Category Archives: benefits of using a vacuum sealer

Food Vacuum Sealers, Q&A

I have been a FoodSaver user for decades.  My last post outlined the benefits of vacuum sealing, and I also explored the different types of vacuum sealers that are available for home users.  I’m going to continue along this vein in two more posts.  This post is a Q and A post. The next post will attempt to answer the question, “Which sealing system is right for me?”  

I’m basing both of these posts on my decades of experience, as well as quite a bit of research on the topic.

What are the advantages of vacuum sealing?

Vacuum sealing removes most of the air from a thick plastic bag or other vessels.  Air contains oxygen, and by removing oxygen the enclosed food stays fresh longer for several reasons.  

Vacuum sealing can eliminate oxidation, which is the process that turns some cut foods brown, and also causes oily foods, like nuts,  to go rancid.  In addition, oxygen is important for most organisms to live; removing it can prevent or slow down certain microbial growth, and eliminate insect (weevil) infestation.  In addition, moisture is removed along with the air which prevents freezer burn.

Oxidation causes some fruits and vegetables to turn brown after they have been cut.

Does a vacuum sealer remove all of the air in a vacuum bag?

It is impossible to obtain a 100% vacuum, even with laboratory-grade equipment.  A small amount of oxygen remains, so certain organisms, like mold, can still grow if the conditions are just right.  However, mold will grow at a much slower rate under these conditions.

Do all vacuum sealers remove the same amount of air?

No, home channel sealers create less of a vacuum than commercial channel vacuum sealers, which, in turn, create less of a vacuum than a chamber sealer.  Unless you are trying to store food for a very long time this difference is not significant.

Does vacuum sealing prevent food from going bad?

No, it only slows down the spoiling process in properly stored foods.  For instance, a pound of hamburger stored in the fridge will stay fresh longer when it is vacuum packed.  However, if it was left out on a warm counter it would quickly spoil.

Freezer burn is the dehydration of frozen foods caused by damage from ice crystals.  Vacuum sealing reduces ice crystals from forming and can eliminate freezer burn.

However, certain bacteria don’t require oxygen to live and may “overgrow” in a low oxygen environment.  Some of these bacteria can cause illness. It is not advisable to vacuum pack soft cheeses, as well as a few other foods because of this.

The bottom line is to always use good standard practices when preserving food.  Vacuum sealing is an additional step in food preservation, not the only step. 

I’m still using my FoodSaver Compact by Tilia, which I purchased in the 1990s.

What foods vacuum seal well?

Cooked and raw meats and seafood.  Hard cheeses, but not soft cheeses (like ricotta).  Vegetables, with the exception of raw onions, garlic, and mushrooms. However, these vegetables can be vacuum packed if cooked or immediately frozen for future meals.  Prepared foods, such as soups, stews, casseroles, and side dishes.  Coffee, and tea.  Flour and cornmeal, beans and lentils, and many other foods.

It is also possible to vacuum seal non-food items to preserve them or to keep them dry.

What foods don’t vacuum seal well?

Vacuum sealing soft cheeses may promote a bacteria called Listeria to grow, which can cause illness, so they should not be vacuumed sealed. However, hard cheeses vacuum seal well.  

Vacuum sealing certain raw vegetables, such as garlic, onions, and mushrooms could promote the growth of the bacteria that causes botulism, so they should not be vacuumed sealed.  However, these vegetables are safe to vacuum seal if cut up and then immediately frozen, or cooked (as in a dish) and frozen.  

Soft or fragile foods can be crushed when vacuumed sealed in a bag.  However, they can be successfully sealed if placed in a jar or canister which is placed under a vacuum.  In addition, you can first freeze berries to prevent crushing and then vacuum seal them in a bag.  

What else can a vacuum sealer do? 

A vacuum sealer can vacuum seal meat for sous vide cooking. 

Meat plus a marinade can be placed under a vacuum and will marinate in around 20 minutes.  This is usually done in an accessory container.

What is the most common type of home vacuum sealer?

The majority of home vacuum sealers are the channel (also called external bag) type.  In these sealers, the open end of a  special embossed bag is placed in the machine’s vacuum channel and the sealer is closed.  A vacuum is pulled on the bag.  At a set vacuum level, a wire is heated which seals the open end of the bag.  

This Ambiano unit is sold at Aldi for around $30. It is basic in design and it does not have an accessory port, but it does the job.

Are there other types of vacuum sealers available for the home user? 

Yes, there are a number of different systems.  Some use manual or electric hand-held pumps with special Ziploc bags or vacuum canisters.  Others place the vacuum bag inside of a vacuum chamber.  Still, others may use a nozzle inserted into the bag to create a vacuum.  Each system has advantages and disadvantages.

Is a channel-style vacuum sealer complex?

No, it is a simple machine.  An electric motor powers a vacuum pump which pulls a vacuum on the bag that the operator is sealing.  A sensor determines when the vacuum is sufficient, which triggers a sealing wire to heat up and melt the open end of the bag sealing it.  At that point the process is complete.

What are the advantages of a channel-type vacuum sealer?

Many home-style sealers are affordable and do a good job.  Even prosumer and professional channel type sealers are reasonably priced. They can seal a variety of different sized bags, and you can make bags of any reasonable length out of special vacuum sealer roll material.  

What are the disadvantages of a channel-type sealer?

Channel type sealers use a sucking action which can suck liquids into the machine and damage it.  It is necessary to freeze liquids, like soups, in a separate container and then transfer the frozen food into a vacuum bag to be sealed.  Some people carefully vacuum seal liquids without freezing, but I would not recommend it.

Liquid items, like soup, have to be frozen before vacuum sealed. Otherwise, their contents would be drawn up into the vacuum pump and destroy it.
I like these silicone Souper Cubes to pre-freeze soups before vacuum sealing.

Moist foods, like meats and fish, can ooze juices when vacuumed sealed in a channel-type sealer.  In most cases, the small amount of juices will be trapped in the sealer’s channel and won’t damage the machine.  However, the meat juices can contaminate the bag’s sealing area making it difficult for the bag to seal.  Many machines have a “moist” function that extends the sealing time in these situations.  Other options include partially freezing the meat before sealing, or placing a strip of paper towel in the bag between the food and the bag’s sealing area to absorb extra moisture.  

The green channel on this machine is its vacuum channel. It can collect a small amount of liquids and protect the machine. However, very liquidy foods (like soups) will quickly fill this channel and will get sucked up into the unit’s vacuum pump destroying it.

Channel-type sealers require special embossed bags that can be pricey if you buy the brand-name versions. 

Do you have to use brand-specific bags?

I have used generic bags from various manufacturers for many years without problems.  However, I can’t say that newer machines won’t include some sort of bag recognition to force you to buy their particular brand of bag.  This has nothing to do with the quality of generic bags, and everything to do with the profit of a company. Sort of like the way printer manufacturers incorporated print cartridge recognition to prevent people from refilling their printer cartridges. 

