I hate wasting food, almost as much as I love saving money. So anything that can help me save money AND food is a good idea in my book. Since those are the key benefits to vacuum sealers, you know I’m going to find the most cost-effective ways to use them. A vacuum food sealer is basically a small gadget, usually about the size of two boxes of aluminum foil side by side, that literally sucks the air out of the bag of food you’re trying to save. Air is one of the key players in food spoilage, so the more you can remove from your packaging, the longer the food will last.
Can you really save money? Yes, but you need to factor in your food shopping and cooking habits to determine how much and the return on investment.
For example, my family goes through a lot of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but at $4.50/lb. or more, it can get pricey. That is why I only buy them on sale for $1.99/lb or less. The catch? To get the deal I have to buy them in the big jumbo packs. I pick up a package or two and vacuum seal and freeze each breast individually. Because we go through an average two pounds a week, that’s a savings of roughly $364 a year. Also, I usually need two to four breasts for a meal, but chicken breasts are packed in threes. No need to cook extra that may go to waste. Another bonus: If you like to flatten your breasts so they’re even before cooking, you can do so in the sealed bag and prevent poultry juices from splattering all over your kitchen.
It’s much the same with ground beef. I can buy the large sizes at warehouse stores such as BJs or Costco, then seal and freeze the beef in 1-pound or 1/2-pound bags. This technique works for any other cuts of meat, poultry or seafood. Buy in bulk, then seal and freeze in the quantity your family uses them. These savings are well worth the price of the sealer.
Even if you don’t buy in bulk, you can save if you cook in bulk. To save time, I sometimes make two casseroles, meatloaves or pot pies — one for dinner and one to freeze for another night. There’s nothing worse than pulling a bag of sloppy joe filling or bag of macaroni & cheese out of the freezer to find it covered in frost and freezer burn. Vacuum sealers can keep your dinners airtight and delicious so they end up on your family’s table instead of in the garbage can.
Hate opening up a half-used block of cheese or bag of shredded cheese to find it covered with mold? At nearly $6/lb., you’re wasting $2 every time you do that. Vacuum-sealed cheese lasts for weeks in the fridge, so no more cash in the trash.
My newest, greatest food to vacuum seal? Lettuce. I have to credit my mom for this tip. She had a three-pack of Romaine last in a vacuum-sealed zipper bag for more than two weeks without it browning or wilting. Simply wash, chop and seal well and you can make a fresh salad every day.
On to practical matters: There are two general types of vacuum sealers: counter-top and handheld. Each serves slightly different purposes.
Countertop sealers can be expensive, starting at around $50 and rising into the hundreds depending on the features, brand, etc. A higher price doesn’t necessarily correlate with a better product. You can find a good quality sealer for around $80. What should you look for when buying a counter-top sealer?
- Features: Some seal just bags, while others have attachments to seal bottles and canisters as well. Consider how you plan to use your sealer before automatically buying one with all the bells and whistles.
- Size/Space: Where will you store and use your sealer? Some must be kept flat while others can be stored on their side, taking up much less room on your counter.
- Bag price: Most bags can be washed and reused to some extent, but if you’re using them for raw meat you’re not going to want to reuse them. So think about how much you will pay for bags. Keep in mind, you’re not limited to the same brand bags as your sealer; you just want to make sure the size and style are the same. For example, here are 100 bags costing $23 while the name brands are about the same price for only 44 bags.
- Check reviews: In today’s Internet-driven world, you can get great insight into appliances thanks to other consumers just like you. A simple online search can let you know others’ experiences with various sealers.
Countertop sealers are meant for one-time uses. While you can reuse the bags, you must keep cutting the bags open, which makes them smaller and smaller every time. Plus, if your sealer isn’t stored on the counter, it can be a pain to drag it out each time you want to use it.
Handheld sealers on the other hand, are ideal for foods you want to keep airtight and fresh but still use regularly such as deli foods, cheese, cut-up veggies and more. They use special zipper bags so you can keep opening and closing them repeatedly. Eventually the bags will need to be replaced, but they do last quite a while. In addition, hand-held sealers are much less expensive, roughly $25, plus bags. What should you look for when buying a hand-held sealer?
- Power source: Will you be replacing batteries every week or is it rechargeable?
- Bags: Where do you buy them and what do they cost? Even though the bags are reusable, they eventually need to be replaced. If you can’t find replacement bags, your fun new gadget will eventually be useless.
- Check reviews: Look for info about whether the bags are hard to seal or lose their seal. The food won’t stay fresh without a good, long-lasting seal.
- Quick tip: These sealers often work best when the bag to be sealed is placed on a dish rag or place mat vs. a hard counter.
Food Saver was among the first brand-name food sealers. The company has been around for years, has great ratings and a variety of styles and types of sealers. In addition, sealers can be purchased via the company’s own website, Amazon, QVC, Bed Bath & Beyond, Kohl’s, and more. Other brands include Rival, Seal-a-Meal and Weston. Prices range from $30 to $400.
Handheld food savers are made by Food Saver, Waring, Ziploc and Reynolds, just to name a few. Many of these are sold individually or as a starter kit with a few bags. Be sure to check the details so you know what you’re getting before buying.