Vacuum sealer

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Freshield vacuum sealer (no longer made)

What is a vacuum sealer

A vacuum sealer is a tool which expels air from plastic pouches and specially designed containers to preserve the life of their contents. The first foods to benefit from this technique were shelled peanuts and roasted, ground coffee, but this process now involves meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables and cheese. Although used mainly for food, these pouches and canisters can also preserve some non-food products.

Sealing leftovers: Place the bag full of leftovers (sealed at one end) over the vacuum chamber
Close the unit until it clicks and press the Vacuum Seal button
Left-overs vacuum packed and ready to freeze

Vacuum bags

The vacuum bags, with their seals, act as protection against water, dust and microorganisms. Owing to lack of oxygen, perishable foods stay fresh longer. These bags are often a barrier to oxygen which cannot be reintroduced. Remember that oxygen causes degradation of proteins, lipids (fats) and carbohydrates caused by bacteria and / or enzymes naturally present in food. This waterproof barrier prevents moisture loss in products such as meat and cheese, and the products do not lose weight during storage before consumption. Similarly, dry products receive optimum protection against moisture penetration.

The other benefit is to save space during transport, for example, taking food on camping holidays or backpacking. Once the bag open, you should treat the contents as if they were in their normal state and consume accordingly

Vacuum bags are produced in countless different shapes, styles and sizes:

  • bags with side seams
  • resealable bags
  • stand-up pouches
  • foil pouches
  • bags for cooking sous-vide in water baths
  • in rolls, where you cut a bag to the desired size and seal both ends

Bags can be re-used if they are washed after use, but do not use any that have previously contained raw meat or fish.

Canisters

These come in various sizes and are rigid plastic containers for food storage and marinating of meats, vegetables and fruits etc. They are ideal for the prolonging of sauces and delicate products and are usually freezer, microwave and dishwasher safe. The oxygen is extracted by use of a manual pump or a tube connected to a vacuum sealer.

Vacuum sealer accessories

I ordered some vacuum sealer canisters from Amazon, but when they arrived they came without the vacuum sealer hose. As my original sealer did not come with a pipe to connect to the vacuum sealer unit, I attempted to locate a replacement on-line. I eventually found one from Fresherpack.co.uk, replacement vacuume sealer hose. However, in the end I did not need to buy it as I purchased two vacuum canisters from Fresherpack, which came with a free hose anyway. Fresherpack seem to have a good range of vacuum sealers, accessories and consumables.

Hygiene

Don't forget to clean the inside of the unit after each use, especially when working with poultry. An anti-bacterial spray is good for this.

Which foods can be vacuum sealed?

Not all food is suitable for vacuum packing as ingredients such as salad leaves and chips, would turn mushy for example. You also need to pay attention as to how you store your vacuum packed food. It can be kept at room temperature if it has a naturally longish life, eg dried herbs, ground spices, coffee, pulses etc. You can also dehydrate fruit, vegetables and cooked meat / fish before packing and just store in a cupboard. However, if these ingredients are packed fresh, they should be kept in a refrigerator or freezer until required.

When using bags, do not add liquids unless they are frozen first. This is because the sealer will suck out some of the liquid as it seals, causing damage to your machine.

Solving problems

  • Problem: If the bag has been made too small for the food within creases are often formed along the sealing edge, preventing a proper seal which does not allow a proper vacuum to be formed so the unit times-out before the heat sealing takes place.
  • Solution: Press down hard on both sides of the lid. This normally flattens out the creases, allowing a good vacuum to be created.
  • Problem: Liquid is drawn into the sealing chamber, making a mess and preventing the plastic bag from melting and creating a good seal.
  • Solution 1: Freeze the food on a tray or in paper coffee cups prior to vacuum sealing. If you have the canisters, then use those for foods with a high liquid content.
  • Solution 2: Use a larger bag than you normally would and hang the bag vertically over the edge of a worktop. Start the vacuum sealing process and press cancel before liquid start being drawn into the chamber, then activate the seal only function to complete the process. As in the short ribs in barbecue sauce (pictured), I've found that the cancel step is often not required if you use a large bag and hang it vertically.

Below is a storage span comparison chart showing some examples of different types of food:

Food Storage Storage span in vacuum Storage span in normal environment
Strawberries Fridge 10 days 1-2 days
Cheese Fridge 6-8 months 3-4 months
Ground coffee Fridge 2 years 2 weeks
Coffee beans Room temperature 3 years 2 years
Biscuits Room temperature 6 months 2 months
Fish fillets Freezer 2 years 6-8 months
Meat Freezer 3 years 6-9 months
Chicken Freezer 3 years 12 months
Minced beef Freezer 12 months 2-3 months
Beans Freezer 2 years 8-12 months
Noodles Room temperature 3 years 2 years
Rice Room temperature 2 years 6 months
Sugar Room temperature 3 years 2 years

If dehydrating food for vacuum packing, ensure that it has been dehydrated properly or it will turn mouldy.

Vacuum sealing is also an excellent way to marinate meat and fish. Just rub a dry (ie without liquid) marinade into your ingredients, place into a pouch and seal. The food will marinate in less than an hour, as opposed to overnight. This is due to the removal of oxygen which causes the pores of the meat or fish to open and allow the marinade to soak in more quickly.

If you buy large quantities of flour, rice, pulses or anything that can attract flour weevils, it is a good idea to vacuum seal them in batches to protect them.

See also


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