Do you recommend a particular generic chamber bag?

I have used bags from a variety of vendors without problems.  

These Costco vacuum bags are much cheaper than brand-name FoodSaver bags.

Why not just use the brand-name bags?

The only reason to not use a brand-name bag is cost.  If you shop around you can find generic bags and rolls that are roughly one-fourth the cost of their brand-name version placing generic bags at a price point similar to a Ziploc bag.  You are more likely to preserve a wider variety of foods if the bags are cheaper.  If a brand-name bag costs over fifty cents you may think twice about vacuum sealing half of an avocado.  However, if it only costs twelve cents you are more likely to do so.

Are there any differences in channel bags that I should be aware of?

Many bags are 3 mil in thickness, which is fine for most uses.  Some bags are thicker, for instance, 4 mil, and they would provide a greater barrier from the outside environment.  I have never had a reason to use a thicker bag in my decades of vacuum sealing.  However, I could imagine some case scenarios.  For instance, a hunter freezes large amounts of meat which he will store for a number of years.  That meat could be better preserved using a thicker bag. 

Have channel-type sealers changed over time?

The basic concept and components have not changed, but the materials used have.  I have an original FoodSaver (launched in the late 1980s) as well as a FoodSaver Compact (launched in the 1990s). 

The original FoodSaver’s components are more robust than the FoodSaver Compact.  However, both machines have significantly larger power transformers and motors than current models. Smaller components may lead to a shorter appliance life span. 

This is an internal view of a FoodSaver similar to my unit. Note the large power transformer (1), the relatively large motor (2), the fairly cheap/plastic vacuum pump (3), and the altimeter (4) that lets the device know when it has pulled enough of a vacuum. The arrow points to the vacuum pump’s piston, which is made out of plastic. It surprises me that these pumps don’t fail more.
Here is the internal view from a more recent machine. Note that the same vacuum pump is being used (1). However, the motor that powers the pump is much smaller (2). In addition, the power transformer is now tiny (3). Note the addition of a circuit board, which is not seen in earlier models. This board appears to be mostly for the power supply.

Newer FoodSaver models also have more electronic circuitry. This allows for additional features, like programmed sealing cycles (dry/moist), and vacuum levels (regular/gentle). However, circuit boards and their components add another point of failure.  

Some higher-end consumer models will have motorized features, like automatic bag loading.

Do I need all of the new features?

No, if a vacuum sealer can pull a vacuum on a bag and then seal it, it is doing its job.  Nothing else is needed.  

Are there some features that could be useful?

The answer is subjective. You do you.

Here are a few features that I think may be useful.

A moist sealing setting may be useful when packaging moist foods like meat. However, there are a number of workarounds if you don’t have this function.

An accessory port may be useful if you plan on sealing canisters, Mason jars, or special Ziploc vacuum bags. However, this feature is completely unnecessary if you only plan on sealing vacuum bags.

This basic FoodSaver has an accessory port which may be useful for some users.

A bag cutter may be useful if you use bag rolls instead of premade bags. It is not needed if you only use premade bags or if you can cut with a pair of scissors. Some machines with bag cutters also have a bag storage area, which is a convenience.  However, this also makes the machines bulkier.  Besides, the storage areas often limits bag rolls to be no larger than 20’.  You can buy rolls that are 50’, 100’, and even 150’, but they wouldn’t fit into a consumer-level machine. 

A pulse function Allows you to pulse the vacuum pump in bursts. This can be useful if you have a soft item and you don’t want to crush it as you can stop the process before the bag is maximally evacuated.  Conversely, some sealers will have a gentle option, which performs a similar function.  Other machines will allow you to press “Stop” or “Seal,” which will stop the vacuuming and immediately seal the bag.

Is there a difference between lower cost and higher cost machines from the same brand line?

As far as I can tell the machines use very similar vacuum components.  Additional costs may give you more features, like a motorized bag feed, or a permanently attached accessory hose.  In addition, you may get cosmetic enhancements, like a thin piece of stainless steel over a plastic shell. 

This deluxe FoodSaver features a motorized bag feed, an attached accessory hose, and a stainless steel facade.
Here is a more deluxe FoodSaver. Now there are several circuit boards. These add more functionality, but also more failure points. Note that the motor and vacuum pump assembly (extreme right) are the same as in the less expensive model pictured above.

Some companies may make machines that are specially designed for a purpose, and they will be different from base models.  FoodSaver has a GameSaver line that has a number of features desirable for hunters who need to process an entire animal in one session, and Nesco’s top-of-the-line VS-12 features a double vacuum pump and a double sealing strip which allows faster and more secure bag sealing. Both of these models would be of the prosumer variety.

The GameSaver line of FoodSaver vacuum sealers features a more ruggedized case and can do up to 80 seals before it needs a cool-down period. Several versions are capable of running off of a 12-volt battery allowing hunters to process meat in the field.
Although this Nesco unit looks like any other vacuumed sealer it has twin vacuum pumps and can double seal making it a prosumer machine.

Professional level machines are built to last.  Plastic is replaced with metal, and motors, pumps, and power supplies are much more robust.  Many professional machines have cooling fans that allow them to run longer without overheating.  These machines are big, bulky, industrial-looking, and designed for work. However, for the average home user, they are overkill and too big for a standard kitchen.

Professional machines and big, bulky, and built to last.

What is a seal?

When you close a bag with a unit’s heat bar you seal it.  A premade bag is open on one end, so to close it requires one seal.  A bag made from a roll has to be sealed on both ends, so that would require two seals.  A unit that can perform 20 seals would allow you to process 20 premade bags, or 10 roll bags before it is needed to cool down.  In addition, many consumer and prosumer level machines advise a 15-60 second “cool down” period between sealing every bag.

In consumer machines, the seal times are fixed, and with repetitive seals, the bar will get hotter and hotter.  Eventually, it will melt the bag to the point of cutting the bag with the seal bar.  More professional machines may allow the user to either set the sealing time or they will sense the temperature of the sealing bar and automatically adjust the bag fusion accordingly. 

How long can I continuously run my vacuum sealer?

Many consumer machines will want you to wait at least 15-60 seconds (depending on the model) between sealings to prevent the sealing bar from overheating. Some units have built-in circuitry that monitors and adjusts the temperature of the sealing bar and eliminates the “wait” restriction.

There is usually a limit as to how many bags you can seal in a row.  Often that number is about 20 to 30 seals for a consumer-level machine.  After your machine’s recommended number you should allow it to rest for 15-20 minutes so its components can cool down. For the normal consumer, this restriction is not a problem. 

Prosumer machines vary.  The FoodSaver GameSaver machine can do 80 seals before it requires a cool down. Other machines may allow even more seals. For instance, LEM’s prosumer model can do up to 250 seals before it needs to rest. 

