Vacuum food sealers help preserve food and prevent waste
Shopping the bulk aisle, visiting farmer's markets, or
hunting, gardening and gathering your own produce are all great ways to procure
a real bounty of food. But what happens when you end up with more than you can
eat? Vacuum food sealers offer a quick, easy and ultimately inexpensive way of
preserving that extra food. Whether you're packaging meat to prevent freezer
burn, sealing in fresh veggies to prolong their life or vacuum-sealing pantry
goods, you can expect properly vacuum-sealed food to last three to five times
longer than unsealed food. A vacuum sealer is also a must for preparing food
via the sous vide method.
A word about food safety
Vacuum sealing doesn't eliminate the need to refrigerate
perishable goods (or freeze them for long-term storage). See our report on freezers to find out which
models do the best job of preserving your carefully packaged food. We also have
reports on other popular countertop appliances like pressure cookers and slow cookers; the report on pressure cookers includes a section on
pressure canners, another economical option for long-term food preservation.
Remember to consider the price of plastic bags
Vacuum food sealers are meant for use with specially
designed bags, usually made of tough polyethylene. The optimal bag type depends
on which type of sealer you're using: Handheld sealers require bags with a zip
closure and a one-way valve. External vacuum sealers work best with bags that
have textured air channels molded into one side of the plastic. Because an
external sealer's clamps hold the bag more or less closed as the vacuum works,
those air channels give the air a way to move out of the bag. Some external
sealers also have built-in cutters to help you slice your own bags from long
sheets of plastic (which can save you quite a bit of money), and internal
storage for the rolls of uncut bags. The bags for chamber vacuum sealers,
meanwhile, are the most economical option; when purchased in bulk, their
pre-made pouches cost just a few pennies apiece.
No matter what type of vacuum food sealer you choose, it
has just two jobs: Sucking all the air out of the food bag, then sealing it
shut. The best models evacuate the air completely, but also offer manual
controls to keep the powerful vacuum motor from crushing soft or delicate
foods. Once sealed, food should last at least three months in the freezer
without showing frosting or freezer burn, and pantry goods should come out of
the bags still tasting fresh.
The best countertop vacuum food sealers
External vacuum sealers are the most ubiquitous type. These
rectangular, countertop appliances clamp down on the neck of a specially
designed plastic bag from the outside, vacuum all the air out, and use a heated
sealing bar to melt the neck of the bag shut. Because you don't have to fit
whatever's being packaged into the body of the vacuum sealer, this type of
machine excels at packaging large cuts of meat and filets of fish. On the
downside, the sealer bar sometimes needs to "rest" for 10 or 15 seconds between
For several years running, our pick for top-of-the-line
external vacuum sealer has been (and remains) the stainless steel (Est. $270). This vacuum sealer earns a top pick designation
from a well-known test kitchen, too. Those expert testers praise the Weston
Professional Advantage for its compact size, powerful motor and intuitive
controls, which include both automatic and manual control of the vacuum motor.
Users love how the Professional Advantage's fan-cooled motor keeps it from
overheating when you seal multiple bags, the nice wide seal it melts into the
bag, and the fact that it has a built-in cutter and accommodates bag rolls. The
Weston Professional Advantage can seal bags up to 11 inches wide, and if you're
having trouble establishing a good seal, a little pressure on the lid is
usually all it takes to solve the problem.
The Professional Advantage has an angled vacuum chamber
that's supposed to keep liquids from getting sucked out of the bag and into the
sealer, but users voice mixed opinions about how well that actually works. We
also see mixed reviews on how well the Professional Advantage works with
non-Weston bags, but the Weston bags are competitively priced at about $40 for
200 bags. You can also purchase vacuum canisters and an accessory hose, which
connects to the Professional Advantage so it can suck the air out of the
canisters. Like most external vacuum sealers, this one is reported as quite
The Weston Professional Advantage can handle just about
anything a typical household throws at it, and users agree that it's a big step
up from light-duty vacuum sealers. But if you're a frequent, heavy user, consider
the (Est. $400), also made of stainless
steel. It has the same manual/automatic control and intuitive LED display that
shows its vacuum progress, but seals bags up to 15 inches wide -- or two
narrower bags at once -- and packs a powerful 935-watt motor for frequent,
continuous use. That's almost five times more powerful than the motor on the
Weston Professional Advantage. Users also love the way this machine melts a
wide seal into the bag, ensuring that the contents won't leak.
