Courtesy of Target
You're finally ready to cook the piece of meat you stored in the freezer a few weeks earlier, but when you take a closer look, you're disappointed to see that your dinner's main course is covered in freezer burn. If this is a common occurrence in your household, you may want to consider investing in a food vacuum sealer. This kitchen appliance removes oxygen from plastic bags or containers and then seals them so air can't get back inside. "Vacuum sealers are great for anyone looking to keep food fresher for longer, cut down on food waste, and save time on meal prep," says Lauren King, brand director of the vacuum sealer brand FoodSaver. While vacuum sealers are a great option for preserving food, do you really need one and what foods exactly do they protect? Ahead, everything you need to know about food vacuum sealers and how they work.
What Is a Food Vacuum Sealer?
Food vacuum sealers are lauded for their ability to preserve the color, flavor, texture, and nutrient content of your food. Food is placed into a bag, then the tool sucks air from the area surrounding the food and uses a heated seal bar to bind the sides of the bag together. Not only does this mechanism kill bacteria that need oxygen to survive, it also protects pantry items from going stale and combats loss of moisture which leads to the development of freezer burn. "If air is not removed from storage bags or containers when a product is stored, oxygen can cause fats to develop rancid flavors and odor," says Tracey Brigman, interim family and consumer sciences coordinator of Food Safety and Preservation at University of Georgia.
Are There Different Types?
Food vacuum sealers come in two main styles: chamber vacuum sealers and edge sealers. Chamber vacuum sealers pump air out of the chamber before sealing the container so the air pressure is equal both inside and outside of the bag. "Chamber vacuum sealers are significantly bulkier and more expensive than edge sealers, with prices starting in the $400 plus range," King says. "This sort of vacuum sealer device is usually found in industrial kitchens." Edge sealers, or suction vacuum sealers, use suction to remove all the oxygen out of the bag and create an airtight seal around the food. These are the types commonly found in home kitchens.
Who Would Benefit for One of These Tools?
While anyone can use a food vacuum sealer, it's particularly helpful for people who buy in bulk. Separate frozen vegetables and meat purchased in bulk into vacuum sealed bags for smaller quantities. Wrapping food in traditional freezer bags doesn't provide an airtight seal or remove oxygen from the space surrounding the food so freezer burn forms faster. Vacuum sealers keep food fresh up to five times longer than using freezer bags or plastic wrap, meaning you can buy larger quantities of food without worrying about freezer burn. Plus, the suction mechanism makes food more compact, freeing up storage space in your fridge and freezer. Additionally, any pantry goods bought in bulk that can withstand the pressure of a tight seal (trail mix, dehydrated fruit, popcorn kernels, cereal, and pasta) will benefit from a food vacuum seal machine rather than being left in a half opened box or bag.
Beyond buying in bulk, food vacuum sealers are also useful for home gardeners. They make freezing your harvest a breeze and will keep fruits and vegetables fresher up to five times longer. Additionally, if you're a home cook who enjoys making marinades, the suction mechanism allows the marinade to reach the meat more quickly, locking in its bold flavors and expediting the process entirely. Simply add the food and marinade to a bag, seal it using a vacuum sealer and store in the refrigerator. In 30 minutes, you'll have a perfectly marinaded piece of meat ready to be cooked.
Food vacuum sealers are also useful to anyone who likes cooking sous vide—a cooking technique in which vacuum sealed food is cooked in a water bath. The airtight seal created by food vacuum sealers prevents the bag from floating and yields consistent cooking results. You can still cook sous vide by using regular storage bags, but vacuum sealed bags help retain moisture and ensure all of the juices stay inside so your food will be moist and delicious.
What Wouldn't Benefit from a Food Vacuum Sealer?
There are many benefits to food vacuum sealers, but some foods cannot be vacuumed sealed. According to King, it is safe to store vacuum sealed hard cheeses in the fridge or freezer, but soft cheeses may mold faster in a vacuum sealed bag than in regular air. She also notes that raw bananas and mushrooms decay faster when they're vacuumed sealed due to their natural ripening processes, and certain vegetables (raw onions, garlic, cabbage, and lettuce among them) produce natural gasses that may disrupt the integrity of the vacuum seal. King also recommends against vacuum sealing soft bread and cake which may not be able to withstand the pressure of vacuum bags.
One of the biggest benefits of a vacuum sealer is its ability to kill harmful bacteria, but Brigman points out that a small group of bacteria can only grow in oxygen-free settings, meaning they will grow much faster in vacuum sealed products. "Foods that are to be vacuum-sealed must be handled properly before and after vacuum sealing," she says. "Handling food properly can help prevent contamination from these types of bacteria." Be sure to wash any fruits and vegetables before vacuum sealing them, and immediately refrigerate or freeze poultry, seafood, and red meat products once sealed.
As vacuum sealers grow in popularity, more options are becoming available. To help you select the right one for your kitchen, we're sharing a couple we like. The Mueller Austria Vacuum Machine ($59.57, amazon.com) is an easy-to-use option for both new and veteran vacuum sealer users. It has two modes to give your food the best possible preservation. The dry setting is for solid foods and the moist setting works for poached, simmered, and steamed food.
Those new to vacuum sealing or who have a small kitchen should consider the FoodSaver Multi-Use Handheld Vacuum Sealer ($69.99, target.com). This compact handheld sealer has the same power as a full-sized device. In addition to traditional sealing capabilities, the tool has a marinate mode that locks in flavor faster than non-vacuum methods.