Professional machines can do hundreds of seals, or hours of use before they need a break. Some of these machines intelligently reduce the heat on the sealing bar to prevent overheating.  Others allow you to adjust the sealing time, which accomplishes the same goal. It is common for a professional machine to allow for over 500 seals (or 5 hours uptime) before they need a cool-down period.  Some machines can do over 1000 seals (or 10 hours run time) before they need a break.

Are there different size heating bars, and why is that important?

Yes, different machines may have different size sealing bars.  The size of the heating bar will determine the maximum width of the bag that you can seal.  For instance, a few machines have a small 8-9 inch bar and will only seal bags with a maximum 8-inch opening.  This can be limiting.

Most machines have an 11-12 inch bar which will allow you to seal any bag up to an 11-inch opening.  This allows maximum flexibility.

A few machines have larger heating bars in the 13-15 inch range.  These larger machines are only needed if you need to freeze very large cuts of meat and might be used by individuals who process entire animals, like hunters.  With that said, many hunters can get by using a machine with a standard 11-12 inch sealing bar.

Is the thickness of a seal important?

Most home sealers will fuse the two sides of a bag together with a very thin line.  Prosumer and professional sealers will often fuse the bag with a thicker line or in some cases several lines.  Both of the latter options provide more assurance that the bag will remain sealed and air-tight.  This may be important if the bag is stressed, or if the food is to be stored for a very long time.

With that said, the FoodSaver that I have used for decades fuses with a thin line and a properly sealed bag has never failed me.

Do all vacuum sealers remove air at the same rate?

No, professional sealers can vacuum a bag and seal it faster than a consumer product.  However, this is only an issue if you are doing very high-volume sessions.  

How long can I expect a vacuum sealer to last?

It is very difficult for me to give you an absolute answer to this question.  However, longevity depends on the level of use as well as the level of care from the customer.

The motors on newer consumer vacuum sealers are quite small.  However, I couldn’t find any complaints of motors failing.

The vacuum pumps appear to be cheaply made, being all plastic (including the piston).  However, the only time that I could find reports of vacuum pump failure was the result of a user sucking up liquids into the pump mechanism.

Consumer-level machines are mostly plastic, including high wear areas like the latches.  I did come across a few reports of plastic parts wearing out or cracking.  However, these issues were usually after a machine had been used for a number of years.

I came across some complaints that a sealer had stopped sealing.  The seal wire in all machines will eventually fail.  On a consumer-level machine, it is not replaceable. However, a wire should last for years in a normal use situation. 

One area of frequent failure is the gasket system, especially the gasket that encircles the vacuum channel.  If that gasket is defective it is impossible to get a proper seal and you will not draw an adequate vacuum on your bag.

What causes a gasket seal failure?

The gasket is elastic and spongy.  It is compressed every time you seal a bag and eventually it will cease to properly seal the channel.  However, that should take quite some time.

On many newer machines, the sealing gasket is easily replaceable.

You can shorten the life of a gasket by contaminating it with food debris. In addition, you can quickly ruin a gasket by storing your device in the locked position, as this is the position where the gasket is the most compressed. 

How long should a gasket last?

Another difficult question.  The gasket on my 1990s FoodSaver Compact is a very solid rubbery material.  It is permanently glued in and still works fine decades later.  Newer gaskets are more spongy, and I would expect them to have a shorter lifespan, even with good care.

FoodSaver suggests that their gaskets should be charged out yearly for “heavy users.”  However, that is a very arbitrary statement.  My pressure cooker manufacturer also suggests a yearly change out of the pressure cooker’s sealing gasket.  However, I take care of my gasket and it has lasted me over 5 years and it is still going strong. 

A gasket should be changed if it is no longer providing a seal for the vacuum channel.  For some, this may be within the first few uses (if they somehow damage the gasket).  For others, I suspect that a gasket will last years.

What should I do if my gasket isn’t sealing?

The first step is to inspect the gasket.  Does it have food particles on it?  If so, clean it. Is it not seated properly in its channel?  If so, reseat it. 

If your gasket is permanent (like on some older machines) you can try to repair or reseal it.  I have read articles where people have used food grade silicon and even gasket sealant (food grade?) to repair a permanently mounted gasket. I recently used form-a-gasket sealant to repair my original 1980s food saver.  It has a sump plug that was sealed by an O-ring.  The O-ring was in good shape, but it had stretched a bit causing it to lose its seal.  I couldn’t get a replacement so I “glued” it in with the sealant and my old FoodSaver is once again working.

If your gasket is removable you might try to gently wash it.  Dry it before returning it to the machine.  You could also try to invert it (put the bottom on the top) to see if that would help.

Brand-name vacuum sealers (like FoodSaver) often sell replacement gaskets at reasonable prices. Other brands will sometimes provide an additional gasket or two with the original purchase.  If you get an extra gasket, store it in a cool, dry place where it won’t be crushed. Replacing a gasket is a very simple job.

How long should my vacuum sealer last?

If you are a very heavy user, like a hunter who has to process entire animals in one sitting, you will overtax a consumer-level machine and it will likely fail in a year or two. You should purchase a prosumer or professional sealer.

If you are a typical consumer who treats their machine with respect and care it should last 3-5 years or longer.

Do brand-name vacuum sealers work better than no-name vacuum sealers?

If we are talking about consumer-level machines, my subjective answer is, no.  I watched numerous videos of people using off-brand machines and they seemed to be as quick and sealed as well as brand named products.  It is likely that most of these machines are built in the same factories in China. 

Will a brand-name machine last longer than a no-name vacuum sealer?

I have tested a couple of no-brand machines in the $30 range.  One was an Aldi brand, and the other was an unknown brand purchased from Amazon.  Both machines were fairly lightweight and their plastic parts were not as robust as my old Compact FoodSaver. However, the same could be said of a modern FoodSaver. Things are not built as well as they used to be.

This Tisou vacuum sealer was purchased on Amazon for less than $30. It is feature-rich (for the price) and performed well during my short testing.

My guess is that if the construction seems similar to a brand-name device it will last about as long as a brand-name unit. 

Should I buy a prosumer or professional model?

Only if you have a need for one.  For instance, if you are a prepper and seal dozens of bags in a sitting you may overheat and damage a consumer machine.  You would be better served with a more robust device.

Prosumer devices are designed for bagging a lot of product infrequently.  Professional devices are designed to work heavily on a daily basis. 

Professional devices are more serviceable.  Most will allow you to change out components, like the sealing bar. Professional devices are often simpler in design. Many won’t have a latching mechanism as having one slows down workflow.

This Weston unit is simple to operate and built to last.

Professional models will pull a greater vacuum than a consumer model.  That may be important if you are storing foods for years.  However, it won’t make much of a difference for the average user. 

