And before I pontificate on what I believe are the many virtues of this kitchen gadget, I'd like to point out that you needn't spend a fortune to own one. YES. You can buy the brand-new, beautiful set up at Costco for around $150. It's stainless steel and will add class to any kitchen it's sitting in. But I got my first one, an older, smaller model, for $35 plus shipping on ebay. The most important thing you want to look for is the little "port" where you attach the tubing and your jar sealers. You can easily email the seller and ask about this specifically. This past week, I was fortunate enough to find an upgraded model at a local thrift store for $5. A like-minded friend was the lucky recipient of the first one I purchased. If you're on a tight budget, keep your eyes open for deals like this. They are out there!
These days, I'm using my FoodSaver to vacuum seal all sorts of things into mylar bags or mason jars. the simple effort it takes to repackage dry goods once I purchase them can bring big dividends. Repackaging your food into glass or mylar (which are non-permeable and can protect your foods from exposure to oxygen and insects,) can extend the shelf life by up to five times what it would be in the original packaging. When you're trying to establish and maintain a family home storage, not to mention stretch your grocery dollars, this can be extremely helpful!
I'm not intending my sealed jars for long-term storage. Rather, I'm attempting to extend the shelf life of dry foods that I use on a regular basis, (that would otherwise be unsuitable for dry-pack canning because of their moisture or oil content,) to avoid spoilage and loss in my pantry. This means that items that are normally in my short-term, 3-month "pantry" storage can now be stored up to 3-5 years in some cases, with fabulous results! Some of the items I have vacuumed sealed include brown rice, walnuts, almonds, raisins, chow mein noodles, French's fried onions, croutons, bread crumbs, dried fruits and veggies, (especially the ones I'm drying myself!) and chocolate chips. :) It's important to note that you should not try to vacuum seal powders or fine crumbs, as they will get sucked up the tubing and clog up your machine. You can either pack them very tightly into sandwich baggies, first, then stuff the jar, then vacuum seal; OR use an oxygen absorber in the jar instead. This is my personal preference for packaging fine powdery stuff, and brings me to my next thought.
While I am loving my FoodSaver -- and in my opinion, it is worth every penny -- you don't need a vacuum sealer to do this. You can seal your mason jars with oxygen absorbers. Oxygen absorbers are those little packets you use in your long term food storage buckets and #10 cans. They are available from the LDS Cannery for .10 cents a piece. They come pre-packaged in packages of 100, and can be ordered long in advance, because they will store for a long, long time in the original packaging. NOTE: Once you open the package of 100 you either need to reseal it with your vacuum sealer or use the airtight clip that the cannery also sells for $1. If your left-over oxygen packets are exposed to air, they will be no good.
You can purchase the oxygen absorbers online from the LDS distribution center here. Simply fill your mason jar with your dry goods, leaving a little room in the top, and set an oxygen absorber in the top. Close the jar with a lid (you can even re-use disposable heat canning lids, unsuitable for re-use in heat canning, for vacuum sealing your jars over and over) and screw-on ring, and wait a few hours. You will eventually hear a little "ping" as the lid sucks down and the jar is sealed. You may remove the ring or leave it on for storage. Your jar is sealed. Oxygen Absorbers are even more effective than vacuum sealing alone because they remove any remaining oxygen in the jar or bag, and they should always be included in anything meant for long-term storage. The exception would be with any whole grain (like wheat or lentils) that you might want to sprout. The oxygen absorber will "kill" your whole grains.
Mylar bags can be effectively sealed if you have a flat-iron straightener for your hair, or a clothes iron. If you're using an iron, you'll need a flat metal ruler or yard stick, to lay your mylar bag on while you iron it shut. Fill your mylar bag with your dry foodstuffs, leaving several inches on top so you can effectively seal the bag. Place an oxygen absorber in the bag and then heat seal it shut. That's it. Be sure to thoroughly inspect your seal to make sure that it is even and completely sealed before putting it in storage. Store your mylar bags in food grade buckets or plastic storage totes, for additional protection against rodents. Mylar bags (also available for .30 cents each at LDS Canneries or online from LDS distribution centers) are 7 mil thick, and hold one gallon of dry food.
Here's a video from Dehydrate2store.com, one of my favorite resources. It's a two-part series on vacuum sealing in mylar bags. http://www.dehydrate2store.com/videos/?id=43
Additional Information about oxygen absorbers:
Some important things to know about Vacuum Sealing:
- Vacuum sealing is not a substitute for refrigeration. If it requires refrigeration before you put it in the bag, or jar, it requires refrigeration once it's in there.
- Vacuum sealing is NOT a substitute for heat canning.
- It is important to understand dry pack canning, and which foods can be safely dry packed because of low moisture or oil content. Dry packing foods containing more than 10% moisture or oil my result in botulism poisoning!
- Do not vacuum package soft cheese, mushrooms or garlic.