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
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:
- Vacuum sealing food does not replace the need to pressure can or water bath home canned foods.
- Wash hands before and during the vacuum sealing process.
- Try not to touch food with your hands. Use clean spoons, tongs or something else to handle the food.
- Be sure to keep utensils, cutting boards and counters clean.
- Keep vacuum sealed foods in the refrigerator or freezer. Dry food, like crackers and nuts, can be stored at room temperature.
- 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.
- Ensure that you do not cross contaminate food.
- Properly label food sources with type of food and date packaged.
- 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?
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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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!
Vacuum seal your meats. I have meats bought at a slaughterhouse from 2010 and still good.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Haha! Great info. Thanks!
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.
You didn’t know a single kid that was allergic to peanuts because they all died before you got a chance to meet them. Putz….
Really? You know that as a fact? Putz
in the 50’s -60’s it was very common in grade school that we were given PB & Jelly on OMG ” White Bread ” no one from grades 1-6 ever died ;
Peanut allergies Related to specific vaccines not used before 1980
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.
Kudos! Hopefully, next year we will move to the country and enjoy well water!
Yes, handling meats makes your hands sticky and greasy.
I would like to know more about this. I have a specific food I’m looking to vacuum seal.
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.
Lots more kids died before age 5, too. The ones that survived were, by natural selection, tougher. Now, nearly all children survive, many of whom would have died 100 years ago. They and their descendants are weaker, more susceptible to disease and allergy, and more reliant on modern hygiene and medicine to continue to survive.
That’s true, but then how does natural selection work? You said it worked 100 years ago, then we as the survivors’ descendants should be all strong already?
I’ve always said civilization ruined us
Got mine in 1965 at Eatonton Elementary School in Eatonton, GA. Still got the scar. I am 61.
The scar is from the smallpox vaccine.
Polio was given orally with a sugar cube to dissolve in our mouths in the 50’s and 60’s.
The largest outbreaks of polio was in North Carolina.
I use a colander or something else to hold the bag, then roll the top down, then as I fill it roll top back up. I also have and old sieve for making jelly that is on a stand I use.
Adapt to what you have available, think outside the box.
Get the coffee packs that are already vacuum sealed, I freeze everything I put in vacuum bags so no problems here
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.
Great! Thanks for the ideas.
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.
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?
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!
Joe, you said a mouthful there, Pardner!
Like others have stated, I’m a firm believer that the “healthier” the germaphobes INSIST we become, the more likely we are to become not only more sick but the intensity, duration and resistant to drugs the newly morphed virus/bugs become.
The insistence on washing your hands or using an alcohol based antibacterial hand wash after every time you pull a pen or pencil out of your pocket or purse has gone WAY beyond sensible.
Yes, I use those convenient antibacterial cloth wipes placed outside the grocery store near the carts is a MUST IMO. I’ve seen some babies or little kids with snot running down their nose and what looked to be FULL diapers placed in the seating area of the carts.
Lord only know what is growing on that kids face or around their precious little tushies. But in that instance SPECIFICALLY I’ll use the cloths or my own liquid wash. COPIOUS amounts and quantities i might add.
But otherwise, we have, literally, become our own worst enemy!
I stick by my earlier comments above in that IF you induce a bug, virus, whatever, during your vacuum sealing process the more likely you’ll contaminate your stockpiles, frozen or otherwise. So start with CLEAN preparation materials and surfaces, keep your hands from cross-contaminating as much as possible (and ESPECIALLY with any kind of raw meats) and chances are your vacuum sealed and frozen foods will last a good long time and be perfectly fine for consumption upon proper cooking.
So while we must take due caution, we do NOT need to be Clean Room Clinically Sterile as often as possible.
The old joke about about having a cut and someone telling you to rub dirt on it, walk it off and get back to work, play or whatever may just REALLY be a good idea (in moderation).
And eat some dirt in the meantime. LOL
Technology to keep individuals healthy isn’t always good for entire populations.
Better sanitation gave us the Polio Epidemic. Kids played in city streets that typically had gutters, there to carry the raw sewage, etc., dumped out of houses.
After 1900, the Sanitary Sewer System became popular. Kids 3-10 yrs old, who played in the streets among all kinds of vicious germs quit getting sick so often, but also quit developing strong immunitie to things, so 50 years later *I* was a little kid having to get very unwelcome injections of the Salk polio vaccine, and booster shots.
In a recent article about the evils of antibiotics, it was said that not only is improper use of antibiotics creating resistant strains of bacteria, but (Get This) infections that will clear up on their own, but are cured a whole lot faster with antibiotics should be left to cure on their own, if possible.
This creates a resistance to that bacteria in the individual who doesn’t get the un-needed antibiotic, keeping them more healthy in the future.
If you recall not long ago every place you looked they were pushing anti-bacterial soap. All of a sudden they stopped pushing it. Reason – too much was going down the sewer and the sewage plant was having a hard time with it killing off the bacteria that they use in the process.
Also the pushing of antibiotic meds from doctors was stopped. Reason it was killing off the weaker strain and only the strong strain was developing a resistance to it was surviving greatly reducing the effectiveness of it to a point of having resistant antibiotic germs.
Notice now hospitals have drug resistant germs. SARS e.g. They are disinfected so only the resistant germs are surviving the cleaning. They were claiming not long a go don’t go to a hospital if yo don’t have to for the fear of getting infections from the hospital environment
Yes too much of a good thing is not a good thing.
