It would be strange to go into a modern grocery store and not see many products that are vacuum-packed. It is so common now that we take it for granted. But it wasn’t always this way.
Food preservation has always been a major concern with humans. Without food preservation, we would most likely still be primitive hunter-gatherers, at the mercy of the elements. One bad storm, or a few weeks with scarce game….life could become very challenging in short order. Very early on, we learned that drying and smoking meats, vegetables and grains preserved them, and made them easy to transport. Later on, we learned how to can things. We can thank Napoleon I for this, because he contracted for the development of the first pressure cookers, so he could feed his troops while they were campaigning. Canning and freezing were the principle methods of food preservation right up to the end of WW-II.
Vacuum-packing, as we know it today, was not really possible until the advent of plastics, which were initially developed for military use in WW-II. There had been some previous experiments with latex bags as far back as the late 19th century, but until plastic bags came about, it just wasn’t feasible. Cryovac came out with the first practical system in the 1950s, and it was used commercially on whole frozen turkeys being shipped to grocery stores. It was later applied to chickens, and eventually all fresh and frozen meats. By the mid 1970s, the first consumer-grade units were being produced by several companies, and the rest is history. Today you can find reasonably priced vacuum sealers in Walmart, Kmart, department stores, and many other places.
|Vacuum Sealers: Our Choices||Brand||My Opinion|
|Foodsaver 4840||FoodSaver||My favorite. Comes with severals sealing bags.|
|Nesco VS-02||Nesco||Great quality for the price.|
What Is A Vacuum Sealer, and Why Do I Need One?
A vacuum is simply the absence of atmosphere. If you remove all the air from a given space, you have a vacuum. Few living things on planet Earth can survive in a vacuum. In fact, the physical world does not like vacuums at all. Everything that exists will always seek a state of homeostasis, or equilibrium, as it were. So anything under higher pressure will attempt to move to areas of lower pressure to even everything out, unless it is prevented from doing so. This is the 4th Law of Thermodynamics, and looks like this:
Don’t bother busting your brain trying to figure this out. All you need to know is that if you have pressure on one side, and vacuum on the other, some of the high pressure stuff will move into the vacuum until the pressure is equal on both sides, unless it is prevented form being able to do it, whether it is a liquid, gas, whatever…. This is why air comes out of a tire, or beach ball when the valve is left open. Close the valve, and the air stays put. Vacuum sealers work the same way. Food is placed into the bag, the air is removed and the bag is immediately sealed before any air can go back in. It is usually melted shut so there is absolutely no chance of air leaking back in, until it is opened.
Don’t make the mistake of confusing shrink-wrap with vacuum-sealing. Shrink wrap does not create a vacuum, nor does it prevent air from leaking back in.
So, why would you want to vacuum-pack your food? Food spoilage is caused by bacteria, fungus, and molds, about 90% of which need air to survive. So, removing the air from the environment makes it uninhabitable for the little critters. Vacuum-sealing extends the storage time as much as 4 or 5 times as long just bagging or freezing alone. The vacuum-seal also protects from exterior contamination, and holds moisture in to prevent freezer-burn.
Right now, you are probably asking, “What about the other 10% of bugs that don’t need air?” Simple. Foods are prepared before vacuum-sealing by freezing, drying, or cooking. This is essential for the safe preservation of your food.
Vacuum-sealing isn’t just for food. Silver can be protected from tarnish by vacuum-sealing. I am into muzzle-loading. Black Powder, and substitutes deteriorate. Vacuum packing your powder protects it from deterioration, and also moisture contamination…’keeping your powder dry’ as the saying goes… First-Aid supplies like Band-Aids can lose their adhesive glue over time. Vacuum-sealing stops that, as well as keeping your medical supplies sterile. Works of art, modern ammunition, documents, and just about anything subject to deterioration from air can be preserved with vacuum sealing.
That’s really all there is to it.
What Kind Of Vacuum Sealer Should I Get?
There are three types of vacuum-sealers available to consumers, and each one has it’s own advantages and disadvantages. You need to determine your needs, and how much you can spend ahead of time. Someone who plans to process large amounts of food, like Preppers, will have different needs than someone who just wants to store sale item for long periods of time. Here is a run-down of the different types:
- Chamber Vacuum-Sealers – these require the entire bag to be placed in the unit. You just close the lid, hit ‘START’, and the machine does the rest. These are primarily made for commercial use, but there are some units that may be suitable for consumers who plan on processing large volumes. These do the best job of sealing, but they are very expensive, large, heavy, bulky, and there will be a learning curve, because they will have a lot of settings. They can seal liquids, however, I do not recommend that any consumer do this without freezing them first. The danger of contamination is just too great, except under the most controlled of environments, unlikely in any average kitchen.
