You wouldn’t assume a common health food to be the culprit in making people sick, but such is the buzz around the vegetarian food called tempeh, which has been linked to a recent outbreak of food poisoning.
Still under investigation is a recent outbreak of Salmonella in North Carolina, and tempeh is the suspected food source for spreading this nasty infection. It’s uncertain whether the individuals who became sick ate the tempeh directly or something that was cross-contaminated with bacteria from the tempeh.
Tempeh is a fermented soybean cake known that’s been eaten for thousands of years as a meatless protein source. It’s often enjoyed by vegetarians and vegans as a meat substitution for good health, so it’s a scary shock of reality to hear it can actually pose a safety hazard to eat.
In order to play it safe when you use tempeh in your home recipes, always cook it first. Yes, you can rip the tempeh right out of the package and enjoy it immediately, but it’s technically a raw food and should be cooked thoroughly for optimal food safety.
Cooking tempeh is easy enough. The most common primer for getting this chewy meat substitution ready for your recipes is to steam it. Simply bring a pot of water to a low boil, add the tempeh, and let it steam, covered, about 15 minutes. If you’re moving on to use the tempeh in a recipe that will cook it further—such as baking, roasting, or grilling—then give it a few minutes less in the steamer. If you’re using the tempeh right away in something like a salad, where it won’t get any more heat, give it the full 15 minutes and a few more to steam.
Jose Caraballo, owner of The Tempeh Shop, devotes an entire page of his website to tempeh cooking FAQs. This is a good place to check if you have questions about cooking with tempeh. Leslie Beck, RD, also has some great insight on cooking safely—and deliciously—with tempeh.
Food Safety News. (2012, May 8). Tempeh Salmonella cases increase from 46 to 60. Retrieved from http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2012/05/tempeh-salmonella-cases-increase-from-46-to-60/