Lastly, some prosumer and professional models will accept a bag width greater than 11”, which could be useful for those needing to package huge cuts of meat.

What are the disadvantages of buying a prosumer or professional model?

Some prosumer models look very similar to a consumer model, so their only disadvantage is a higher cost.  Other prosumer models are bigger and bulkier than a typical consumer model and may be awkward to keep on the counter, or difficult to pull out of a cabinet. 

Professional units will be larger, heavier, more industrial-looking, and have noisy cooling fans. Some will omit functions like an accessory port or the marinate feature, as they are unneeded for packaging.  Naturally, these units will cost more, starting at around $300 and moving upwards.

What are some other types of vacuum sealing systems, and why would I want to use them?

Two types that some may find useful are handheld devices and chamber devices. I won’t discuss nozzle systems, which are uncommon in the consumer world.

What is a handheld device?

These are mini-vacuum pumps that are either battery operated or hand-pumped.  They are used as part of a system.  For instance, with special Ziploc bags, or specific vacuum canisters.

Why would I want to use a handheld system?

For convenience and size.  The handheld pumps can be stored in a drawer and easily used.  These units do not heat-seal bags like a traditional vacuum sealer.  Ziploc-type bags have a traditional zipper closure, and canisters have a vacuum valve on their lids.

These devices can be less intimidating than traditional sealers. In my house, I use the vacuum sealer for food preservation, but everyone else is comfortable using a little canister set with a hand pump to preserve salads and soft fruits (like strawberries).  

We use this simple vacuum-sealed canister set at our home.

A handheld system can also speed marinating, and slow down oxidation in foods like vegetables and nuts.

Generally speaking, the level of vacuum will not be as great as if you used a standard sealer with an accessory port. 

What is a chamber sealer?

A chamber sealer is a fairly bulky device that contains a vacuum chamber instead of a vacuum channel.  In these machines, the vacuum bag is placed inside the vacuum chamber.  

This professional chamber-sealer is popular for home users. However, it is big, heavy, and expensive.

What are the advantages of a chamber sealer?

There are a number of advantages.  Since both the chamber and the bag are placed under a vacuum at the same time, there is no fluid sucking from the bag and into the machine.  Therefore, it is easy to vacuum seal liquids without freezing them first.

Powdery substances, like flour, require special treatment when vacuum packing in a channel machine.  However, flour can be put into a chamber sealer with no additional prep.

Chamber sealers use non-embossed vacuum bags, which are considerably cheaper than the embossed bags that channel sealers use.  In fact, you can buy a pint-sized chamber bag for around three cents, which is less than a Ziploc sandwich bag. 

It is more likely that you will waste less food if you have a chamber sealer.  Carrots and celery are inexpensive vegetables and it made more sense for me to toss unused vegetables than vacuum seal them.  However, since a pint-size chamber bag is so cheap I now freeze unused vegetables for my next stew or soup.  The combined cost of a bunch of celery and carrots is around $3 where I live.  If I throw away half, I’m giving away $1.50.  I can now save that money using a 3-cent bag plus a tiny amount of electricity. 

Chamber sealers can pull a stronger vacuum than a channel sealer.  In most cases, this won’t make a difference.  However, it may be important if you are storing food, like meats, for a very long time (years), or if you plan on doing redux canning. 

What are the disadvantages of a chamber sealer?

Until recently, chamber sealers were commercial machines.  Even the small ones were close to 100 pounds in weight, and took up a large amount of kitchen counter “real estate”. Many chamber sealers have an oil-type vacuum pump that requires some maintenance.  Most chamber sealer styles are more suited for a functional butcher shop rather than a homey kitchen.

Chamber sealers can only accept bags that will fit inside of their chamber.  You use premade bags (which come in many sizes) instead of rolls of bag material.  Industrial chamber sealers may be slightly more complicated and intimidating to operate than most channel sealers, which only require a single push of a button.  Until recently, even the cheapest chamber sealer was close to $1000.00 and did not offer any additional functionality.  

Are there any consumer-level or less expensive chamber sealers?

Yes, in the last few years some new models have been introduced.  They may have a smaller capacity and use more plastic, but they are considerably less expensive.  You can buy a consumer-oriented chamber sealer in the $400-$1000 range.  In addition, some of these consumer-oriented machines offer functions like an accessory port, or a marinate function. Some of these machines have a dry vacuum pump instead of a wet vacuum pump (oil-based) which eliminates pump maintenance. 

This home-use chamber sealer can be had for around $700 and is built like a professional model. It is limited by a smaller sealing bar that will only accommodate 8″ or narrower bags, as well as smaller chamber depth.

You can also buy Chinese clones of traditional chamber sealers. I have one, and my sealer was inexpensive.  However, my chamber is only 2” deep with a 2” lid dome (4” total), which is much shallower than a commercial brand.  In addition, my chamber is painted steel instead of stainless steel (wouldn’t pass NSF certification), and it is likely that the overall quality of my components is not as good as a commercial machine.  However, it works well enough for me!

My Chinese-clone chamber sealer is not built to the standard of a pro model, but it works for me.

Is there an advantage to having an oil-based vacuum pump?

All channel-type sealers use a dry (not oil-based) pump, whereas professional chamber machines mostly use oil-based pumps.  Dry pumps are maintenance-free, so why use oil vacuum pumps at all?  Oil-based pumps are more efficient and will vacuum larger volumes of air faster.  In addition, oil-based pumps last longer.  

Changing the oil on an oil-based pump is a simple job.  However, you have to remember to do it.  Your user manual will recommend when you should change the pump’s oil. 

Are there any vacuum sealers that are manufactured in the US?

I can’t speak on industrial-level sealers, but as far as I know, all vacuum sealers mentioned here are manufactured in China.  

A company may design a unit in the US and have a Chinese manufacturer build it, or it may modify a Chinese designed unit, or it may simply rebrand a Chinese designed unit.

When it comes to consumer-level machines it is likely that a no-brand machine is similar in construction to a branded machine.  However, it is easy to return a defective FoodSaver to Costco, but few will return a no-name device bought on eBay back to China.

_______

I hope that I have answered any questions that you may have about vacuum sealers.  The next post will help you sort through which sealer is best for you.

Buy A Vacuum Sealer, Really!

My last post was on saving money at the grocer. One segment of that article involved using a vacuum sealer (FoodSaver), which can extend the freshness of foods up to 5 times. That segment generated some interest, so I thought I would do a deep dive on the topic. I’ll also provide best practices and tips in this post.

Fact: The average household throws away 30% of purchased foods. A typical family of four can save more than $3000.00/year by using a vacuum sealer to reclaim already purchased foods and to repackage less expensive bulk foods. 

Why vacuum seal?