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
What we didn’t freeze-dry, pressure can or “baker” of our sweet potatoes this season we decided to vacuum-pack with our Food Saver, much like those wrapped sweet potatoes you can buy in the market. They were all properly cured at 85 degrees and 85% humidity in a climate controlled room for 10-12 days prior. I heard a noise and upon investigation, I found that all the sealed pouches has ballooned up but remained sealed. The sweet potatoes appeared good but were obviously producing gases so I through them all out after conferring with the county agent who said they couldn’t guarantee they were safe for consumption. Has this ever happened to anyone else? I also found you can’t vacuum pack garlic UNLESS you have freeze-dried it first in a freeze-dry unit and have properly processed it before doing so. Anybody else have similar experiences?
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.
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.
Had a Cousin who got very sick from Undulant fever, from drinking un-pasturized milk.
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.
Is he still living?
He did recover but but had to be hospitalised, Not living now as he would be well over a hundred. This was when I was a kid, now 77.
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.
The articles is ultra conservative in fear of misleading and potential law suit. I can relate to that. But thanks to the comments that follow to shed light on the other side of the coins. That’s the reason I always make a habit to read all the comments ……Also, the comments are immunity from prosecution; they can say things they see fit.
In my 44 years of working in hospital laboratories I never saw a case of food poisoning caused by freeze dried food. Just saying.
I think that a lot of folks in our society have become hyper-alert to anything that “might” cause a problem. I have been using my vacuum sealer for any and everything possible since the sealers first became available to the public. Neither my family nor myself have become ill from eating the foods held in that fashion.
I have always been vigilant about good hygiene habits when handling any kind of foods and I think that is more important that anything else concerning food safety.
I have eaten canned foods, that by the FDA standards would be verboten, with no ill effects.
I have eaten tomatoes, cukes, zucchini right off the vine and enjoyed them thoroughly.
I believe that sometimes these “alerts” remind me of “peter and the wolf”. Don’t you??
I’ve got white rice, sugar, and wheat that has been stored in 5 gallon buckets or tins that we stored shortly after getting married. They are still good. We’ve been married for over 50 years! I hope no one is throwing out their stored rice or sugar after 2 years. That would be such a waste.
Nutritional value lost is not so easily determined by home taste methods, and is something to consider as well. We vacuum pack our flour in 1/2 gallon widemouth Mason jars and that works very well for preventing weevils. Can’t say how it works for nutritional content though, but we usually rotate through it every 1-2 years since it is so easy to process. The only information I have seen is that freeze-drying retains 98% of nutritional content even long term. Just something to ponder.
This articles is very informative just like every other ones that were published. I sincerely thankful to the publisher.
However, I discovered that I always learn x50 times more from the comments that follow …….
I’m vacuum sealing butter and prepping outside a refrigerated area, how long will this butter be good for before I need to toss it?
I’ve been vacuum sealing meats, veggies, and all sorts of stuff for over 20 years and have never had any problems. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, it has just never happened to me. In fact today I vacuum sealed two 5 pound bags of white rice. After that it goes into the freezer for at least 2 weeks and then after thawing into half gallon mason jars. After 4 or 5 years in the jars, it retains it taste, texture and firmness.
I usually agree with Tess, had have a couple of her books that I reference regularly. It sound to me like we’re entering a phase of “food political correctness’ here. Don’t let it infect you too.
Help! I bought a vacuum packed pork tenderloin and put it in the freezer for 4-5 weeks. When I took it out of the freezer, the package had a large air space in it. I cooked it for 30 minutes at 425ºF. Slicing it up revealed some red spots throughout the meat… is that a sign of botulism, was this meat safe to it?
I’m a few years late to this conversation, but want to add a slightly different take. My father was born in 1921. He joined the navy in 1942, then moved to California after the war. He was either related to, or knew personally someone who died from nearly every childhood disease you’ve ever heard of or been vaccinated for. Seriously, you name it…rabies, tetanus, scarlet fever, pneumonia, and the list goes on. Poor hygiene and rural contaminants combined with primitive medicine in the depression era south made the death of a child, or anyone, a normal occurrence. And they cooked the life out of everything, 3 meals a day. Playing and working outside is great, but keep yourself and and your home clean food and water as sterile as possible.
I e heard that onions, mushrooms, cabbage and garlic are not safe to vacuum seal. Is this true if they are well dehydrated?
I don’t know what it could have been, but I would think it was not normal and not eaten it. I have canned for years, I am 79 and my mother taught me early on. I tell people that, when in doubt, throw it out!
While vacuum sealing does remove most of the air/oxygen, it also dehumidifies the container.
NOTHING can live in a water free environment.
Using dry nitrogen after pulling a vacuum can also dehydrate the contents as nothing can live in dry nitrogen either.
A suggestion – pull your vacuum on your container and ensure the container is hot (not too hot though) and try to keep pulling that vacuum for as long as you can.
Once the lid is sealed. the jar will cool and create an even higher vacuum.
Store the jar between 33F and 37F (stops bacterial growth).
Cowboys used to eat jerky. That is dehydrated meat. Lasted a long time too. Because little water in the jerky.
Fried beans last a long time too – less moisture in them.
The key is removing both oxygen AND the moisture, plus keeping temps low.