On the downside, the Weston Pro 2300 doesn't have a
built-in cutter for making your own custom bag sizes, and although it does well
with oily foods, it can't seal liquids. Both Weston units are also relatively
big and heavy -- great qualities when it comes to durability, but problematic
when it comes time to store them.
The Weston Professional Advantage is covered by a one-year
warranty, and the Weston Pro 2300 is covered by a two-year warranty. This brand
used to have great reviews for its customer service, but more recent customer
comments are mixed.
If you need a vacuum sealer that packs enough oomph to seal
large quantities in a single session but is still portable, consider the (Est. $200). This vacuum sealer
weighs just six pounds and is built for portability, with a large carry handle
and a 12v converter that lets you plug it into a DC power source like a car,
pickup, boat, RV and even some generators.
The GameSaver GM710 is a little large for storing in most
kitchens, but that's not a big deal because it's truly built for use in the
field, although you'll still have to protect it from rain, dust and all the
other hazards that wreak havoc with any electronic device. Users say it lives up
to the promise of being able to seal up to 80 consecutive bags, or about 240
pounds of meat, without overheating. The GM710's sealing bar can accommodate
bags that are slightly more than 12 inches wide, although most premade bags
only come in an 11-inch width.
We did find a few concerns about durability, indicating
that if this unit is going to fail, it'll usually do so within the first few
uses. But for the most part, owners say this vacuum sealer will stand up to at
least several years of heavy use, and it comes with a limited lifetime
warranty. Users also like that you have manual control over when the seal kicks
in, which they say makes it possible to seal some wet foods -- if you're very
If you need to seal even larger cuts or higher quantities
of meat, check out the (Est. $300). The Titanium accommodates bags up to 15 inches wide, offers a
"dual seal" setting for extra security, and can seal up to 100 bags
in a row without overheating. One user says he used it to seal a full side of
beef without stopping.
FoodSaver's premade bags are more expensive than Weston's;
a bag of just 13 gallon-size vacuum-seal bags costs about $12. That said, you
can save money by purchasing rolls of vacuum seal material and cutting them
down to bag size yourself (the GameSaver has a built-in slicer), and you get a
discount for purchasing either the pre-made bags or the rolls in bulk
Inexpensive countertop vacuum sealers
Both the Weston vacuum sealers just referenced are great
deals if you plan to use them frequently, and the FoodSaver GameSaver is a
great choice for frequent use outside the home. However, if your vacuum sealer
use is light to moderate, a price tag of as close to $100 becomes a real
selling point. That brings us to our best-reviewed inexpensive countertop
vacuum sealer, the (Est. $100).
Many users say that the FoodSaver FM2100 strikes the best
possible balance between features, value and dependability. It has a built-in
bag cutter and space to store the roll of uncut bags, an accessory port and
external hose for vacuum-sealing canisters, and a dry/moist setting for sealing
different types of foods. Just don't mistake that for the capability to seal
bags of liquids like soup -- for that, you have to use external canisters or a chamber vacuum sealer.
The FoodSaver has a manual latch lever and must be
triggered by pushing a button -- both departures from the fully automatic
models that have often graced this price range in the FoodSaver lineup, and
sometimes drew criticism for their inefficient use of bags. Users who've
switched from an automatic model to the FM2100 say they like having full
control over what their sealer does. Another very popular feature is the
ability to seal close to the edge of the bag, further reducing waste.
On the downside, the FoodSaver FM2100 does have some
quality control issues and draws its fair share of durability concerns. But,
given the price range, many users looking for a light- to moderate-use vacuum
food sealer are very happy with what they get. Premade FoodSaver bags typically
run about $20 for a box of 44 quart-size bags, or $12 for 13 gallon-size bags,
with discounts for bulk purchases.
