Benefits of Preserving Food with a Vacuum Sealer
Vacuum sealing was originally used by food packing companies in the 1940's as a way to save money. The technique prevented spoilage and prolong the shelf life of food products, especially ones transported over long distances. It not only hindered the growth of bacteria and mold, but it also kept food fresh and prevented freezer burn. Vacuum sealing is still used for the exact same purpose today. It's a convenient and economical way for households to preserve, protect, and store their food.
How Vacuum Sealers Preserve Food
Vacuum sealers preserve food primarily by inhibiting the growth of mold, fungus, and spoilage bacteria such as mesophiles, psychrotrophs, thermophiles, and psychrophiles. When these bacteria reproduce and multiply, they break down organic enzymes, such as chlorophyll in plants and iron containing pigments in protein, and leave behind ammonia, amines, sulfides, and organic acid buildups that cause discoloration, rancid odors, and slimy residues. They not only ruin the taste, appearance, and texture of your food, but also cause serious illness if eaten. Fortunately, these types of bacteria are obligate bacteria, which means they require oxygen to metabolize food and reproduce. Vacuums sealing food deprives them of oxygen, which halts their growth cycle and renders them inert. Oxygen deprivation has the same effect on mold and fungal spores. Without oxygen, they can't grow and consume your food.
Freezer Burn and Dehydration
Vacuum sealing also protects food from freezer burn and dehydration. The vacuum seal bag keeps food out of contact with the air, so the moisture inside can't evaporate. Freezer burn occurs when water sublimates inside your food. The ice crystals inside become into water vapor and get drawn up to the surface of your food, where they either freeze again and or escapes into the surrounding air. Freezer burn isn't dangerous, but it ruins the taste and texture of your food. Freezer burned meat is cottony, bland, and flavorless. Sealing it in a vacuum bag prevents this process. Vacuum sealed food will taste as rich and tender when you unpack it as it did when it was originally sealed.
Vacuum sealed food can't be left out at room temperature. The sealing process does not affect all strains of bacteria, only ones that depend on oxygen. Other bacteria strains, anaerobic bacteria, do not require oxygen in order to grow and reproduce. Some of these stains are pathogenic and cause illness if ingested. Without competition from spoilage bacteria, they will spread quickly in food that is not stored properly. In order to protect yourself from them, always freeze or refrigerate your food. If you're storing food in a freezer, set it to zero degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, bacterial growth will be completely frozen. If you're refrigerating your food, store fruits and vegetables at 41-45 degrees Fahrenheit. Store meats at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Dry foods, such as cereals, bread, flower, rice, sugar, pasta, and beans, should be stored at 50-70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Effects of Vacuum Sealing on Shelf LifeVacuum sealers preserve food 3-5 times longer than food stored in plastic bags or containers. The amount of time it will last depends on the type of food and whether it's stored in a refrigerator, freezer, or pantry.
|Frozen Food||Conventional Storage||Vacuum Sealed|
|Beef & Poultry||6 -12 months||2-3 years|
|Fish||2-6 months||2 years|
|Pork||4-6 months||2-3 years|
|Soups, Stews, & Sauces||2-3 months||1-2 years|
|Vegetables||8 months||2-3 years|
|Fruit||6-12 months||2-3 years|
|Refrigerated Food||Conventional Storage||Vacuum Sealed|
|Beef & Poultry||1-2 days||2 weeks|
|Fish||3 days||1 week|
|Pork||1-2 days||1 week|
|Soups, Stews, & Sauces||3-4 days||2-3 weeks|
|Vegetables||2-7 days||1-2 weeks|
|Fruit||1-5 days||1-2 weeks|
|Cheese||1-2 weeks||4-8 months|
|Dry Food||Conventional Storage||Vacuum Sealed|
|Coffee||2 weeks||1-2 years|
|Cereal||2-3 months||6-12 months|
|Flower, Rice, & Sugar||6 months||1-2 years|
|Cookies & Crackers||1-2 weeks||3-6 weeks|
To keep track of your food's freshness, write the date on the bag after you seal it. This will let you know how long it's been stored and how quickly it should be eaten.
Food Sealing Tips
There are a few additional ways to extend the shelf life of vacuum stored even further. First, prevent contamination by thoroughly cleaning and washing all of your food before you seal it. If you're sealing several different types of food, wipe down the counter after you prepare each one in order to prevent cross contamination. The fewer contaminates in your food, the longer it will last. This is especially important when you're sealing meats.
Meat should be washed, dried, and sealed as soon as you bring it home from the store. Be careful when sealing meat that contains jutting bones. Bones often have sharp edges and can tear the bag as you remove the air from it. If you have a sharp bone you can't remove the bone, cover it with a folded paper towel to prevent it from damaging the bag.
You can extend the shelf life of sealed vegetables by blanching them. To blanch a vegetable, place it into a pot of boiling water for 1-4 minutes. This will kill the bacteria living inside of it. Then remove the vegetable and place it immediately into a bowl of ice water. This halts the cooking process and keeps the vegetable from softening and losing its texture. Then drain the excess water and and seal as normal.
Though vacuum sealer bags are airtight, small leaks will develop when food is stored in them for a long time - several months or several years - and let in oxygen that will spoil your food. You can minimize this damage by placing your food in a freezer bag or, preferably, a Mylar bag after you seal it. This creates an extra barrier that minimizes air exposure. Mylar bags aren't transparent, so if you use them, write the type you're placing inside of it, along with the date.
You can also offset the damage done by leaks by placing an oxygen absorber in the bag with your food. Oxygen absorbers are small packets of iron powder. The iron inside rusts when its exposed to oxygen, trapping oxygen molecules inside and keeping them away from your food. Oxygen absorbers won't affect the taste of your food. They're an especially good idea if you're sealing a whole turkey or chicken, as small amounts of air can often become trapped in the bird's body. Place a few inside the bird when you seal it to soak up any oxygen inside.
Choosing the Right Vacuum Sealer
There are two types of vacuum sealers available for home use: countertop sealers and handheld sealers. Choosing the right sealer depends on the amount of food you want to store and the size of the food you want to store.
Countertop sealers are larger and more expensive, but can seal more food and larger food items. They're ideal for long term storage and a favorite of bulk shoppers. Countertop sealers come in a variety of sizes, built to handle a wide variety of foods.
Handheld sealers are cheaper and good for storing small amounts of food that you want use regularly, such as deli meat, nuts, cheese, and snacks. Their bags are re-sealable, so you can open them, take what you need, and seal them again without compromising your food.
Always pay attention to the price and availability of the vacuum bags before buying a sealer. Vacuum sealers use specially reinforced bags to create an airtight seal. Though it's possible to seal food using other bags, such as Mylar bags, it's difficult and the seal often breaks under the pressure. Before purchasing a sealer, make sure the bags for it are readily available and conveniently priced.
Vacuum sealers are a great way to get more out of the food you buy. With proper storage, they can significantly extend the lifespan of your food, prevent spoilage, and minimize waste. They're a powerful money-saving tool that benefits families, homeowners, and food lovers.