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Vacuum food sealers and sous vide a match made in heaven

Vacuum food sealers can help prevent food waste by extending the life of perishables like vegetables, produce, meat, nuts and cheeses. They remove air from the packaging (exposure to air speeds food's deterioration) and prevent ice crystals from forming on frozen food. Ice-crystal formation can cause food to dry out, discolor and lose flavor -- the hallmarks of freezer burn. Food sealers allow consumers to buy food in bulk, then divide and seal it themselves, potentially saving money.

That's the theory, of course. In reality, we found loads of complaints about vacuum food sealers. Owners say they are bulky and can be hard to use. The bags occasionally spring leaks, resulting in spoiled food, and the bags themselves are expensive. Our advice: Unless you're using your sealer daily or going on multi-hour sealing streaks, don't spend too much. Reviews for cheap handheld models that are used only for occasional household applications were often better than for expensive vacuum sealers costing more than $100.

There are two types of vacuum food sealers: countertop models and handheld ones. Countertop vacuum sealers promise to be more durable and offer stronger suction and sealing strength, but they're more expensive than handheld food sealers and they take up more space. Some vacuum sealers also can be used to remove the air from wine bottles and canisters, while others have convenience features like built-in bag storage. 

Vacuum food sealers have gotten more attention in recent years due to the growth of the sous vide cooking trend; "sous vide" literally translates to "under vacuum." After getting your food vacuum sealed, you'll need a dedicated sous vide setup to try this cooking method. The two most popular devices for cooking sous vide are a sous vide machine or a temperature-controlling apparatus. A sous vide machine includes a contained water bath and computerized display. This setup circulates the water and maintains a steady temperature, but can be very pricey -- sometimes in the thousands of dollars. The inexpensive alternative is a temperature controller without a contained water bath. These smaller devices may or may not heat water, but generally their role is to monitor the temperature of the water in the external bath and increase or decrease the power to maintain that temperature.

ConsumerSearch has analyzed expert and customer reviews to evaluate the performance, ease of use and durability of popular vacuum food sealers and sous vide machines. The result is our picks for the food sealers and sous vide cookers that will fit your budget and lifestyle.

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