Historically, FoodSaver has dominated this category; but
this year we've identified two great alternatives in this price range. The
first is the (Est. $60), which features
one-touch operation with automatic shutoff, and a manual seal-only option to
help you seal delicate foods without crushing them. The VS-02 also features
extra seal time for dealing with moist foods, although users point out that,
like all external vacuum sealers, it still can't seal truly wet foods.
Like most vacuum sealers in this price range, the Nesco
VS-02 isn't built for the sort of repeated, consecutive use you'd need if you
regularly seal fresh fish or game or other large quantities of food. But for a
simple, light-use machine that lets you put away excess from the occasional
bulk food purchase, many users say this type of purchase is the perfect value.
The Nesco VS-02 vacuum sealer accommodates bags or rolls up to 11.8 inches wide.
Users say the sealing bar is a little on the thin side -- unsurprising, given
the price range -- but still works well. Pre-cut Nesco bags are also very
competitively priced, at about $14 for 50 quart bags, or $21 for 50 gallon-size
Heads up: The Nesco VS-02 and the very similar VS-01 are
sometimes listed together as alternate color options (the VS-02 is black and
silver, while the VS-01 is white), but they're actually different models. The
VS-02 has a built-in roll holder and bag cutter, while the VS-01 does not;
also, users say it takes extra pressure to get the lid of the VS-01 unit into
place for sealing.
If price is truly your bottom-line consideration, it's
almost impossible to beat the bargain-priced (Est. $40).
It doesn't have a roll holder or a bag cutter, its performance is sometimes a
little inconsistent, and it's louder than a lot of other models. But users say
that for the price, this little Seal-A-Meal is pretty good at the two things it
does do -- vacuuming out air and sealing bags shut. The Seal-A-Meal
FSSMSI0160-000 even draws a recommendation from a notoriously picky test
kitchen, albeit with some reservations because you have to press gently on the
lid while it seals, and it'll crush fragile foods like pretzels. If you're
cutting your own bags out of bulk rolls, users say that being careful to keep
the cuts straight results in a better vacuum and seal.
Chamber vacuum food sealers
Once found only in professional kitchens, chamber
vacuum food sealers are becoming increasingly popular for home use. With these
cube-shaped countertop appliances you put the food into the chamber, the vacuum
sealer evacuates all the air from the chamber -- establishing a vacuum without
squashing anything out of the bag -- and then seals the bag shut. You are
limited only by the amount of food that can fit in the chamber. If you deal
with messy foods frequently, or if you tend to vacuum seal large batches at a
time, it's worth investing in a chamber vacuum food sealer.
If you're serious about your vacuum sealing, or
best-reviewed pick, the (Est. $700), is the very top of the line. Its
internal chamber measures 11.25 by 15.25 by 5 inches and can accommodate
flexible pouches that measure up to 10 by 13 inches, and its controls let you
fine-tune the vacuum strength, vacuum time and temperature for the sealer bar.
If you only vacuum seal a few items a week, a machine like
this may be overkill -- but when it comes to heavy use and sealing soup, flour,
or the juicy cuts of meat that often cause problems for external vacuum
sealers, owners are uniformly thrilled about having made the investment in a
chamber sealer, and the learning curve of mastering its diverse controls is
well worth the effort.
Another perk of chamber vacuum sealers is that you don't
need accessories for sealing jars or canisters, as long as they fit into the
machine's chamber. The VacMaster VP210's deep, flat bottom works especially
well for this type of use. It also works very well for sous vide cooking, and
has a maintenance-free pump.
One quick heads up about this machine: the VacMaster VP210
weighs 72 pounds, so most users either make it into a permanent fixture on the
countertop or place it on a wheeled cart.
If you want a serious vacuum sealer with a slightly lower
profile, the (Est. $530) is a nice compromise. Its domed chamber measures 12 by
11 by 5 inches and actually holds a slightly larger pouch than the VP210: 12
inches by 14 inches. And at 46 pounds, the VacMaster VP112S is downright
portable -- for a chamber vacuum sealer, anyway. Like the VacMaster VP210, it
has versatile controls that let you tweak settings for both vacuum and sealing.
