A nectar-sweet peach; crisp, emerald green lettuce; an avocado with flesh so soft and blemish-free it’s as if it were on Accutane—perfect produce is one of life’s purest, simplest delights. I never thought I’d be one of those adults who said things like “fruit is nature’s candy,” but wow, how a succulent grape can change a man. Sadly, pristine fruits and vegetables are about as ephemeral as they are wonderful, passing through the veil between the realm of the ripe to the rotten at a moment’s notice.
Celery goes limp, herbs turn into slime, potatoes and avocados oxidize. Unfortunately, all of this spoilage adds up: Americans at home throw out 27 million tons of food each year, equaling around $144 billion of waste. Obviously, no single person or tool will change this, but at Epi we’re always looking for ways to reduce waste in the kitchen.
Zwilling, a company you might know for its knives, recently released a new storage system called the Fresh & Save, which consists of a handheld vacuum sealer and specially designed lids and bags formulated to extend the shelf life of fresh produce, leftovers, and other spoilable comestibles. I was interested to see if this home vacuum storage system could really hold up to the claim that it could keep food fresh for five times longer than other non-vacuum options.
I used the Zwilling Fresh & Save system for a few months; here’s what I found.
Vacuum preservation works because of science
This wasn’t a test to see if vacuum sealed food lasts longer, because we already know that it does. By removing the air from a sealed container, you are removing one of the primary causes of food spoilage: oxygen. Exposure to oxygen causes oils to go rancid, turns fruits like apples and avocados brown, and is necessary for aerobic bacteria to thrive. Vacuum sealing prevents any oxygen from touching the food, and as a result, produce, nuts, and leftovers will stay fresh longer when they’re sealed off from air. (Please note that vacuum-sealing some food isn’t safe; read here for a list of what not to vacuum seal.)
The real test here was how good the Zwilling Fresh & Save seal really was.
How the Fresh & Save works
There are two different Fresh & Save starter sets: one comes with glass containers and the other hard plastic. Each set includes one medium (900 milliliter) and one large (2 liter) vacuum storage container, two small and two medium reusable plastic vacuum bags, and a rechargeable handheld vacuum sealer. Zwilling also sells additional storage containers and vacuum bags in various sizes
I tested both the lightweight plastic and thick borosilicate glass vacuum storage containers. Both sets are microwave-, freezer-, and dishwasher-safe. Both styles come with a hard plastic lid fitted with a circular rubber plug where you attach the vacuum sealing device and remove the air from the containers.
The BPA-free plastic bags are similar to your standard-issue freezer bag; however, Zwilling intends for people to use them more than once. They are freezer-safe, dishwasher-safe, and heat resistant enough for sous vide applications. Unlike many standard vacuum sealing bags that rely on vacuum sealers that suck air out of the top opening, the Zwilling system is fitted with a circular vacuum port. You must close the bag completely before attaching the sealer to the port and removing the air.
You do the actual sealing with a small white device that has a suction cup on the bottom: Place the sealer on the vacuum port of the bag or hard container and press the button on the pump, at which point it will start to grumble and begin sucking out air, automatically stopping itself when the process is complete. The bottom of the sealer comes with a cap that functions as a charging port when plugged in.
It took a little while to get the hang of the vacuum sealer, but after a little practice I didn’t have any problems. For the containers, you have to be absolutely sure the lid is on all the way before you begin the sealing process. If not, the vacuum sealer will just keep sucking indefinitely. And you can’t get away with overfilling these, either—doing so prevents the lid from making a strong seal. There were a few times I thought a seal formed but found in the fridge later that the vacuum had slowly dissipated. I stopped having this problem when I made sure the outer ring on the lid was completely inserted into the container body.
The hard containers are the best solution for foods you’d like to keep in your fridge. For several weeks, I used them to store lettuce, fresh fruits, herbs, and vegetables. Overall, I was impressed. Typically, lettuce tends to go limp in my fridge after about two days, or maybe a teeny bit longer if it’s bundled nicely in a plastic bag. But when I opened a container of lettuce that had been under vacuum seal for 10 days and found it to be just as crisp as the day I bought it, I nearly cried. The fun didn’t stop there.
Scallions and herbs that normally wilt overnight easily lasted me a week or more in the hard-sided Zwilling containers. And don’t get me started on berries. My grocery store sells a lot of last-chance produce. You know, stuff that looks pristine for, oh, about a day, before exploding with mold overnight. To my delight, the Fresh & Save extended the viability of my berries to more than a week. Our staff photographer, Joey DeLeo, had the same experience. He found that in a side-by-side comparison, strawberries in the Fresh & Save lasted two weeks, while the berries left in the container from the store went soft the next day.
I liked the plastic and glass containers equally and noticed no differences in performance between the two. I appreciated the heft of the glass containers, which reminded me of Pyrex baking dishes. The lightweight plastic containers might be better for travel. The lids of both sets are sturdy, but they do have a lot of nooks and crannies that make cleaning by hand somewhat tricky—luckily, they can go in the dishwasher.
The bags make the most sense for freezing food, and they successfully prevented freezer burn on things like bananas and chicken thighs.
The Fresh & Save system is cheaper than a conventional vacuum sealing device (those machines typically go for $100 or more), though the cost of the accompanying bags is higher than conventional plastic bags, at $20 for a pack of 10. That being said, the bags are intended to be reusable, meaning you’ll have to buy fewer of them (and use less plastic) for freezing and sous vide cooking. You’re also likely to save on food costs, because this highly-effective system prevents food waste.
However, the bags won’t last indefinitely. Some online reviewers mentioned that the strength of the seal weakened over time (I have yet to notice this issue in the few months I’ve used the Fresh & Save). If you’re using these bags for raw meat, you’ll want to make sure you sanitize and disinfect them properly between each use. I wouldn’t suggest using them for freezing meat if you don’t have a dishwasher; I found it pretty difficult to thoroughly clean the bags by hand.
During my experiments, I found that the Zwilling Fresh & Save effectively seals off food from the air, keeping it fresh longer. Of course, even vacuum sealing won’t make produce last forever. The Fresh & Save won’t preserve the same container of raspberries for an entire year, but it will ensure that the dill I bought on Monday for tuna salad will still be fresh come Friday’s borscht. Over the past few months, I’ve thrown far less produce away. If you’re new to vacuum sealing and want a relatively easy to implement system that comes with a variety of reusable containers, the Fresh & Save is a worthwhile investment.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious