Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Everyday Uses For A Vacuum Sealer In The Suburbs.

Anyone who is self reliant or who buys in bulk has considered a vacuum sealer. We've all seen them at savings club stores like Sams, BJ's,  or Costco and other retail outlets like Walmart. Most of us have seen them on infomercials where a thrifty, creative home maker is vacuum sealing bulk purchased meats, or prepackaging every meal, marinating chicken in a hurry, or sealing up left overs so they last longer, etc.

They seem like a great idea and hit us in the budgetary sweet spot of not wasting money by not wasting food. I mean, who hasn't thrown out food that spoiled before it got cooked, or food that got freezer burned? Vacuum sealers seem easy to use....just place whatever you want to seal in a pre-sized plastic bag, place the open end of the bag on the bottom shelf of the sealer, close the lid, and press a button. What could be easier, right? Easy peezy lemon squeezy.

It really is that simple, at least at that stage of the process. But you should know, there's A LOT of things that have to happen before you place the bag in the sealer and press the go button. The first of those things is....you have to own a vacuum sealer. I own a Foodsaver brand. It's by far the most popular, to the extent that people refer to vacuum sealers as "food savers", much like people ask for a Kleenex.

Foodsaver isn't the only brand of vacuum sealer by any means, and this is in no way an advertisement for or an endorsement of their products. It just so happens to be the brand I bought 20+ years ago, which i still have and use. They have many models, with many features,  and you can find some comparisons here.

This post isn't about which vacuum saver you should get, or which attachments they offer for which models, or even how awesome your vacuum sealing experience will be. This post is about what I have used my vacuum sealer to seal, the tips and tricks I learned along the way, and the results I experienced.

So, lets get right to it. As I mentioned earlier, there are quite a few things that need to happen before you press the Seal Me button, or whatever its called. We will assume at this stage of the process, you already have a sealer. So the next two decisions you need to make are what am I going to seal, and what am I going to seal it in? Simple right? Not really.

In my experience there are two types of things you would seal for storage; food, and not food.
So lets take a look at food first. There are three scenarios for sealing food:

     1. Frozen, long term storage - meats, vegetables and fruits that you want to store in your freezer and use longer than 10 days from the day you sealed them. I've frozen meats that have kept for close to a year with my vacuum sealer. They might have lasted longer, but we ate them. It wasn't a science experiment, its just meat for dinner. What you store these items in is an important determining factor on how long they will store with little or no degradation. I used the vacuum bags and bag rolls made by Foodsaver. the bags are easy to use if what you want to store fits in them, but they cost more. they're already sealed on one end. So you fill and seal. the bag rolls on the other hand are just that.....a roll of bag material that you cut to size and seal on both ends. The rolls are less expensive, but you have to cut it to the length you think you'll need, seal one end, then fill it and finally seal the other end. More work, and 2 times the chance of a seal failure. There are things you can do to minimize the chance of seal failure:
    • Portion out the food you want to go into the bag ahead of time, don't try to do it as you fill the bags. If you'll 2x a portion for a recipe I would use two bags, dont try to fit a double portion in one bag.
    • Wash your hands after you portion the food. Meat will leave fat and grease on your hands and the bags as you fill them. This can affect the quality of the seal. I rolled ground beef into a big ball and dropped it into the open bag so it didn't brush the sides going in and contaminate the seal.
    • For ground meats I flattened them out before sealing and tried to get them all roughly the same dimensions. This lets it rest flat on the counter, keeps the bag in a relatively cohesive shape for sealing that doesn't have peaks and valleys in it. Those peaks will cause wrinkles the length of the bag and when the wrinkle reaches the sealing pad of the vacuum sealer it will fold over and create an air leak. Flat meat is also easier to store as it can be stacked.
    • Vegetables i just tossed in the bag, gave it a good shake to settle them into the bag, laid them on their sides flat,  and sealed them.
    • I put a second seal on each end of the bag about 1/2 inch from first seal on the outside of the first seal. Make sure the seals don't cross each other, and make sure the first seal is good before you set the second seal. 
    • If you mess up a seal, don't cut the bag shorter and try again, get a new bag. If it wrinkled with a longer bag the first time it will definitely wrinkle on a shorter bag the second time.
    • Let your food sit out for 15 minutes before you put it in the freezer. Most seal failures happen pretty quickly. If your bag doesn't look exactly like it did when you first sealed it, cut it open and use a new bag.
     2. Frozen or refrigerated, short term storage - meats, vegetables and fruits that you want to use within 10 days of sealing them. This could be for marinades, left overs, stuff you want to cook in 5 days, etc. Newer machines will allow you to seal zippered bags, or any other food grade plastic bag. Those might be a better option for this than the rolls and heavier bags mentioned above. They wont have to hold a seal for months and I wouldn't bother with a second seal. Follow all of the steps for handling the food before you seal it, follow all of the steps should you notice a seal failure, and you should be good to go. I don't have a lot of experience with sealing short cycle foods because we either used it within a few days or kept it as part of a longer cycle rotation because we bought in bulk or on sale. I have however resealed jars once they've been opened, so they make that cool *thock* sound when you reopen them.

