Before you buy a vacuum food sealer
There are two types of vacuum food sealers: countertop models and handheld
sealers. Handheld food sealers use batteries, so the suction and sealing
strength typically isn't as strong, and they must be used with specially
designed bags. In general, a handheld vacuum sealer will serve the purpose
if you plan to store the food for a month or less. Some professional tests
indicate foods sealed with handheld sealers are susceptible to freezer burn
after a month, so longer-term storage is more realistic with the heavier-duty
Both types of vacuum food sealers operate by suctioning the air out of a
plastic bag (usually proprietary) and creating a seal to prevent moisture
and air from creeping back in. In addition to storing foods, some consumers
use their vacuum sealers to protect documents or store items to prevent them
from getting wet during outdoor adventures.
Across the board, we found very mixed reviews for vacuum food sealers, even
those priced at $150 or more. For that reason, we think it makes sense to
go with an inexpensive model, then decide if you later want to invest in
a high-end food sealer; we did find better reviews for some food sealers
costing more than $400.
Experts and owners say the following about choosing a vacuum sealer:
food sealers can't be used for every task. These inexpensive vacuum
sealers are good for items you only plan to seal once. It's unwise to seal
bags of cereal, flour or other frequently used dry goods with a handheld
sealer because the seals are prone to weakening over time.
- Compare bag prices. Reviewers
say you don't have to use the manufacturer's bags; you can buy generic
bags at big-box stores such as Costco and at outdoor stores such as
- Some plastic bags can't be reused. Reusing plastic bags that have been
used to store meat, fish, poultry or unwashed produce can lead to cross-contamination
of food. Some bags are dishwasher-, microwave- and boil-safe, but it's
still unwise to reuse bags that once contained raw meat or fish.
- Remove air
before sealing. Save time by forcing as much air as possible out of
bags before sealing.
- Save money by cutting carefully. When using a countertop vacuum sealer, you can manually roll the
bag cutter back a few inches before cutting, instead of allowing the machine
to select the location of the cut. The more plastic you save, the fewer
rolls you must buy.
- You don't need a vacuum sealer. Although
they are handy, you don't need a vacuum sealer to keep air away from
food. Denise Landis, equipment tester for The New York Times, writes, "I
wrap meats tightly in heavy-duty freezer paper or plastic freezer wrap
and seal the openings with freezer tape. Heavy-duty aluminum foil will
also work well as long as it does not tear."
- Allow hot foods to come
to room temperature before sealing. With hot casseroles, this may take
as long as two hours. Foods that go into the freezer hot will form a
layer of frozen steam. When thawed, this condensation will cause the casserole
to become soggy.
- Cooking vacuum-sealed food is
a culinary frontier. Using a vacuum sealer, you can experiment with sous
vide cooking. Many chefs regard this technique as superior to roasting,
boiling or poaching in wine or stock. In order to cook sous vide (or "under
vacuum"), you must cook sealed food in water at a constant, fairly
low temperature, which can be very difficult to do. The water is not
hot enough to kill bacteria, making sous vide cooking inherently risky,
but foodies say the results are well worth the time and effort. Before
you try it, be sure the bags are compatible.