Is cooking food in the dishwasher considered safe?

I am pretty addicted to cooking shows, which is kind of ironic considering I have only mastered two recipes (homemade macaroni and cheese and dragon noodles). If you were to ever turn on my TV, or pay attention to my OnDemand habits, it’s all about food, food, food and more food. But in all that time of obsessively watching chefs create works of art on a plate, I have never heard of making food quite like this: in the dishwasher.

The procedure behind the dinner plate is pretty simple: Place your food in tightly-wrapped aluminum foil (or more preferably, air-tight jars or food vacuum bags) and run the dishwasher. If using aluminum foil, it is advised to run the dishwasher without soap. If you’re using jars or vacuum packs, you can add soap to the cycle and pull double duty: washing dishes while making dinner.

The method has been featured in YouTube videos, on Oprah (try her salmon recipe here) and even in some cookbooks. According to one chef and food writer, Lisa Casali, the method is not only delicious, but environmentally friendly. By using the dishwasher for two purposes, you are saving on energy in your home.

But, Casali warns, the method is only best for foods that need to be cooked at low temperatures. Before writing her cookbook, Cucinare in Lavastoviglie (Cooking in the Dishwasher), Casali worked with a chemical laboratory to test the safety of the dishwasher-cooked food: if packaged properly within air-tight containers or bags, the food didn’t risk contamination from the water or soap.

Other experts are a bit more skeptical.

Researchers from North Carolina State University (NCSU) aren’t concerned so much about the water or soap, as they are about whether or not the dishwasher will heat up the food enough to kill off dangerous pathogens.

“I have no idea what temperature my dishwasher reaches,” Ben Chapman, food specialist at NCSU said. “That matters here because, with fish, the recommended endpoint temperature is 145°F.”

Chapman’s concerns aren’t just with fish, but with poultry, beef, pork and eggs as well. The dishwasher would need to reach very high temperatures to ensure all pathogens were destroyed. For other foods, such as vegetables that could be consumed raw, temperature is less of a problem.

Another problem? Even if the dishwasher reached the temperature of boiling water at 212°F, which would kill vegetative cells, it wouldn’t be enough to kill inactive spores of pathogens. That is why temperatures for canning and other processes can reach 240°F or more.

“If somebody’s going through chemotherapy, if someone’s been advised because of some other health condition that they shouldn’t be eating raw vegetables or raw foods, it could be a risky proposition,” Chapman added. Others who are at high-risk of foodborne illnesses, such as the young, elderly, pregnant and those with compromised immune systems could also be putting themselves in danger.

As for the dishwasher manufacturers themselves, they don’t advise the cooking method. Representatives from both General Electric and Whirlpool agreed: Use the dishwasher only for its intended purposes.

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