Korean restaurants in New York City are getting hit hard by new Department of Health regulations, specifically over the temperatures of their kimchee. But the Wall Street Journal reports that the devil is in the details.
With new temperature guidelines in place, many Korean cooks claim they are suffering over the restrictions because kimchee is fermented at room temperature for longer periods of time than the rules allow. Furthermore, kimchee is a critical component of Korean cuisine. Ja-Boon Kwak, owner of Kang Suh restaurant in Koreatown and chairwoman of the Committee for the Globalization of Korean Food, said "Traditionally-prepared kimchi has been a staple of Korean food for thousands of years and has proven to have many health benefits. By fining restaurants for the way kimchi—and other fermented foods—are prepared, the Health Department is essentially forcing us to dissolve an ancient practice that is at the core of Korean cuisine."
Making the matter even more confusing is the fact that kimchee is quite safe at the warmer temperatures. At less than 4.6 on the pH scale, it is so acidic that bacteria do not reproduce easily in the food. However, the WSJ quotes health inspectors saying that the issue is with recording how long the fermented foods have been in the temperature danger zone. Once the kimchee has fermented, it is then still required to remain below 41º. Of course, it can be taken back out of the cooler and brought to room temperature, but the restaurant is required to keep a log of how long it's been out of the cooler. Recording that time is simply a step skipped by many of the cooks.
Food temperatures are an important part of food safety, though the DOH rules often affect areas of safe food production. Kimchee is just one example of the rules' effects-charcuterie, sous vide cooking, and cheese have all felt the authority of the DOH in the past, so chefs must be extra cognizant of their work in those departments.
Source: Wall Street Journal