Cooking fish and canning foods in the dishwasher is becoming a trend among efficient foodies, but food safety experts say it can be dangerous. Explore our dishwasher cooking pros and cons to find out if this is really a safe option for your family.
What Makes Cooking Fish In The Dishwasher So Tempting?
From National Public Radio (NPR) to Oprah and Food Network, dishwasher cooking is gaining popularity and tempting the home cook. Here are four reasons why.
1. It's unique, which makes it kind of fun. Cooking fish in the dishwasher sounds a little crazy. That makes it tempting, particularly when people rave about the results. The dishwasher craze was all the buzz in the mid-90s, and NPR Reporter Michaeleen Doucleff's recent story, “Dishwasher Cooking: Make Your Dinner While Cleaning the Plates,” makes dishwasher cooking sound chic and quaintly homey all at the same time.
2. It's eco-friendly. Though the most disturbing realization in this article may be that Doucleff's first dishwasher fish in 1995 was 18 years ago (Eep! It really has been that long since 1995!), another catching point is that you'll actually be cooking fish with the dirty dishes. It's not just a separate cycle in your dishwasher to cook your food. Now, you'll be using vacuum-sealed bags or airtight canning jars, but it's still a little unnerving. It is, however, more environmentally responsible and frugal than running an extra cycle. That makes it somewhat of an eco-friendly option (especially compared to the foil method that requires you dishwasher cook the fish all by its lonesome). You're running that dishwasher anyway, and the food doesn't take up too terribly much room, so you're saving the gas or electricity you'd use preparing the food another way.
3. It's fast and hands-free. Particularly for those of us with tiny terrorists—ahem, I mean, toddlers—at home, hands-free cooking can be an amazing blessing. This fact is why crockpots are so popular. But the dishwasher has speed on its side on top of the crockpot's dump and run lure.
4. It's a style of its own. If you try dishwasher steaming, you might acquire a special place for it in your heart. It yields a particular texture to your fish that's in some ways superior to baked fish. You might also find it less difficult cooking fish properly (not too dry, but fully cooked) with the dishwasher method.
Why Food Experts Say Cooking Fish In The Dishwasher Isn't Safe
Remembering the 1990s foil method, your first thought might be, “eww, all the dirty dish gunk and the soap residue would get on my fish.” But, if you seal the fish filets in vacuum-sealed bags or place food in canning jars, that's not a big issue. The real concern with cooking fish in the dishwasher is temperature.
5. Fish needs to cook at 145 degrees Fahrenheit to be safe. North Carolina State University food specialist Ben Chapman told Food Safety News that it isn't certain whether dishwashers heat up the food enough to kill pathogens like Salmonella enteritidis and clostridium botulinum. Since dishwashers aren't built to reach specific food safety temperatures, it's not easy to tell whether your fish will heat up to the 145 degrees Fahrenheit required.
Dishwashers reach heat ranges varying from 130-170 degrees Fahrenheit. So, fish might be OK, but eggs might be risky. Vegetables and other foods that can be eaten raw likely pose little risk from dishwasher cooking.
6. Canning at temperatures below 240 degrees Fahrenheit can yield botulism. Using your dishwasher to seal canning jars may spell trouble. While boiling the jar's contents to 212 degrees Fahrenheit kills vegetative cells, it won't impact inactive spores. Canning cookers reach temperatures around 240 degrees Fahrenheit—far beyond the dishwasher's max of 170—to inactivate spores. Foods confined in sealed spaces that reach temperatures of less than 240 yield prime conditions for botulism.
7. Avoid foods that need higher temperatures. You should only consider dishwasher cooking for foods that can be safely consumed from lower temperature cooking. There are plenty of other ways people consume foods cooked at lower temperatures than recommended (hence all the menu warnings about undercooked meats and eggs). So, it's not as if dishwasher cooking necessarily exposes you to anything you don't normally risk. But, if you're at high risk of contracting foodborne illness—those with compromised immune systems, pregnant women, the very young and the elderly—you may want to avoid raw or undercooked foods.
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