- External Vacuum Sealers – these are the most common types you will see in the stores. They are easy to use, take up little space, are light, and do a great job when used within their limits. Unless you plan on storing hundreds of pounds of items at a time, an external unit will do nicely. These only require that the open end of the bag be inserted into the machine, and it removes air and seals quickly. Some can even be used to vacuum-seal canisters. They are reasonably priced and can be easily used on a counter or table top. External units will serve the needs of most consumers quite well.
- Portable Hand-Held Vacuum Sealers – I don’t usually recommend these, but for some people, they may be the only option. If space is a problem, or reliable electricity, these may work for you. They are usually about the size of a blow-dryer, battery-powered, and seal by making a small puncture in the bag, removing the air, the sealing the hole. They do not make good seals, and are really not recommended for really long-term storage. They are a compromise between being handy, and not having one at all.
Another thing to consider before buying a unit is how much the bags for it will cost, and how easy are they to get? This can be an important issue later on.
The 2 Best Vacuum Sealers Reviewed
The following are my 2 favorite units, considering price and quality.
1. Food Saver 4840
This is a great unit that does a lot of things. Not only does it vacuum-seal with it’s own bags, but also allows you to use Zipper-lock freezer bags, canisters, and even Mason Jars. Another great feature is that it allows you to decide how much air is removed, to avoid crushing things like delicate baked goods. You even have the option of sealing the bag without creating a vacuum…great for marinading. It has a roll storage that keeps the bags right on the unit, and a cutter for making custom-sized bags. The bags are very reasonable. You can get a package of 3 -11” x 16’ rolls for under $30.00. That’s a lot of bags! The Mason Jar attachment is under $10.00. The Food Saver 4840 only weighs 10 lbs, and is 11” x 20” x 12”, which will easily fit on most tables or countertops, and won’t give you a hernia moving it around. This vacuum sealer is a great bargain. I bought one for this review at a local store on sale for $125.00, and I couldn’t be happier. So far, I have vacuum-sealed 20 lbs of fish, several steaks, pork loins, a lot of chorizo, 2 lbs of Triple 7 (Black Powder Substitute for my rifles and pistols), 10 boxes of Band-Aids, 50 bags of homemade dry food mixes (what we used to call LURP in the Marines….) like soups, chilis, and stews, 25 pounds of dried grains and vegetables, and marinated a chicken…and the unit has performed flawlessly. You could do a lot worse…
2. Nesco VS-02
This is a budget-friendly priced unit that does one thing, and does it well. It does not have many extra features, like the ability to seal canisters, but it does use roll bags which can be stored on the unit and it has a cutter for custom-sized bags. It will also SEAL ONLY without creating a vacuum, for delicate things, or marinating. The bag rolls are around $20.00 for 2-11” x 20’ rolls…not bad at all. You can also get individual bags. They run less than $20.00 for 50- 8” x 12” bags. The Nesco is easy to use, and does a good job of sealing. I found that it works best if you wait for a minute or so between sealings, to allow it to cool off a little, otherwise the bag starts to melt before the vacuum is complete. Other than that, the Nesco performs like a champ. The entire unit only weighs 7 lbs. and is about 18” x 5” x 12”, so it should fit on most counters or tables easily. Considering the average retail price, it’s hard to see how you could lose. The unit works great for basic vacuum sealing of moderate quantities. I bought one for this review at a local store on sale for a mere $35.00. This was a deal in anyone’s book.
9 Tips For Proper Vacuum-Sealing
- Wash your hands with an antibacterial soap before handling anything. Using food service gloves is a good idea as well. Make sure all of your equipment and bags are sterile.
- Prepare your food by cooking, smoking, curing, freezing, or drying, before vacuum sealing it.
- Anything that will be stored in the freezer should be frozen solid before vacuum-sealing. Anything not dry should always be stored in the freezer.
- Never try to vacuum-seal liquids. The liquid will get sucked into the unit, making a huge mess and possibly ruining it. You can, however freeze soups, stews, etc…solid, and then vacuum-seal the frozen blocks.
- Make sure your food does not have anything sticking out that could puncture the bag, such as bones, sharp fins, etc…
- You need at least 3” of space at the top of the bag to seal. Do not over-fill. If you think you may want to reseal a bag after it has been opened, then leave at least twice this much space.
- Only use bags made for your unit. It is the only way to guarantee a good seal.
- If you don’t think you got a good seal, just move the bag in another 1/4” and reseal.
- If you are storing dried food, the sealing process can be made even better by tossing a food-safe desiccant (moisture absorber) packet in with the food before sealing.
Conclusion: It’s Your Turn
As you can see, there is a vacuum-sealer that can fit in just about anyone’s budget. It’s really nice to buy hamburger on sale for $1.99 lb., and then be able to enjoy it a year later when it is $4.99 lb. There are way too many advantages to having a vacuum-sealer to list here. I am confident you would agree that it is money well-spent.