Sous vide is becoming increasingly popular as a cooking method to prepare delicious, convenient, and healthy meals with a minimum of fuss.
However, with the increasing drive to cut down on the amount of single-use plastics we use, there are concerns that it isn’t the most environmentally sound cooking method.
Luckily, there are ways to reuse sous vide bags. Not only does this work out cheaper for the consumer, but it also helps to protect the planet.
Can Sous Vide Bags Be Reused?
The simple answer is “yes,” but there is a wide variety of sous vide bags. Certain types of sous vide bags can and can’t be reused. Not all types of bags are reusable, so you’ll want to keep reading to understand which ones are reusable.
Sous vide is a cooking method where the food is cooked “under vacuum.” This vacuum is achieved by sealing the meat in a plastic bag with a vacuum sealer. In most instances, this is achieved using plastic rolls that are cut to length, then sealed using a vacuum pack machine.
The unfortunate downside is that these are single-use bags that once had to be disposed of. This is wasteful and not environmentally friendly. There are some vacuum seal bags that can be reused now, but make sure you read the directions to know whether the plastic is safe to be reused again.
In 2018, plastic production in the US was 35.7 million tons. Much of this will end up in landfill sites and even worse – the oceans.
This is concerning, but there is no need to toss that sous vide machine just yet. There is an increasing number of planet-friendly reusable alternatives that will let you enjoy all the benefits of sous vide without the guilt.
What Types of Sous Vide Bags are Reusable?
Generally, reusable sous vide bags will fall into two categories: Ziploc and silicone bags.
There are pros and cons to both, which I will discuss. In the final part of this section I will throw in a little hack, that will let you sous vide without the need for any plastic!
Reuse Ziploc Bags for Sous Vide
Ziploc freezer food bags can be effective when used for sous vide. Although they will never achieve the same vacuum seal as with normal vacuum seal bags, you can use the water displacement method sous vide to remove most of the air.
To use the water displacement method, place your food in the Ziploc bag, then seal all but two inches. Then lower the bag slowly into the water bath with the lock side up until the Ziploc is level with the waterline and then seal the bag. Most of the air will have been displaced by the water pressure.
Most types of freezer bags will be suitable for sous vide, but always check they are BPA-free and make sure the lock is of good quality. Bad quality bags may end up with the bags breaking and potentially ruining your food. These Ziploc freezer bags are good and can be found online.
- Expandable, sturdy base so you can stand these Ziploc bags and fill them with liquids, sauces, and any other potentially messy food and non-food items
- Power Shield technology combines durable BPA-free plastic and an easy-close slider to provide ease of use and peace of mind
After cooking with the Ziploc bags, you’ll want to wash them and dry them out thoroughly before reusing them. Check the integrity of the bag before you reuse them, so your food won’t be ruined. I generally don’t use Ziploc bags more than 2-4 times.
Sous Vide Using Ziploc Bags Pros
- Cheap and effective
- Easy to clean
Sous Vide Using Ziploc Bags Cons
- A limited number of reuses
- At higher temperatures, the seal can break
Reusing Silicone Bags for Sous Vide
Silicone bags like the Stasher brand of food-grade bags are becoming increasingly popular in sous vide circles. These can be reused thousands of times and are easy to clean after use, with most of them being dishwasher safe. You can find Stasher on Amazon.
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Because they are thicker than Ziploc bags, removing the air is trickier and inevitably, there will be air retained in the bag. Getting as much air as possible out helps to cook your steak evenly, but it does add a bit of hassle to the prep side of sous vide cooking.
Another downside of air in the bag is that it can cause the bag to float. I have used a rack placed in the water in the past to prevent this.
Stasher bags are more expensive than ziplock and vacuum seal rolls, but they’re less expensive in the long run.
Silicone Bags for Sous Vide Pros
- Can be reused hundreds to thousands of times
- Easy to wash
- Can withstand high temperatures
Silicone Bags for Sous Vide Cons
- Difficult to get the air out completely
- Tendency to float, so it’s best to have racks or weights
Sous Vide Using a Mason Jar
This isn’t a perfect solution as there is no way to remove the air, but for certain foods where even cooking isn’t important, then a mason jar can work well in a sous vide bath.
This method works best when used on foods with high liquid content such as soups, sauces, beans, and preserves. They’re great for making dessert like the Sous Vide Chocolate Pot de Creme.
Jars are perhaps the most environmentally friendly of all sous vide containers and are easily sterilized. and highly effective when used to cook suitable foods.
How to Reuse Sous Vide Bags
Care is always needed to make sure you are reusing sous vide bags safely. In this section, I will discuss the steps needed to clean your bags and anything else you should watch for when reusing sous vide bags.
Reusing Ziploc Bags for Sous Vide
I wouldn’t recommend reusing these more than two or three times. The process of sous vide will break the bags down, and also no matter how well you clean them flavors from the cooked food can leech into the bags and taint the flavor of the next food you cook.
The following steps describe how to clean your Ziploc bag so it’s ready for reuse.
- Wash thoroughly with hot water and detergent or soap
- Sterilize the bag by soaking in a solution of one part bleach to ten parts water for two minutes
- Rinse thoroughly and allow to completely dry before use
Reusing Silicone Bags Sous Vide
This is a better option when it comes to reusability, but it still does require care. Sous vide is a method that uses low temperatures to cook. One drawback of this is that lower temperatures can be bacteria-friendly. This is why care should always be taken to clean the bags thoroughly before reusing.
The following steps will safely clean your silicone bag for sous vide.
- After sous viding with a silicone bag, use a paper towel or soft cloth to remove any juices and residue inside the bag. Because of the thickness of the bags, spots can often be missed in the dishwasher.
- If there are stubborn particles of food, use a bottle brush or toothbrush to remove them.
- Use warm soapy water to thoroughly clean them, or wash in the dishwasher.
- Make sure it is clean and completely dry before storing
Reuse Sous Bags FAQs
Yes, certain types of sous vide bags can be reused. Ziploc bags and silicone bags are examples of reusable sous vide bags.
Ziploc bags can be reused as long as they have been thoroughly cleaned and dried in between uses. The number of times they can be reused is limited though. You’ll want to check bag integrity, but usually it’s somewhere from 3 to 7 times.
Yes, silicone sous vide bags like the Stasher brand, can be cleaned in a dishwasher. It is recommended that you check for food residue inside the bags after they’re washed. Remove any residue with paper towels.
In certain circumstances, where the bags can be thoroughly cleaned and trimmed to the right size after a previous seal, it is possible to reuse vacuum seal bags.
- Learn more about the Best Sous Vide Bags for Cooking