How Long Does Vacuum-Sealed Food Last?
Vacuum sealing protects and preserves food for longer, keeping it fresh and safe to eat for extended periods of time. This is because vacuum sealing performs several important functions in preventing food spoilage:
While oxygen is essential to life and health when breathed, exposure to oxygen can actually spoil foods. When the fats in meats, vegetables, and dairy products are exposed to air, they form carbon compounds that create strong, undesirable odors. Whether it is the browning of an avocado or an oil going rancid, it is oxygen that causes these unpleasant odors and flavors. Vacuum sealing removes all the air from your food packaging and seals it shut, preventing oxidation.
Microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, and yeasts that can grow on the surface of foods require air to breathe and survive. Vacuum sealing not only protects your food from getting contaminated by other foods, but creates an airless environment in which these organisms cannot live.
In the world of food preservation, it is often true that one bad apple spoils the bunch. Fruits and vegetables have natural enzymes that interact with air, leading to food spoilage. Vacuum sealing reduces this enzyme reaction in the affected food itself, and also prevents it from accelerating spoilage of other fruits and vegetables stored nearby.
Prevents “Freezer Burn”
Freezer burn is caused by oxidation and dehydration, when the water in a freezer evaporates without liquifying, drawing moisture out of foods and expelling it as vapor. Oxidation causes foods to brown or turn grey, while moisture evaporation creates a tough, leathery appearance. Vacuum sealing traps natural moisture within the food and prevents it from evaporating.
For all these reasons, vacuum sealing prolongs the life of foods. But even the best vacuum sealer can’t keep foods fresh indefinitely.
Guide to How Long Vacuum Sealed Foods Last
When pantry items like flour, cereal, pasta, and other dry food items are vacuum sealed, they last 2-4 times as long as they do when stored conventionally. Pantry items like flour, sugar, rice, and pasta can last for up to 6 months in the pantry without vacuum sealing. When vacuum sealed, they can last for up to 2 years.
Frozen meats, poultry, and fish can last in the freezer for up to six months when packaged conventionally. When vacuum sealed, frozen meats can stay fresh and free from freezer burn for up to 3 years. Vegetables also do well in the freezer, and can last for months when vacuum sealed.
When it comes to raw foods stored in the refrigerator, a vacuum sealer also keeps your food fresher for longer. Cheese can spoil in as little as 1 to 2 weeks, but will last 4 to 8 months when vacuum sealed. Fruits and berries stored in the fridge stay fresh for less than a week, but with a vacuum sealer you can double their lifespan, keeping them fresh for up to 2 weeks.
Vacuum sealing can also make your meal-prepping foods and leftovers stay fresh for longer. Most cooked foods will only stay fresh in the refrigerator for 1-3 days. When vacuum sealed, cooked foods can last in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Tips for Preserving Your Food With a Vacuum Sealer
Remember that simply using a vacuum sealer doesn’t eliminate all risk of food spoilage and contamination, and that vacuum sealing never replaces refrigeration or freezing in the process of extending the freshness of food. Storage temperature and vacuum sealing work together to keep your food fresh and safe. Here are some things to keep in mind when preserving your food.
Not all bacteria require air
In fact, C. botulinum is a dangerous food-borne pathogen that causes botulism, and it does not require air to grow. In fact, without competition from other air-loving bacteria, unsafe vacuum sealing may actually create a more favorable environment for botulism to develop.
Food preservation statistics rely on perfect use
While a vacuum sealer can make your food last 3-4 times longer than conventional storage, these statistics rely on perfect use and perfect sealing. Not all vacuum sealing machines are created equally, and some may leave air in the bag or have an imperfect seal. It’s also possible to introduce contaminants during your cooking or food preparation that will impair the safety of your food. Always follow these important tips to make your food last as long as possible:
- Always wash your hands when handling food. Keeping your hands clean reduces any bacteria that you may introduce onto the surface of your food, and also reduces the risk of cross-contamination as you touch other surfaces in your kitchen
- Always store and thaw foods at the proper temperature. If an item needs refrigeration, keep it cold before, during, and after vacuum sealing
- Avoid re-freezing thawed raw foods. If you have frozen food that you have thawed, do not re-freeze it without cooking it
- Blanch vegetables before sealing. Blanching vegetables is essential for food safety, but also for preserving the freshness, crispness, and flavor of fresh vegetables. Blanching both kills any harmful bacteria or microorganisms that may be on the vegetables, but it also halts the enzymatic processes that ripen and age plants.
To blanch vegetables, bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil. Add your vegetables, and wait for the water to return to a boil. Once the water is boiling, most vegetables need to be boiled for 3-7 minutes (see this chart for specific times). When the time is up, quickly drain and submerge your vegetables in ice water to halt the cooking process. Once they are cool, they are perfectly ready to be vacuum sealed and frozen.
Vacuum sealing can preserve almost all foods for 2-5 times longer than any other packaging method. It’s a fantastic way to keep your foods fresh and healthy, and save you money every month.