Vacuum Sealing Could Be Hazardous to Your Health

Tess Pennington
By Tess Pennington September 11, 2017 06:44

Vacuum Sealing Could Be Hazardous to Your Health

This article was gladly contributed by Tess Pennington and first appeared on Ready Nutrition.

Vacuum sealing food has taken this country by storm. The ability to divide and seal food in a low oxygen environment in order to prolong its freshness and storage time is a prepper’s dream.

Vacuum sealing, or ROP (Reduced Oxygen Packaging) slows down the process of spoilage by reducing atmospheric oxygen, and creates an anaerobic environment that  limits the growth of aerobic bacteria or fungi, and prevents the evaporation of volatile components. Vacuum sealing is often used in combination with other packaging and food processing techniques.

As effective as this food storage source seems, it could put your health at risk. There are certain types of bacteria that prefer low oxygen environments and will grow on foods that have been vacuum sealed. Knowing the dangers that these bacteria possess can help you avoid them and keep your food storage safe.

Related: Canning Amish Poor Man’s Steak

Botulism and Listeria Monocytogenes

Even in an oxygen-depleted environment, Anaerobic organisms can proliferate, potentially causing food safety problems. Botulism and Listeria monocytogenes are examples of pathogenic bacteria that cause food borne illnesses from growing and thriving in an anaerobic environment. Moreover, these bacteria have the capacity of growing at a faster rate in vacuum sealed foods due to the oxygen-free environment as well as the fact that these bacteria are not in competition with other spoilage bacteria. These bacteria often do not produce noticeable changes in the foods; therefore, relying on sight, smell and taste would not be helpful. However, only a tiny amount of these spores (a few nanograms) need to be present in order for them to be deadly.

According to the FDA, the following are dangers associated with vacuum sealing food sources:

  • Facultative bacteria (most foodborne pathogens) grow under aerobic & anaerobic conditions
  • Most spoilage organisms are no longer “indicators” for temperature abuse
  • Extended shelf life could allow “slow growers” to reach high numbers under refrigerated conditions
  • Secondary barriers such as low pH or aw are not always possible with cook chill and sous vide packaging
  • Potential for temperature abuse at retail and in the home is great
  • Cooking and fermentation destroy most vegetative cells but spore formers survive

Related: How to Tell When Your Canned Foods Become Spoiled?

Safety Guidelines for Vacuum Sealing Food

If you have  taken proper steps in preparing your food in a clean and uncontaminated environment, then this should not be a problem. However, if there is any question about the safety, then err on the side of caution and do not vacuum pack the food, as you would be creating a perfect breeding ground for bacteria.

Follow these guidelines to properly vacuum seal food:

  1. Vacuum sealing food does not replace the need to pressure can or water bath home canned foods.
  2. Wash hands before and during the vacuum sealing process.
  3. Try not to touch food with your hands. Use clean spoons, tongs or something else to handle the food.
  4. Be sure to keep utensils, cutting boards and counters clean.
  5. Keep vacuum sealed foods in the refrigerator or freezer. Dry food, like crackers and nuts, can be stored at room temperature.
  6. Freeze low-acid vacuum packaged foods and consume immediately after heating. Never heat a low-acid vacuum packaged food and allow it to stand at room temperature in the vacuum package.
  7. Ensure that you do not cross contaminate food.
  8. Properly label food sources with type of food and date packaged.
  9. Ensure the seal is complete and that there is no debris in the seal.

Related: How To Repackage Foods in Mylar Bags With Oxygen Absorbers For Long Term Survival

Which Foods are Safe and How Long Do They Store?Shelf life of vacuum packaged foods

Vaccum sealing food can be a productive way to maintain your food source as well as prolong its shelf life. Ensure that you take the proper steps in handling and storing your  food to reduce the presence of bacteria in your food storage.

This article was gladly contributed by Tess Pennington  and first appeared on Ready Nutrition.

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Tess Pennington
By Tess Pennington September 11, 2017 06:44
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23 Comments

  1. 2iceblest September 11, 14:22

    I wrap meats in paper towel first. In fact, meat wrapped in paper towel and then placed in a plain zipper bag willow get freezer burn for at least a year. I tried it and it works!

    Reply to this comment
    • JJ September 14, 17:12

      Vacuum seal your meats. I have meats bought at a slaughterhouse from 2010 and still good.

      Reply to this comment
  2. Raymond Dean White September 11, 15:58

    I’ve been using vacuum sealed raw meats and veggies for more than ten years now without ill effect. Often times meats stay in the freezer for more than a year. So long as the package stays sealed I get no freezer burn and the meats cook up very well. I think so long as you cook your food properly you won’t have any problems.

    Reply to this comment
    • Huggy September 11, 18:45

      My only concern is IF the meat (s) ARE contaminated (which you’d never know as pointed out in the article) and then it is cooked to a rare, medium-rare, or anything other than well-done, the potential for accidentally becoming a victim of botulism poisoning or any other bateria becomes a larger potential. And it wasn’t mentioned in the article (or I missed it) if even THOROUGHLY cooking the food(s) would kill off the bacteria anyway.
      So as the article points out, cleanliness is paramount in reducing the potential of becoming a victim of food poisoning.
      Having a helper to hold open the bags or place meats or other animal flesh foods into the bags would be very helpful as well as being faster and more efficient but it isn’t always possible.
      And I don’t think the problem potential is ONLY meat sensitive. If, for example, you are packaging some vegetables which hadn’t be thoroughly washed to remove any and ALL bacteria potential (like Listeria, E-coli etc.), handling the one plant(s) then unwittingly touching/packaging additional bags of veggies could spread the bacteria to your entire group of foods being packaged and frozen. Next thing you know you’ve managed to freeze a LOT of bacteria-laden time bombs. Scary thoughts indeed!

      Reply to this comment
      • 2iceblest September 11, 19:14

        Don’t be afraid, especially if you buy grass fed meats, etc. My grandparents lived to 101 and 103. They ate food left in the fridge to spoiling, didn’t wash their hands, and didn’t worry about germs. We have become obsessed! I think their constant exposure kept them healthy longer. I always wash hands before and after handling meat, and have never had an issue with bacteria and stomach issues.

        Reply to this comment
        • left coast chuck September 11, 19:27

          I agree Ziceblest. There is some evidence that the polio epidemic that swept the U.S. in the 40s and 50s before the invention of the polio vaccine was due to people drinking purified water. Out on the farm people drank the well water that was of perhaps, not quite absolutely pure.

          There is also some evidence that Amish children who are raised on farms suffer from significantly less asthma than city kids who are not exposed to the various pollens etc that farm kids are.

          When I was a kid I didn’t know a single kid that was allergic to peanuts. That was unheard of. Allergic to peanuts?? Chunky peanut butter and grape jelly on bread buttered on both side — food for the gods, especially with a glass of ice cold, non-homogenized milk.

          Excuse me. I have to run to the kitchen and fix myself a peanut butter sandwich.

          Reply to this comment
          • 2iceblest September 11, 19:28

            Haha! Great info. Thanks!

            Reply to this comment
          • Danoday00 September 17, 09:31

            I grew up on a farm. As a child, being dirty was a normal state. My parents were not hyperchondriacs about cleanliness. I am told that I would eat the dirt. No one in my family is allergic to anything. I have since discovered that I DO NOT get sick much. It has been over a decade since I have had an illness. People always worry about colds and the flu. I am mostly immune. I refuse to get sick. I got that stuff as a kid, but I have come to believe that it is mostly in your mind. I REFUSE to get sick. I might be wrong about it being psychosomatic, BUT, your mind is a powerful thing. All I can say is that it works for me. I simply do not get sick any longer.

            Reply to this comment
        • TheSouthernNationalist September 12, 22:29

          I agree as well 2iceblest, being afraid of every little germ out there will drive you nuts!
          I drink straight from my well and have been for the last 26 years and never an ill effect even when it was not clear from underground turbulence after a storm.
          I do wash my hands too after handling meat just to get the blood off.

          Reply to this comment
          • 2iceblest September 12, 22:41

            Kudos! Hopefully, next year we will move to the country and enjoy well water!
            Yes, handling meats makes your hands sticky and greasy.

            Reply to this comment
        • Jugband September 16, 10:25

          You are probably right about your grandparents. The polio epidemic we experienced when I was in elementary schools was caused by improved sanitation.

          In the 1800’s into the early 1900’s, the street gutters flowed with raw sewage in most large cities, and children played in the streets whose dirt was laden with all the bad things dried and not dried in the gutters.

          As sanitary sewers and city sanitation in general came about, children playing in the streets were exposed to lower levels of bacteria.

          That meant that fewer of them got seriously ill, but also reduced the level of immunity built up by constant exposure to sewage, food garbage, and all the other things that got removed from their environment.

          Like Friedrich Nietzsche said: “What does not destroy me makes me stronger”.

          Kids still got polio… it’s always been around, but after a few decades of “improvement”, the incidences began to rise towards epidemic levels, until I had to spend the 1950’s getting jabbed in the arm with Salk vaccine every year.

          Reply to this comment
  3. Wannabe September 11, 18:36

    Get the coffee packs that are already vacuum sealed, I freeze everything I put in vacuum bags so no problems here

    Reply to this comment
  4. left coast chuck September 11, 19:22

    Crackers keep 3 months if vacuum sealed???
    I’m eating Saltines that I bought at Costco last year. There is nothing growing on them and when I open the cellophane or whatever material it is for the individual packs they are still dry and fresh. Of course, three weeks later they are getting a little soft but if it really bothers you, a quick trip to the oven at low temperature will fix that. Or put them over the opening in the toaster when you are making toast for about a half a minute. Kill two birds with one stone.

    By the way, I am using that method to dry the bread crusts that I am putting away in lieu of hardtack. Cut the crust into eight to ten pieces and put the small pieces over the opening in the toaster when I make my morning toast. Cuts down on the electric bill.

    Reply to this comment
    • 2iceblest September 11, 19:27

      Great! Thanks for the ideas.

      Reply to this comment
    • JJ September 14, 17:18

      I have crackers good for over 12 months, some in my BOB for 15 months!!! and they were in the car.
      Some vacuum packed in plastic, some vacuum sealed in mason jars.
      I do know ritz style last longer and stay fresher for me sealed this way.

      Reply to this comment
  5. vocalpatriot September 12, 03:28

    I am averse to storing raw foods in a vacuum sealed bag for very long unless frozen.
    My preferred method is to made a sort of “ready to eat” meal, vacuum seal it and then reheat the sealed bag in water, as I would a water bath canned meal. The difference is that the vacuum is made first, then the temp is raised to kill off any lingering bacteria. then immediately frozen to further reduce the chance of growth. I made a chicken parm using boneless breast, home made sauce and the cheese..used my heating method, then placed that heated bag in another bag which also contained dry pasta..vacuum sealed that then froze the whole thing..how do you suppose it turned out on that dinner night?

    Reply to this comment
  6. Joe September 12, 11:50

    My biggest problem is that I don’t believe a lot that the FDA or government really has to say, they lie all the time just to protect their wallets from loosing the money that big corporating give them!

    Reply to this comment
  7. baybilly September 12, 23:33

    so if i get this right the pork ribs that i got today that are vacuum sealed at the store are going to make me sick ? i don”t think so. i have been chamber vacuum sealing for over 5 yrs with all my garden crops and deer and beef and pork and chicken and i’m still here and my movements are still like clock work 8am.. just saying

    Reply to this comment
  8. Spike September 14, 03:22

    I think our natural resistance to bacteria and pathogens has been eroded by all the crap we consume now that passes for food. Growing up, I thought pasteurized meant the cows were milked out in the pasture. I guess the things we did back then were all wrong. Like grabbing fresh tomatoes off the vine and eating them like apples, pigging out on wild blackberries, drinking whole milk as soon as it cooled, eating homemade bread hot out of the oven with home made butter and for desert , a home made cinnamon rolls made with with raisins, walnuts. I still here.

    Reply to this comment
    • JJ September 14, 17:21

      My husband ate meals at 2/3 in the morning for years left on the stove at his SIL’s house from the evening meal.
      Never was he sick.

      Reply to this comment
  9. Harrie September 14, 13:17

    When I find rice or beans on sale I buy them and vacuum seal in jars. At the present time I found a jar of rice that had been hidden in the back of the shelf, decided to open and cook it. There were no bugs in the jar and the seal was still good after it had been sealed for 7 years. The rice tasted just like fresh bought, no ill effects. I have also vacuum sealed other items and they are still good, no issues. I do the same with flour and sugar, putting the bag in a vacuum bag and sealing for use later.

    Reply to this comment
  10. Huggy September 14, 18:00

    I think that as we have all read, based on input I’m reading here, that the article, while well meaning, is ultra conservative in apparent facts.
    I’m sure nobody is trying to be misleading but I find that, based on MY experience and other comments, the concern for safety is greatly over-exaggerated as I’m sure NOBODY would continue the practice of sealing food products like those being discussed and knowing they are unwittingly setting themselves up for dangerous situations.
    SOME foods, be they dry (like brown rice as one example) might not last as long due to the natural oils involved potentially going rancid, and raw meats MIGHT go bad due to freezer burn, but on the whole, I (for one) will continue to enjoy the flexibility of using my vacuum sealing equipment and I feel safe in doing so as long as “I” do MY part to ensure I follow the instructions and prep such foods as appropriate for long-term storage.
    Personally I’d like to see a follow-up discussion on this topic where Ms. Pennington can provide some scientifically acquired verification the process is potentially dangerous or fraught with peril.
    Obviously, I’d hate to inadvertently place myself or anyone else in danger of sickness or worse because of techniques or equipment faults that are above and beyond MY control to remedy.
    Understand that I am NOT claiming the original post is flat wrong and I can appreciate that somewhere, somehow, some TIME ago a problem had occurred but without proof imperical proof the process is inherently bad, I’ll continue to use my equipment for which it was/is designed to be used. That said, IF there IS quantifiable proof the machinery and storage bags pose a danger to health then I’ll stop using it for FOOD storage and relegate mine to vacuum sealing non-food items like matches, documents and other items I wish to ensure they remain dry for whatever purpose would benefit those things.
    Other than that, this article has brought out some excellent discussion material and is not unappreciated. And for that I am thankful to the Author.

    Reply to this comment
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