However, it's worth noting a user complaint that the lid is
drawn down during the suction process, so pint-size mason jars won't quite fit
inside for sealing. At 30 to 60 seconds, the per-seal cycle time on the VP112S
runs a little longer than the VP210's 20 to 60 seconds; something that you're
only likely to notice if you frequently seal large quantities of food. We also
found a few more concerns about durability with this model than with the
top-rated VP210, although both have excellent service records when compared to
inexpensive vacuum sealers. Both VacMaster models are covered by a one-year
No matter which VacMaster model you choose, the bags are a
real bargain, coming in about $37 for 250 10-by-13-inch bags, with boxes of up
to 1,000 bags available. Also, users say that VacMaster offers excellent
New in this report, the (Est. $1,000) makes a strong showing. Like the
VacMaster models, the PolyScience 300 Series features versatile controls that
let you fine-tune vacuum level and seal time -- and of course it comes with a
learning curve, too. The internal chamber measures 13.8 by 12 by 4.3 inches.
That's too small for standard pint jars, but the PolyScience 300 Series comes
with an external vacuum port that can be used for jars or canisters.
There isn't quite enough feedback on this model for it to
hit the top of our rankings yet -- but users do say that they love its three
programmable preset buttons that let you quickly access favorite settings
without fiddling. It also has a built-in marinate cycle and can be used for
sous vide cooking or to seal everything that fits inside the chamber, from
liquids to flour. The PolyScience 300 Series' bombproof stainless steel
construction weighs almost 51 pounds, and it's covered by a one-year warranty.
Customer service used to be a problem for this company, but users say that when
Breville took over a few years ago, they brought with them excellent service
and warranty coverage.
Handheld vacuum sealers are best for occasional use
Handheld food sealers offer a good balance between
convenience and usability. They're a great choice if you want to have a vacuum
sealer on hand to use only occasionally, or if storage space is at a
premium. These petite appliances
either draw the air out through a one-way valve in specially designed bags, or
draw the air out through a small puncture in the bag, then seal all the way
around the puncture. However, some caution is advised before purchasing a
handheld vacuum sealer. Motor size usually correlates to vacuum power, so
they're best reserved for sealing small packages. Expert tests also found that
handheld models don't always create a lasting seal, so consider opting for a
larger model if you need to store food for long periods or seal medium to large
Our best-reviewed pick in this category is the (Est. $20). Although we did find plenty of concerns
about this little gadget's durability, users love that something this small --
about the size of your hand -- is such a great bargain for occasional use. The
FreshSaver works with valve bags and rigid, valved containers from both Ziploc
and FoodSaver: Just make sure the bag's zip closure is securely fastened, place
the suction area against the valve and press the button to begin.
When it comes to bags, replacements typically cost about
$12 for 26 quart-sized bags. And as long as you follow the manufacturer's
instructions, users say a single charge of the FoodSaver FreshSaver's
rechargeable battery can last for months of sporadic use. The FreshSaver is
covered by a one-year warranty, and it's so inexpensive that if the battery
stops holding an effective charge after that period, you might as well just
If you'd like a more versatile option, consider the (Est. $25) which users say works
well with every brand of zip-close vacuum sealer bag they've tried, including
FoodSaver bags and Zip-Lock brand. Just place it over the valve in a
vacuum-ready zip-close bag, press the single button, and wait for it to draw
the air out. An indicator light shows that it's working.
Although the Boday-Care Cordless Mini Vacuum Sealer hasn't
amassed enough reviews to take the top spot in this category, early indications
are that it will be a strong challenger. Users love its USB-rechargeable
battery and say that at just 3.3 inches tall and 2 inches wide, it's great for
travel applications or road trips.
On the other hand, we also see mixed reviews for durability
and how thoroughly this little vacuum sealer evacuates air from the bags and,
although operation is easy, it's not always quick; one user says it takes about
15 seconds to get the air completely out of a vacuum bag.
Expert & User Review Sources
Although few experts review vacuum food sealers, they're
fair game for the expert cooks in the Cook's Illustrated test kitchen. Subscribers can access the test results on all seven models the
cooks tested, two of which are recommended without reservations. User reviews
at sites such as Amazon.com, Walmart.com, Costco.com, and JCPenney.com are invaluable at
gauging how easy the sealers are to use, and how well they operate under