When you vacuum seal something you pump out the air in its package. Then the vacuum sealer heats the open end of the bag to completely seal its contents from the outside. Air contains 21% oxygen, and many foods oxidize when exposed to this gas. One example of oxidation is the browning of cut avocados, potatoes, and apples. Another example is the effect of oxygen on fatty foods, like nuts. Oxidation turns their fats rancid. How many times have you thrown out half of an Avocado or a bag of baking walnuts because they had gone bad? Sealing in a vacuum bag can dramatically extend the life of these foods.

This apple was left out for a couple of hours and it has turned an unappetizing brown. Vacuum sealing prevents this.

Poorly packaged frozen food is subject to freezer burn, but what is freezer burn? The moisture in the air condenses on the food creating ice crystals that puncture the food’s structure. This alters the texture of the food and causes it to dehydrate. The result of this process is called freezer burn. Remove the air and seal and you eliminate freezer burn. 

Baked goods, like crackers, are moisture absorbers. Leave a tube of crackers open for a day or two and they go from crips to stale. Remove the air and seal the package and the crackers stay fresh.

Foods like flour and cornmeal are subject to weevil infestations. These tiny critters can hatch and multiply in grains that have been sitting around. Weevils are not harmful, but no one wants to eat food that contains little bugs. Weevils need oxygen to survive; eliminate the oxygen and you eliminate the bugs.

I seal 5-pound bags of flour to keep them fresh and to prevent weevil infestation.

In most cases, it’s safe to eat hard cheeses that have a little mold on them. Just cut off the mold and proceed. However, why deal with moldy cheese if you don’t have to? Molds are a type of fungus, and they need oxygen to grow. Eliminate the oxygen and your hard cheese can stay fresh for a long time.

Beyond food preservation, vacuum sealing is also used to prepare foods for Sous-vide cooking. This technique allows a chef to perfectly cook foods while retaining their natural juiciness. 

If you like to marinate meats you can dramatically speed up that process by using a vacuum sealer. Place the meat and marinade in an external vacuum canister and draw a vacuum. The vacuum opens up the meat and allows the marinade to penetrate in under 30 minutes. You don’t need a marinade function on your vacuum sealer; any machine that has an accessory port will do. You can also marinade in a vacuum bag, but you need to be careful to not draw up the liquid marinade into the machine.

Vacuum sealing can preserve and protect non-food items. Real silverware won’t tarnish when sealed in a vacuum bag. Hunters can vacuum pack ammo to keep it dry and usable. Adventurers have even vacuum-packed clothes for wet outings allowing them to change into something dry after their experience. Vacuum sealing uses are only limited by the user’s imagination.

Why not just wrap in foil, place in Tupperware, or seal in a Ziploc freezer bag?

The above solutions do help keep food fresh longer, but not nearly as long as vacuum packing. Why? They don’t eliminate the air in the package, and they allow outside air and humidity to enter. However, they are better than leaving food exposed. 

What do I vacuum seal?

I have used a FoodSaver Compact vacuum sealer for decades. It is a simple manual device. Mine was one of the early machines that were made in Italy (not China), and it is very sturdy and solid. I treat it well and it has served me well.  

I have used my Compact FoodSaver for decades. It was made in Italy and is built like a tank. Here I am vacuum-sealing bulk hamburger meat into meal-sized portions.

I know that over time my FoodSaver has saved me a lot of money. I’ll buy meat in bulk, on sale, or when it has a close to expiration price drop. I’ll then split it into meal-sized amounts and vacuum seal it into bags ready to be frozen. 

It is cheaper to buy meat in bulk and then repackage it into smaller portions.

I’ll buy a large block of cheese, and vacuum seal it into smaller chunks. They stay fresh in the fridge.

I’ll cook a turkey breast in my slow cooker, slice it for lunch meat, and seal and freeze it into conveniently sized packages that I thaw as needed.  

I also freeze leftovers, like homemade soups and stews. When vacuum packing liquids it is best to freeze them first in another container. Remove the frozen item from the container and place it in a vacuum bag and seal it. I like Souper Cubes because frozen soups just pop out. However, any freezable container will do. If an item won’t release, gently warm the bottom of the container for a few seconds in a bowl of hot water. I have also seen people freeze liquids in Ziploc freezer bags. Once frozen, they peel off the freezer bag and reseal the block in a vacuum bag to ensure a much longer freezer life.

I like to freeze liquidy foods in these Souper Cubes. Each section holds about a cup and once frozen soup easily pops out to be repackaged and vacuumed-sealed.
Here is some cream of chicken wild rice soup frozen in Souper Cubes. You can vacuum-seal the cubes individually or together, and they pack flat in the freezer. I like to pack them individually and break out as many as I need for a meal. You can reheat them in many ways including, “boil-in-bag” or in a microwave. When heating in a microwave make a small slit in the bag to allow steam to escape.
The frozen cubes quickly defrost on a counter and can be reheated in a variety of ways. Here I’m using the boil-in-bag technique. I won’t even have to wash out the pot!

Recently, I bought a Chinese chamber-style vacuum sealer off eBay, and it has been a game-changer. It is now easy to vacuum pack liquids and powdery foods (like flour) without any prep. Additionally, chamber-style vacuum bags are very inexpensive, even cheaper than Ziploc bags. With this new gadget, I’m starting to vacuum seal additional foods, like vegetables. Many vegetables are reasonably priced, but why waste half of a bunch of celery if I don’t have to? More importantly, I know that I’ll have soup fixings in my freezer even if I don’t have the fresh veggies in my crisper drawer. I can freeze enough celery and carrots to make an entire pot of soup using a single chamber-style bag that only costs 3 cents. 

The history of vacuum sealing.

The first commercial vacuum sealer was invented in the 1940s. The first home vacuum sealer was designed by Karl Busch in 1963, but it was very basic. The first practical home vacuum sealer was developed by Hanns Kristin in 1984 and was named the FoodSaver by Tilia. The unit was easy to use but had a nozzle to remove air instead of the now ubiquitous vacuum channel. This FoodSaver hit the market in the late 1980s, but it didn’t take off. Sales increased dramatically in the 1990s when the company started to air infomercials about it. The early models were very well built and made in Italy; current units are manufactured in China. Seal-a-Meal was an early competing brand that was originally owned by Dazey Corp. The FoodSaver and Seal-a-Meal brands are now owned by Newell Brands; that company also owns many other household brands including Rubbermaid, Mr. Coffee, and Sharpie. 

This is the original Foodsaver. It was big, bulky, and built like a tank. It used a nozzle system rather than the now common vacuum channel. Sold in the 1980s, they are still being used today due to their quality construction and ease of repair.

Many other companies make commercial and home vacuum sealers. Prices for home sealers range from around 20 dollars to several hundred dollars. Commercial/prosumer sealers range from hundreds of dollars to thousands of dollars.  

Foods that vacuum seal well.