    3. Dry long term storage - Dry goods that you plan on storing for an extended period of time. This is one of the ways I heavily used my sealer. I have stored many different dry goods, but they basically fall into grains, beans, and granules.They're sealed in slightly different ways and stored in differently ways as well.
    • Grains and granules - Flour (wheat and corn) and salt (not iodized) mainly. I used bag rolls cut to size. I simply placed the grains or granules in their original packaging inside the bag and double sealed them. This will protect them against airborne and insect contaminates. This will not protect your stored goods from rodent contamination.
    • Beans - All types of dry beans. I remove them from their packaging and put them into the bag rolls i have cut to length. I double seal them and place them into 3 gallon food grade buckets with lids. I get my buckets from Walmart. I ask the bakery for their empty icing buckets. They are always happy to get rid of the buckets, which I wash then dry and store my beans in.

The second type of items you would use the vacuum sealer to store is non-food items. these could include things like firearms parts, documents, matches, batteries, primers, medicines, the list is almost endless. these types of things would be stored in much the same way as beans and grains/granules. I stored small, sharp parts inside a small metal tin, and larger parts inside plastic potato chip tubes (think Pringles can) and double sealed them into cut to length roll bags. One complete parts kit per weapon into individual sealed packages. I tossed a parts list in each package, and wrote the weapon name on the outside with a sharpie.

Things like prescription medications, primers, and things that come prepackaged into small to medium sized packages, I simply dropped into the cut to length bag rolls and double sealed them. This will be a judgment call for you, things the seem easier to store, identify, and use/administer by their original packaging would probably be better served to bag and seal in their original packaging. This way you know exactly which medicines you have in the bag and the correct dosages.

Important documents and photographs would of course be sealed flat in cut to length bag rolls. As an additional step for documents I put them into envelopes and marked the envelops so I could tell the general contents of each one. I grouped the documents by each person in my family, I had a birth certificate, social security card, immunization record, and ID card among other documents for each person. I marked the outside with a sharpie by name. I had all the documents imaged to disk prior to vacuum sealing them. you could also group the documents by type instead. So you would have all birth certificates in one package, social security cards in another, etc.

In conclusion, a vacuum sealer is a great tool from a financial perspective in that it allows you to safely seal and store your food purchases for the log or short term. It's also a great tool from a practical perspective in that it can be used to protect non-food items from the environment and extend their life by a very long time.

I encourage you to do your own research on brands, models and features. I'm not an expert and I don't play one on the Internet. The opinions in all my blog posts are just that, my opinions. They're worth exactly what you paid for them. Feel free to comment, make suggestions for new topics, or just suggestions in general. You can submit them in at the blog site, anonymously if you want. Or you can e-mail me directly: survivalinthesuburbs@gmail.com  As always, thank you for reading.

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