Vacuum Sealing: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started
Cutting down on food waste has many advantages: It’s better for both the environment and our budgets. According to a recent study, Americans lose as much as $1,300 on spoiled food, which then makes up a hefty 24 percent of landfill waste.
Along with helpful habits like meal planning and learning the nuances of expiration dates, there’s another simple way to keep food from ending up in the garbage: better storage. Knowing how to store food properly is key to extending its shelf life—there’s good reason why you keep apples away from other produce!
If you already know the ins and outs of basic food storage, consider taking things to the next level with vacuum sealing. Whether you buy in bulk to save money, meal prep ahead of time for convenience, or simply want to eat more fresh food, this food preservation technique can help your groceries last longer.
But First, What Exactly Is Vacuum Sealing?
At its very foundation, vacuum sealing is the act of removing oxygen from bags or containers, creating an airtight seal that protects food from freezer burn and bacteria growth. By limiting exposure to oxygen, which causes spoilage, vacuum sealing helps extend your food’s shelf life, be it vegetables in the crisper drawer, snacks in the pantry, or proteins in the freezer.
Advantages of Vacuum Sealing
There are many benefits of vacuum sealing and each home cook will probably have different reasons for doing so—here are some of the main advantages:
Save Food: As mentioned above, food waste is a common (and preventable!) problem. Vacuum sealing is one of the easiest ways to preserve food, both uncooked ingredients to prepare later or cooked meals for enjoying in the future. By limiting exposure to air and preventing freezer burn, vacuum sealing helps food maintain its peak taste and texture. It’s also great when you’re craving a seasonal item—your future self will be thankful to find vacuum sealed summer berries or peaches come winter.
Save Money: Buying in bulk is an easy way to stretch your dollars, but in order to make this budget-minded shopping work, you need a way to keep highly perishable items from, well, perishing. Enter the vacuum sealer, which can preserve portions you aren’t using right away, including pantry staples like flour and sugar or snacks such as nuts and crackers. Bulk buying also means fewer trips to the grocery store, which means less money spent on transportation as well.
Save Time: As most busy home cooks know, meal prepping is a true time-saver. For those who batch cook, vacuum sealing can save your pancakes, roasts, and even soups for upcoming meals. You can also marinate quickly using a vacuum sealer, a feature that will come in especially handy on days when you forget to do it in advance, and easily prep food for sous vide cooking.
What Foods Can I Vacuum Seal?
The list of foods that can be vacuum sealed goes on and on. Bread? Check. Steak? Check. Wine? Check. Rather than go through the exhaustive lineup of items that can be vacuum sealed, it’s far easier to share what can’t: soft cheese, bananas, mushrooms, whole apples, raw onions and garlic, cabbages and lettuce, and freshly cooked veggies—once they’re cooled.
Two other things to keep in mind: Some vegetables, like cucumbers and potatoes, don’t retain their texture well after defrosting so they aren’t ideal for sealing and freezing, and avoid putting hot food immediately in the fridge as it can increase the temperature inside.
How Long Does Vacuum Sealed Food Last?
Timing differs from item to item, but vacuum sealing with a FoodSaver® machine can keep food fresh up to 5x longer when compared to ordinary storage methods. This applies to products that go into your freezer, fridge, or pantry. For example, when vacuum sealed, beef and poultry can be frozen for up to three years, hard cheese can keep for up to eight months in the fridge, and baking essentials such as flour and sugar are good for up to two years.
What Tools Do I Need to Vacuum Seal?
While the term “vacuum sealer” may conjure up images of bulky, complicated machines, today’s sealers are far less unwieldy and quite easy to use. Here’s a short breakdown of vacuum sealing supplies:
Countertop vs Handheld Vacuum Sealers: There are two main types of sealers: the models that sit on your countertop and the handheld variations. Countertop vacuum sealers generally have more functionality (though features will differ from model to model), while handheld sealers are appealing due to their small size and cordless, portable nature.
Bags vs Rolls: Vacuum seal bags are pre-cut in specific sizes and some also come with a zipper functionality. Rolls allow you to create custom sizes, which is helpful for sealing large portions or for decreasing bag waste when it comes to saving small items. No matter what type you get, there are a few important characteristics to look out for: they should be durable, freezable, and microwave-safe (FoodSaver bags and rolls are all three!). There are also specialty bags that help make sealing even easier, such as Easy Fill Bags that stand up on their own and reusable ones for a more eco-friendly option.
Other Accessories: Depending on your needs, some vacuum sealers are compatible with helpful accessories like a jar sealer and bottle stoppers.
What to Look for When Buying a Vacuum Sealer
Now that you know what you need, there are a few considerations to make when selecting the right vacuum sealer for you. If your primary goal is to bulk buy and meal prep, look for a vacuum sealer with built-in roll storage and a cutter bar, which can speed up the sealing process. If space is a constraint, then a compact model or handheld vacuum sealer may be the way to go. The types of food you plan to seal make a difference, too—for example, meats, which may have some liquid to them, work best when using a sealer with a moist function.
Vacuum Sealing Tips
Ready to lock in freshness? In addition to the helpful basics above, here are a few handy tips to keep in mind as you embark on your vacuum sealing journey:
Use your FoodSaver appliance for resealing potato chip or pretzel bags—just don’t vacuum them, which can crush your snacks.
When filling a bag with food, make sure to leave space at the top before inserting it into the vacuum sealer.
To help retain their vibrant color, certain vegetables such as green beans and broccoli should be blanched before sealing and freezing.
Did you forget to start a marinade ahead of time? Vacuum sealing speeds up marination time by helping meat and vegetables soak up liquids more rapidly; food can be ready in just 30 minutes.
You can seal more than food! Preserve holiday ornaments so they’re safe from dust and easier to store.