Many foods benefit from vacuum sealing. Fresh and cooked meats and fish, hard cheeses, soups, stews, most vegetables, grains, pasta, cookies, crackers, coffee, and more. However, you may need to adapt the way that you seal some of these items. I’ll describe some techniques below. 

Foods that don’t vacuum seal well.

Raw fruits, like bananas and pears, emit ethylene and will over-ripen when that gas is trapped in a sealed bag. However, cooked and dehydrated fruits store well.

Some vegetables freeze better when first blanched-place in boiling water for a few minutes, then rapidly cool in cold water, and pat dry. When in doubt, Google how to freeze a particular vegetable. However, you don’t have to always blanch every vegetable. My excess carrots and celery just get vacuumed packed and tossed in the freezer. I know that they will be fine for soups and stews.  

Excess celery and carrots are vacuumed sealed and ready for my next soup-making adventure.

Mold is a fungus that requires oxygen to grow, a vacuum sealer removes the majority of the oxygen in a package, but a tiny bit remains. Mold can still slowly grow under these conditions. Moist foods are vulnerable to mold growth even if vacuumed sealed. Naturally, mold can’t grow if food is frozen.

Certain strains of bacteria thrive without oxygen and can create deadly botulism toxin* or bacterial illness. You shouldn’t vacuum seal soft cheeses**, or certain vegetables like fresh mushrooms, garlic, and onions.* However, you can vacuum seal blanched or cooked vegetables. In addition, most pathogenic bacteria can’t grow at freezing temperatures, Listeria being the exception, so it is OK to peel and chop an onion, vacuum seal it, and freeze it for future use.

*Botulism poisoning is very rare. The CDC reports that there are around 27 cases of food-born Botulism a year (The US population is 329 million). All of the cases that I could locate were caused by poor home canning techniques or improper processing of commercial foods. I could not find a single case of botulism poisoning due to home vacuum sealing. However, better safe than sorry. Clostridium botulinum (the bacteria that makes the botulism toxin) cannot grow at freezer temperatures. 

**Listeria is a bacteria that may proliferate in soft cheeses and other foods. It can grow without oxygen, and it can even slowly grow at freezer temperatures. Since many other bacteria need oxygen, the lack of it can provide an open playing field for Listeria to multiply. Listeria can cause serious GI illness, which is why you shouldn’t vacuum pack soft cheeses. 

Practice common sense.

Vacuum sealed foods last longer, but they still can spoil. Vacuum sealing is an additional step, not the only step in food preservation. Food left out will still go bad. Treat vacuumed sealed foods just like you would if they were not vacuumed sealed. If you would normally refrigerate a leftover, do the same.  

Always practice standard sanitary practices when repackaging food. Wash your hands and utensils before and after a repackaging session. Clean surfaces and sanitize your area before and after. Additionally, wash and sanitize between packing different foods. If I’m repackaging beef and chicken I’ll re-sanitize everything between the two jobs. You can wear and change out gloves if you wish; I just wash my hands a lot.

Keep everything clean and sanitized when repacking bulk foods.

What are the different types of vacuum sealers?

The handheld vacuum seal systems.

These are either battery-powered or manual pumps and are used with special Ziploc-style bags or containers. They are sometimes sold with canister sets, and they are useful in situations where you are opening and closing a package. Salad greens, cereal, and fresh strawberries are some foods that come to mind. They can also be handy for marinating.  

A typical vacuum canister set. Note the hand vacuum pump in the foreground.

Channel vacuum sealers (below) often have an accessory hose or port that can be used to vacuum special canisters. However, many people don’t have the counter space to leave a machine out. The handheld pumps are small and can be tucked away in a drawer.  

The channel vacuum systems.

This is the most common type of home vacuum system. All current FoodSaver machines are channel-type vacuum sealers. An external bag is placed in the machine’s vacuum channel and the device is closed. A vacuum is drawn and the bag is then sealed using a heat bar. The channel will protect the unit’s vacuum pump from being contaminated if a small amount of liquid is sucked up from the bag. However, foods that contain large amounts of liquid can enter the machine’s innards and damage it. Most home systems will accommodate standard 11” and 8” wide bags, however, a few will only accept 8” wide bags. A machine that handles all sizes of bags offers the greatest versatility.  

This Amazon basics sealer is fairly full-featured and can be had for less than $50.
A typical vacuum sealer is opened and ready to accept a bag to be sealed. The yellow arrow shows the vacuum channel where the open end of the bag is placed. The red arrow shows the sealing bar. The green arrow shows where an accessory hose is connected to this particular machine.

Advantages of channel systems

These units can be small, accommodate a wide range of bag sizes, and you can make custom bag lengths using rolls of bag material. Many units are inexpensive. You can buy an off-brand machine for as little as 20 dollars, and a basic branded one for about 50 dollars. Add more features (many unnecessary) and the price can go up to several hundred dollars. Popular brands include FoodSaver, Seal-a-Meal, Cosori, Hamilton Beach, and Nesco.

This vacuum-sealer can be had on Amazon for around $16. I watched a YouTube review of it, and it does work. However, its operation seems fiddly.
This Seal-a-Meal model is very basic, but it is a brand name. It sells for less than $50 at Walmart.
This Nesco vacuum-sealer is a mid-range consumer model that is highly ranked.

Household sealers have small motors, tiny plastic vacuum pumps, and thin heating bars. Most are made for limited use and will overheat if you try to vacuum seal many bags in one sitting. This is not usually an issue for the home user but could be a problem for someone like a hunter, prepper, or gardener who needs to seal dozens of bags at one time. A home sealer’s longevity will depend on its level of use and care. Mine has lasted decades, but hunters (who may package an entire animal in one session) may need to buy a new machine every year or two.  

This is an internal shot from a typical FoodSaver vacuum sealer. The small black square is the plastic vacuum pump module. The white object to the left of it is the mount for the small electric motor that powers the pump.
Here you can see the tiny electric motor that powers the vacuum pump. The disc in the upper right of the photo is the vacuum pump’s piston removed from its housing. You can see crud on it from the machine sucking up liquids, which is why the repairman had to disassemble the unit.

High-use individuals are better off buying a commercial-grade channel sealer. These sealers are built to last and have quality vacuum pumps, strong motors, and good cooling systems. Professional and prosumer sealers start around $300. Popular brands include Weston, VacMaster, LEM, and Avid/Amor. These units are designed for near-continuous use, and some can accommodate bag widths greater than 11 inches. They are bulkier than home units and can take up quite a bit of counter space.

This Weston unit is big, bulky, and powerful. Hunters and preppers would benefit from its high duty cycle and durability.

What these sealers are good for; what foods require additional prepping?

Solid, dry, and moist items are good candidates for channel machines. Powdery or liquid foods require special preparation to be successfully vacuum-packed using a channel-type sealer.

