Survivalism & Self Sufficiency Topics > Food Storage

The Benefits, and Downfalls of Vacuum Packing

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Citizen Zero:
Ok, been quite a while since I have showed up around here with something new, but here goes..

So, to be clear from the get go, there are really two types of vacuum packing. The FoodSaver level where you are drawing out a good portion of the atmosphere, but not nearly all, and the next level where you are able to pull down the atmosphere to a level that is near that of low earth orbit. The latter is what this post is about.

So let me preface this carefully. There is nothing wrong with the FoodSaver type equipment, it works well for many applications, but it has some significant downfalls that come with it. The most problematic thing that we have dealt with on the FoodSaver type units over the years has been longevity, the more that you use a unit the poorer and poorer the function and vacuum drawdown becomes. We have been through at least three of the higher end units in the last five years, all ended up degraded to the point that we would not even donate them to Goodwill or similar so they would end up disappointing someone else later.

At up to $200 a throw, these things add up after a while. When the most recent FoodSaver gave up the ghost I found myself questioning just how many more we were going to watch die on the counter while trying to seal something. This pushed me into the mental math on the costs and decided that just replacing yet another FoodSaver was not in the cards. I started with the problems that are inherent in the general use vacuum sealers that are available, and there were three major problems that are recurring themes. The first being the cost to continually replace units after 1-3 years of use, second the strength/width of the heat seal line, and the third being the actual application of vacuum available.

For anyone that is serious about a real long term storage solution that includes vacuum sealing as part of the regimen, the FoodSaver type appliances are NOT the answer. For our use case I actually bit the bullet and purchased a chamber style vacuum sealer that has a dual 3mm heat seal bar and is capable of sealing 4mil bags without any problems (FoodSaver bags are typically 2mil at best).

Is this solution viable for everyone, not outright when you consider the lump sum to buy the unit. But, when you consider the long term costs involved with replacing multiple inferior products that fail, the math makes more sense when it comes to a longer timeline.

Ok, so we have reached the point of excluding the “consumer” FoodSaver type devices from this remainder of this discussion.

Chamber vacuum sealing is different than anything that you know if you have no experience with it. Basically the item to be sealed is placed in the bag with the opening resting on the sealing bar, when the lid of the chamber is closed the entire area has the atmosphere removed down to a level of .1 KPa (0.00098 of atmospheric standard, darn close to the vacuum of space). Once the desired level of vacuum is achieved the sealer bar engages and seals the bag prior to outside atmosphere being allowed back into the chamber, thus smashing the heck out of whatever is in the bag when the outside pressure compresses it.

Sounds pretty cool, right? Well, there are some downfalls to go along with all the benefits.

#1 Mylar is brittle, yes good quality Mylar bags can be used for this type of vacuum sealing, but the vacuum is so strong that it can cause creases in the bags that are sharp enough to cause pinprick punctures that will compromise the vacuum in the bag if the contents have sharp angles or protrusions.

#2 The stuff that you are sealing can become a rock in the process. Powdered goods like flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar, etc. will be extremely compressed when vacuum sealed to this level, be prepared to deal with having to break it all up when it comes time to use it.

#3 The clear 4mil bags that can be obtained from an unnamed vendor are tough as nails, but they still do not deal with light intrusion (aka UV breakdown). We combat this by keeping sealed goods in a dark area, they can be double sealed in Mylar, but that is at an additional cost.

#4 Never underestimate the power of nearly full vacuum. Something simple like a brick of Top Ramen goes “snap, crackle and pop” for at least 10 minutes after being vacuum sealed in this manner and seasoning packets explode (or blow up like balloons in the package) unless you put a pin-prick hole in them to release the trapped air.

Now for the Up-Sides

#1 All but 0.00098% of standard atmosphere is removed from the bag!

#2 Standard pint Mason jars can be placed in the chamber and sealed just as effectively with loose lids with an amount of vacuum that a FoodSaver can never match.

#3 Speed: I can process bags of goods in the chamber sealer roughly three times faster than I can than trying to fuss around with getting a decent seal on a FoodSaver type device.

#4 Strength of Seal: FoodSaver type devices typically only have a 2mm seal, that at best can be marginal in many cases. The chamber sealer provides two 3mm seal points that ensure that vacuum in the bag is maintained even if one seal were to fail.

#5 Augmentation: In many cases I seal food items not only under full vacuum, but I also add the appropriate sized oxygen absorber to the bag as well. Call it overkill, but if there were to be any small intrusion to the bag be it by leak, or by diffusion of the packaging material, the oxy absorber is there to pick up some of the slack unless it is a full on packaging failure.

So this has become a novel in its own right. The point is that for those that are ruling out the more expensive vacuum equipment that IS available to the consumer, I humbly advise one to think again when it comes to the long term cost of operation (replacements). Our experience showed us that saving up the money for the better equipment is already paying off not just in replacement costs, but in increased functionality and longevity of what we store.

jerseyboy:
Wow, that sounds cool. I have had a few seals fail but 95% seem to hold up. I can see buying the $700 one but not so sure about the $2300 one.

What price range did you investigate?

Jerseyboy

Citizen Zero:
I went with the $800 option from VacMaster.

LvsChant:
Thanks for the feedback, citizen zero... I have not had the type of failures you mention and have successfully used my food-saver for about 6-7 years with no end in sight... that being said, I must tell you that most of my vacuum sealing is on jars for dehydrated veges, so perhaps it isn't as hard on the unit. Also, I know that it is death on one of those units if you store it in the closed position (my Mom did that to hers and it hardly lasted a year).

For long-term storage, your unit sounds vastly superior!

FrugalFannie:
I dream of a vacmaster!

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