Vacuum Seal Tips From a Two Decade Homesteader
Updated: Mar 31
If you are smart, you are stocking up on food when it is on sale, buying in bulk at farmer's markets, or better yet, gardening and saving your harvest for the long term, but did you know that the type of vacuum bag you use can make or break your food storage? I have been growing and storing all our food for two decades, and I want to share with you what works and what doesn't. I no longer risk losing any of the food I have worked so hard to grow or purchase that is required for my sustainability.
In my younger years, I always bought the kind of vacuum bags you can get at Walmart or any other box store, and I purchased them in rolls thinking that cutting the bags and making them saved me a lot of money. This is how most people start out storing food. It took me almost a decade to understand how this was a waste of time and money and how it created a lot of spoiled food.
Pre-cut vs. the roll ~
Buying bags by the roll doesn't really save any money. In fact, it may cost you an entirely new vacuum machine in the future. Here is an example using the product I buy.
An 8''x12'' 50 pack costs $7.18. There are 50 feet of premade bags in the order.
An 8''x50''ft roll is $7.45 for the same 50 feet of uncut bags.
There is only a .27ç savings between the cut and uncut bags, AND you must still use your labor (that IS with something!) and machine to make the bags. I use hundreds of bags a year that would require two seals each instead of only one. All of those extra seals are wear and tear on your machine that will require replacement seals and parts more often or cause degradation of the evacuation pump as it still needs to pull a vacuum to make the heat seal. Sure, I still keep a roll around for odd size things, but I have made the adjustments in the kitchen to use the precut bags even if I have to break down whole food items such as chicken or rabbit.
Commercial Bag Quality ~
Box store vacuum seal bags do not measure up to commercial bags. Why? Well, homemakers aren't likely going to try to hold a company accountable for a few punctured bags, but someone in the restaurant or food industry that uses thousands of bags a year might. It is convenient to pick up your provisions at the local grocery store, but these bags are thin and brittle. Companies have different ways to measure bags to equal the MIL they claim, and for the life of me, it doesn't make any sense or add up. If you touch a store brand vs. a commercial brand side by side, you can easily partake in the difference in quality even though they claim the same thickness and components to make the bag. The fact is, commercial bags hold up better to being slightly stretched and resist being punctured while packaging and in storage. Buying your bags from a commercial seller is also more economical because you usually buy straight from a distributor, which skips a storefront markup. Remember, they are a little more expensive, but when used properly, there is very little chance of losing food in storage. Those extra few dollars are worth the peace of mind!
Commercial Bag Storage Time ~
I'm a seasoned homesteader, and I encourage everyone to follow the recommendations set by the FDA for food storage. Do what you are comfortable with, and don't recommend that YOUR practices are safe for everyone. I have pork that we still consume occasionally that is still very good after spending four years in the deep freeze that has been sealed in commercial bags. There is zero freezer burn; the only flavor change is due to enzyme breakdown from long-term storage. Yes, enzymes still keep working very slowly in sub-zero temperatures. This is something to file away if you are starving to death. I never intended to store meat that long; I just can't afford to feed pigs due to inflated grain prices since 2020, so I covet the few pieces I have left that I processed in 2019.
I have purchased many types of commercial bags, trying to find the best ones. Sometimes the brands that have the mesh stamped into the plastic can have a microscopic pinhole made by the mesh-making process embedded in the bag that leaks air over time. Bags with nylon mesh inside do not have this issue. I was in tears for two weeks trying to figure out why my bags weren't sealing while packaging up 450lbs home processed pasture-raised Berkshire pork. Every few days, I would find another bag with air in it. 80% of the meat had to be rebagged, which was a nightmare due to other homestead meat processing deadlines.
Tip: If it happens to you, nip off a corner and double bag to save time.
What Kind of Bags Do I Buy? ~
Here's the weenie - I buy only ARY VacMaster Full Mesh 3Mil bags. I use a few hundred 8x12 bags yearly for frozen peppers, tomato sauce, zucchini, kale, chard, scrambled eggs (all frozen into bricks), and meat products.
I buy from the WebstaurantStore. I am not an affiliate, and I do not get paid by them. I like this company because they never let me down, not even during the pandemic. Occasionally, if items are on back order, they will pay the shipping if it has to ship separately. They do not swap out items as a replacement.
I use two sizes: The 8''x12'' nylon mesh VISIT STORE
and the 15''X18'' nylon mesh (but you need a pro-sealer for this size). VISIT STORE
Consider the 11 ½'' X 14'' for large home sealers VISIT STORE
I also purchase each roll or two of each to keep on hand for larger or smaller items. I have adjusted the packaging of everything on the homestead to fit into these bags. They are reliable and last for years without breaking down in or out of the freezer. Don't forget you can pack multiple items in a bag to remove and reseal, even if frozen.
*These bags are so tough that I whack frozen blocks of chopped peppers with an iron skillet to bust them apart for meals, and more often than not, the bags still hold a new seal. (It's important to losen the bag with hot water first to release the nylon mesh from the food so you don't consume it.)
What does it cost to vacuum package food for a year? ~
I spend right around $200.00 a year on vacuum bags. That may sound excessive, but freezer storage lasts much longer than canning items, and the food quality is better because it isn't watered down, and there is no light degradation. It is also less labor intensive and requires much less energy than running a canner for extended periods of time. A full-size deep freeze averages $30.00 a year to run, and I have generator backups and fuel.
Will My FoodSaver Seal Commercial Bags? ~
I can't recommend something against the manufacturer's recommendations. The machine is designed to seal that specific bag to keep it from overheating, exhausting the evac system, and heating the seal bar. Have I used commercial bags on one? Yep! Hundreds of times! However, I do believe I had to purchase more models as they failed under the excess load. A good pro series vacuum sealer will last you a decade and is worth every penny. I use a WESTON Pro-2300. Plan on replacing the foam sealer insulators once a year. I used it for a decade without any problems. I abused the machine, making marathon-sealing a regular practice. I like to hammer out lots of bags in a row as I often take a milk crate of bagged-up goods to the pantry to seal.
Butcher Paper, Butcher Plastic Wrap, and Vacuum Bags ~
You have two choices if you buy meat in bulk from a butcher. Butcher paper or plastic meat film. Please note that both contain toxins. Butcher paper contains caustic soda, sulfide, and sizing agents to keep the meat from leaking through the package. The plastic film is a form of PVC. Yeah, those chemicals released in the East Palestine train crash. Keep that off your food, and don't thaw your meat in it for your health. You still need to vacuum pack it if you don't like freezer burn. Butcher paper doesn't seal well, and freezer burn is inevitable. The plastic film can easily get punctured, leading to freezer burn in those areas. It still needs to be vacuum-packed for quality to keep it long-term in the freezer.
Wet Seals ~
In my early years of packaging raw meat, I struggled constantly with making wet seals. I value chicken livers and gizzards that always retain a good deal of fluid from the processing. Failed wet seals have little to do with the bags. It takes a sealer with a high-powered seal bar to heat the fluid enough to leave the area to make the heat seal. You will need some type of pro-series machine to get the job done without frustration while curing meats, marinating, or packaging juicy things. Freezing the food in a container first makes it possible for the mid-level machine. You may still get some tiny air pockets but still secure most of your stores.