Meats can ooze juices when vacuum packing, which can contaminate the sealing area and prevent sealing. Some machines have a “Moist” setting that extends the sealing bar’s heating time/temperature to ensure a seal. My old FoodSaver is a manual model. I seal the bag before I see the meat juice reach the sealing bar. Very cold, semi-frozen, or frozen meat won’t ooze when vacuum packed. Another easy trick is to place a narrow strip of paper towel after the meat but before the bag’s sealing zone to catch the juices. This works with any channel machine. 

Powdery foods, like flour, can get sucked up into the vacuum system and damage it. An easy solution is to repack bulk flour into brown lunch bags. Fold over or loosely tape the lunch bag’s top and insert it into a sealing bag, vacuum as usual. I like keeping an extra 5-pound bag of flour as a backup. I simply put the flour (in its original bag) in a gallon vacuum bag and vacuum seal it to keep it fresh and weevil free. 

Liquids, like soups, can get sucked up into the machine’s internals, and that is not a good thing. Some folks carefully vacuum seal liquids, but there are easier ways. If you have leftover soup, freeze it in another container, then remove it from that container and vacuum seal it in a bag. It will take up less space and stay fresh longer. You can also vacuum seal it in a Mason jar (using a jar vacuum sealing adapter) and then freeze it.

We like this soup mix, but it makes more soup than we can eat.
However, the soup is delicious!
Here I am repackaging leftover soup into Souper Cubes. Once frozen I’ll remove the cubes and pack them in vacuum bags.
The cubes are frozen and ready to be repackaged into vacuum bags.

Bags and rolls.

Channel-type vacuum sealers require special embossed bags that allow air to be pulled out of them. These bags can be quite expensive. I looked on the FoodSaver website and quart bags were over 50 cents apiece. I have been using generic vacuum bags for years, and they work well. Instead of paying 50 cents, I can buy a generic quart bag for 12-14 cents, which is roughly the same cost as a Ziploc freezer bag. Bags come in pint, quart, and gallon sizes.

Many people prefer using rolls of bag material, often citing that rolls are more economical than bags. That is only partially true. If you made an equivalent number of bags from a roll it will cost you roughly the same amount as premade bags. The cost savings of rolls come with the fact that you can customize the size of your bag. A quart size bag is 8” x 12.” Let’s say you mostly use a bag size that is 8” x 10,” over time you will save a little cash because of this. However, I’m lazy and use pre-made bags.  

Generic bags are significantly less expensive than branded ones. You can pick up this kit at Costco or shop online for other choices. Some feel that generic bags are inferior, but I have used them successfully for years.

FoodSaver always claimed that you could reuse their bags by washing them in the dishwasher, keeping the bag open with something like a clothespin, and pointing the open-end down. They have now revised this recommendation, and advise to not reuse bags that have been previously used to store meats or cheese, as they may not be cleaned adequately by this method. 

Machine features.

Manufacturers upsell consumer vacuum sealers by adding features, many of which are not needed unless you have a specific need. Here are some of them.

Motorized bag feeds– unneeded and just one more thing to break.

Marinade function– Meats marinade in minutes when placed under a vacuum. Machines with a marinade function pulse a vacuum to enhance this action. However, just using the vacuum function also works well. It is best to marinade in an external canister, but it is possible to use a vacuum bag. Just be very careful to not suck the marinade into the machine. 

Moist sealing setting– Nice when vacuuming moist things like meat. The sealing bar stays on a bit longer to ensure that the bag is sealed even if a small amount of meat juice has contaminated the bag’s sealing zone. Some machines are programmed to reduce their suction a bit if you use this option. If you don’t have a moisture setting there are several workarounds (see above).

Gentle cycle– this function is used for delicate items like chips, crackers, and cakes. A weaker vacuum is pulled, so these items are crushed less. However, a weaker vacuum means that less air and moisture is pulled out; besides you will still get some crushing. A better option is to use an accessory canister or a Mason jar sealer for crushable items like crackers. I freeze soft items, like muffins, in a Tupperware container, and avoid vacuum sealing altogether. They will still stay fresh for quite some time when stored this way.

Built-in roll storage– Many units have a space to store vacuum seal rolls. In addition, they will often have a cutter so you can easily cut the roll into bags. This is nice if you are a roll user. However, this also makes the machine’s footprint larger, which could be a problem if you have limited storage or counter space. Many folks keep their rolls in a drawer and simply cut their bags using a pair of scissors. Additionally, you can also buy separate roll storage containers with cutters. 

If your machine doesn’t have a bag storage compartment you can buy a separate holder/cutter. Conversely, you can keep a roll in a kitchen drawer and simply cut it with a pair of scissors.

Removable channel tray-It is OK if a small amount of liquid is sucked into the vacuum channel. Just wipe it out with a damp paper towel. Some vacuum sealers have trays that can be removed and washed directly in the sink, which may be a convenience for some.

Some machines have a removable channel tray so you can wash it in your sink. However, it is just as easy to clean up the vacuum channel by using a moist paper towel.

Accessory port– A wonderful feature that I rarely use. Many machines have a little port that allows you to connect a hose to the machine. This way you can vacuum seal special containers or (using a jar accessory) vacuum seal mason jars to be used as storage containers.

This Mason jar accessory allows you to vacuum-seal Mason jars, which is a great option for items that are crushable, or ones that you need to use and reseal. This model is for the FoodSaver brand but people with other machines have adapted it to use with their sealers.

I know several people who have vacuum sealers and none of us use this handy feature. Why? Because it is inconvenient to pull a machine out for one task. However, there are prepper types on YouTube who love this feature. They preserve all sorts of things, from spices to nuts in Mason jars that are then vacuum-sealed.

The arrow shows the accessory port on a basic FoodSaver model. A port can be located in different parts of the machine, so read your manual. Most, but not all, channel-type sealers have an accessory port.
This machine has an accessory hose with an adapter built into the machine body.

Most people will only use a vacuum sealer for its most basic function, bag sealing, so avoid wasting a lot of money on extras unless you know that you will use them. 

Are there performance differences between models and brands?

No vacuum sealer can completely pull all of the air out of a package. However, a partial vacuum is still adequate for food preservation. Models within a brand perform similarly and are differentiated mostly by features. A vacuum sealer must pull at least 20” Hg to properly seal a bag. Food Savers will pull around 22” Hg, and pro-style channel systems may pull as high as 25” Hg. Chamber-style machines are capable of pulling an even higher vacuum.  

It is pretty easy to tell you your machine is working well enough. Vacuum seal a block of cheese and examine the results. If the block is sealed with no air gaps your machine is working.  

Here I have vacuumed-sealed a meal-size portion of stew meat. Note that this type of machine can use less-expensive non-embossed bags.

The chamber sealer systems.

Chamber Sealers are the way that most commercial products are vacuum-sealed. They have several advantages, but they also have some disadvantages for home users.

