Oh, yeah... And information such as this is why I WISH we had a sous vide board!!!

                2. I'd be concerned about setting up your elderly relative for stovetop boiling water burns and/or boiled dry & melted (forgotten, dozed off while cooking).

                  Has she said why she prefers using her oven instead of microwave? Perhaps she needs a more modern one with a reheat-sensor button - i.e., easy controls.

                  Otherwise, package your frozen items to fit in her 8x8 metal pan or a bread pan.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: MidwesternerTT

                    She's still capable, just not interested in cooking. The preference for the stove just comes, I think, to a matter of taste. Microwaved foods can lose a lot of their zip, especially meats.

                    1. re: ennuisans

                      Even though some plastic bags are BPA free, i have to wonder if there are other compounds that may not be safe to heat. Can't quite bring myself to do it!

                  2. I would have zero problems with eating food that was sealed in FoodSaver bags and then reheated in simmering water.

                    How old is your relative? I would think that she will most likely die from something other than possible exposure to BPA.

                    1. So, sous vide is all the rage now, but I will not do it because I feel that the leaching of all sorts of chemicals from the flexible plastic would be harmful. Some say "I've had no ill effects," but it isn't like one is going to go all toxic all at once. I'm an environmental engineer, and I know about these things. Has anyone performed an actual study on how many of these chemicals wind up in the food? Heating plastic around food will transfer chemicals to the food and into your body.

                      Think about asparagus - 30 minutes later, and your pee smells funny. Your body adsorbs these chemicals.