A chamber sealer is a large appliance that has a cavity (or chamber) where the vacuum bag is positioned. A vacuum is placed on the entire chamber instead of sucking the air out of a bag.  

This VacMaster chamber sealer is popular among serious users. It is a light-duty professional machine and costs over $1000.

Advantages of Chamber Sealers.

Because the entire chamber is placed under a vacuum there is no pressure difference between the bag and the chamber. Liquids (even water) stay in the bag and as do powdery items like flour. You can easily and quickly vacuum pack all sorts of things from homemade soup to pasta sauce. Fill and place the bag, press a button, wait a bit… and it’s done!

Here I’m repacking tilapia, stew meat, and salmon using my chamber-style packer. I weigh out portions so that they are roughly equal. Naturally, I sanitize between each type of meat.

Chamber-type bags don’t require special embossing, so they are much cheaper to buy than channel-style bags. A quart-size bag can be had for 5-6 cents and a pint-size one for 3 cents. This makes them less expensive than Ziploc bags. Because the bags are so inexpensive it is more likely that you will vacuum seal foods that you might not if you had a channel-style sealer.

Chamber vacuum bags don’t require embossing, so they are less expensive than embossed bags (like those used for FoodSaver machines). Note that I folded over the top of the bag. This keeps the sealing zone clean when filling the bag. Naturally, I’ll unfold the bag when I place it into the vacuum sealer.
It is much easier to label a bag before it is filled. A simple Sharpie will do the trick. Always date your packs with at least the year.

Chamber vacuums are designed for continuous operation. They have big motors and strong vacuum pumps. They use wide sealing bars to ensure high protection from leakage. Parts, including the sealing bar, are replaceable. 

Disadvantages of a chamber vacuum sealer.

These gadgets are commercial machines. Until a few years ago the most basic ones were over $1000.00. They are big, bulky, and heavy. They can’t easily be tucked away and pulled out when needed. 

Bags have to fit the chamber. You can’t customize a large bag like you can with a channel sealer. There are no roll bags, just premade bags.  

Recent chamber sealer trends.

Manufacturers have recognized that there is a consumer market for these machines and many are now making somewhat smaller units for home use. These machines are lower-priced, in the $500-$1000 range. You can also buy Chinese clones. My Chinese chamber vacuum sealer was purchased on eBay for only $250, and that included free shipping. Naturally, quality control can be an issue when buying an unknown brand. So far, mine is working.  

This is my Chinese off-brand chamber vacuum sealer. It was only $250, and that included shipping. I doubt if it will be as durable as a brand-name sealer, but it is fine for my simple needs.
Its retro control panel is easy to operate and cool in an industrial sort of way.
Food repacked and ready to go to my freezer. I could have done the same job with my FoodSaver. It would have been slightly more expensive since channel bags cost more. So why do I have a chamber sealer? As I told my wife, “I could come up with a logical reason, but the honest truth is that I like gadgets.”

Other vacuum sealing systems

There are a few other systems that you may come across. The original FoodSaver was made in Italy and built like a tank. People are still using these machines that were purchased in the 1980s. They had a vacuum nozzle instead of a vacuum channel. They require regular FoodSaver embossed bags (just like current FoodSavers). They are simple to operate, easy to repair (many parts are still available), have a high duty cycle, and their manual operation lends itself to adjusting on-the-fly. I own one of these original machines, which I’m in the process of trying to repair.

Lastly, a few companies make machines that resemble channel vacuum sealers, but they have retractable nozzles. These sealers can use the less expensive chamber-style bags and have an external canister to catch liquids.  

Conclusion.

A vacuum sealer is one of those appliances that you may think that you don’t need, but you do. Studies have shown that you can save thousands of dollars a year in food costs by using one.

For most, a channel-type vacuum sealer is the way to go. They are inexpensive, and they do the job. Their consumables (bags) are more expensive, but you can find generic bags on sites like eBay or Amazon. Shop around as prices are variable even for the same brand. Rolls may save you a little money, but I prefer the convenience of premade bags.  

The internal components for most consumer vacuum sealers are pretty similar, a small motor that powers a cheap plastic vacuum pump. If you want to use your vacuum sealer to save money by purchasing bulk foods and freezing leftovers, just about any model will do. I watched many product reviews on YouTube and they all seem to work. However, if you want assurance, stick with a name brand like FoodSaver or Nesco. As far as I can tell the motor and pump for a basic FoodSaver are the same as a more expensive one. The more expensive one just has more features, many of which you are unlikely to use. 

My 1990s Compact FoodSaver sealing a soup cube. It is completely manual and it still does a great job.
For the sake of this post, I bought this cheap channel-style sealer off Amazon. It was under $30 and I wanted to see how well it would work. For an incredibly low price, it has a bag cutter (no storage), gentle and moist settings as well, and a manual function. It feels pretty lightweight, but it performed as well as my FoodSaver. How long will it continue to work? That is unclear.
Here are soup cubes sealed using various machines and different bag sizes. The top ones were sealed with my original FoodSaver and the $30 no-name machine. The cubes in the red tray were sealed using my chamber vacuum. All machines performed well, and I could see no difference in their sealing ability.

If you want to vacuum seal other items, like liquids or powdery foods, watch YouTube videos to learn some simple techniques. Some YouTubers seal liquids without freezing, but, I wouldn’t advise that as you could suck up the liquids into the machine and damage it.

If all you want to keep fresh are salad greens or chips, you may want to consider a system that comes with several canisters and a small hand-operated pump. 

Some foods should not be vacuum sealed (see above), and other items lend themselves to other freezing methods. I don’t vacuum seal soft items like cupcakes or muffins. I simply freeze them in Tupperware-style containers. They stay fresh, and they are not crushed by a vacuum. 

If you seal foods in very large batches, consider a prosumer or professional channel sealer. They cost more, but you won’t be replacing them every year or two.

If you are very serious about high volume vacuum sealing consider a chamber vacuum sealer, which offers a stronger vacuum, great durability, and the ability to vacuum seal liquids and powdery foods with no additional prep. Some consumer-oriented chamber-sealers have accessory ports and marinade cycles. However, prepare yourself for higher costs and a bulkier footprint.

If your goal is to preserve small amounts of food your refrigerator’s freezer will suffice. However, if you plan on buying bulk, shopping sales, or freezing garden harvests you will need a separate freezer. Small freezers are surprisingly affordable. See last week’s post on that topic.

Separate freezers are relatively inexpensive to buy and operate. Simple, mechanical ones will last decades. Manual defrost machines will keep your foods fresher longer and will use less energy than self-defrosting models.

Lastly, a vacuum sealer is only useful if you use it. Think about your needs, freezer space, and goals. If you don’t use it, a vacuum sealer is just another paperweight. 

Peace

Mike

Here is a fun infomercial from the 1990s.