Vacuum Sealers

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2012 • all rights reserved

A very handy luxury

Ever since I began writing TBG, I’ve had “vacuum sealer” on my list of article ideas.  And I keep postponing it because I didn’t know exactly what to say.  But shortly before the holidays, I got a couple more questions as people were preparing their “wish lists” and I realized that I can’t duck the issue any longer.

Here’s the deal:  I bought a vacuum sealer for Que Tal and loved it, but it was a “luxury.”  And the company went out of business shortly after I bought mine and I haven’t seen one that I like nearly enough to really recommend.  And most people with boats get by just fine without one.

Whether you’re full- or part-time cruisers, vacuum sealers do a better job of bagging food than Ziplocs.  They remove more air, generally use tougher bags and once sealed properly, won’t accidentally pop open.  If you head to the boat for weekends or even a week at a time, a vacuum sealer at home is great for preparing bags of snacks and even pre-prepared frozen food that you can put in the cooler or refrigerator on the boat.

If you’re a full-time cruiser, they’re nice when you’re at a major provisioning stop and are stocking up on things that will be hard to find for the next several months.

And on any boat where you’re catching fish, a vacuum sealer is wonderful when you catch more than you can eat immediately.  Vacuum-sealed fish (or meat of any type) is much less likely to get freezer burn than fillets just put in Ziplocs, and the overall texture stays better, too.

But a vacuum sealer is only good if it works consistently.  And that tends to be the problem.  Many don’t always get all the air out and numerous ones have a reputation for not always sealing the bag.  Now it’s one thing if it doesn’t seal correctly if you don’t line up the bag correctly (that was true of mine), but just inconsistent sealing can drive you nuts.

A good vacuum sealer is not cheap:  the better rated home-use ones go for about $150 and the bags themselves cost 15 cents each (or more!).  Small commercial units tend to work better, but are over $300 and the bags cost just as much.

So after all that, what did/would I look for if buying a vacuum sealer now?

  • Recent user reviews.  Some that were good a few years no longer are, and some models have improved drastically.  User reviews are really helpful in this area.
  • Size if you’re going to have to store it on the boat or are limited in storage space at home.  Some are extremely large!  The one that I loved was about 13″ wide, 2-1/2″ high and 4″ deep, which meant that it didn’t take up a lot of space.  And don’t forget that your stock of bags will take up quite a bit of space, too (they’re almost impossible to buy in the Caribbean or Mexico, so you’ll have to stock up ahead of time; I don’t know about availability in other places).
  • Bag size accepted.  You want to be able to use bags that are at least 8 or 9 inches wide, and 10 inches is even better.  Yes, you’ll use smaller bags for many things.  But I found that I used larger bags far more often than I had anticipated.
  • Bag availability.  You don’t want a sealer that uses proprietary bags unless it’s a big company that’s not likely to suddenly go out of business or discontinue their bags.
  • Return policy.  A 30-day or more return period is good.  Once you get the unit, try using it immediately . . . and not just on one item, but as many as possible.  Make sure it works well, particularly if you’re about to take off cruising.  (I’m not saying that it won’t work well, but reading through the reviews, even the best models can have bad units.)

Now, you may have noticed that I haven’t talked about power.  If you’re going to be using the sealer at home, it’s not an issue.  And I found that at least 90% (probably more) of the time I used it, I was doing major provisioning from a marina where I had shore power.  And when I used it otherwise, it was only for a few items — such as fish fillets — at a time and didn’t take many amp-hours.  The only thing to watch for is if you do plan to use it on the boat and away from the dock, make sure your inverter is large enough for the unit you choose (read more about inverters here).

My bottom line on sealers: they’re wonderful if you can get a good one, don’t buy just on price, and consider it a luxury — nice to have but if money is particularly tight, there are many other things that are more necessary.

If you’ve got a vacuum sealer, please leave a note with brand/model and whether you’ve been happy with it or not!

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Comments

  1. Anne Dunlop on Facebook says:

    I still have mine, still use it and love it. It’s about 8 years old now and going strong. It’s a Foodsaver Mini (bought in Walmart) and I use the rolls rather than the bags which means I get to choose what size of bag I have. It’s never let me down (yet!). I’ve used it for sealing stuff for the fridge and the freezer. The downside is finding the rolls – I have to buy loads of rolls each time I’m in the States from Walmart because I can’t find them in the Caribbean.

  2. Sara Peterson says:

    I use a FoodSaver V3860. Here is a link to their website if you want to look around.
    http://www.foodsaver.com/index.aspx
    I have had mine now for over 8 years and when I had a problem with the first one that we couldn’t fix, they sent me the V3860 to replace it. When my drainpan failed they sent me a new one. When I needed new seals, they sent me 6. I love these people. They will drop ship the bags to wherever you need them sent and you can buy new bags from Ace Hardware to Costco. I cannot say enough good things about these people. This piece of equipment has saved me so much money over the years in keeping food from spoiling it is worth its weight in gold. I got mine the first time at Costco on sale for around $130+/-. I keep myself on their alert email for all sales and try to take advantage of those to reduce my replacement costs. Cannot emphasize how great this product is for those of you who want to preserve your food and save your money.

  3. Janice Fleischmann says:

    I have a Seal-a-meal which I purchased in Canada at Canadian Tire for $59 on sale. The bags come in rolls so you can choose your size and I watch for them on sale when I am home. I have had steaks last 5 months frozen and even on our small sailboat up north that doesn’t have a proper freezer, vacuum packed meat lasts much longer even when not frozen. I can buy family packs of meat and portion out for two people per vac bag. I can’t do without it now.

  4. Pump-n-Seal. Small, low price, zero power, leaves less air than some commercial grade sealers. Really, really hard to go wrong with this choice.

  5. Susan Parker says:

    I’ve had two vacuum sealers to fail so I switched to the manual ZipLoc pump. It’s great for the boat because it is small and requires no amps.

  6. Carolyn, Excellent blog entry. Like many readers, Robin and I have a food sealer. We do find that the bags are expensive. In addition to our food saver, we have a mason jar attachment, which vacuums the air out of an standard mason jar. We have found that we can dramatically extend the life of lettuce in a vacuum. Also, Robin uses it as a bug-free way to store flour, brown sugar, and other pantry items. The best part is that its reusable, unlike canning, mason jar lids can be used over and over again.
    We plan to be cruising next fall, and I think we are going to have to make room for our food saver.

    Mike and Robin Mangione
    “Sea Change”
    Catalina 380

  7. Hi Carolyn, I just found your blog today and it’s very informative. Thank you for putting it together! It’s fun to read your take on the luxurious vacuum sealer 8-). It is rated one of our “I’M SO GLAD WE HAVE ONE” mobile abode devices.

    Our first year of cruising in the Bahamas for the winter I froze all our meats in double zip lock bags on land and stashed them in our top load freezer on our cat. The balmy temps made it tough to keep the meats constantly frozen solid and eventually we had a b***y icy mess, even with the double ziplocks.

    We bought a VacMaster Pro 90 for $100. A year later it didn’t power on. Dave opened the unit and there was a bad connection. A little light soldering got it running again. We’ve had it 3 years now. The VMP unit accepts 11″ bags, has a compact footprint, it’s light, easy to clean and store. I’ve used my friend’s FoodSaver and found the vacuum is stronger and the sealed seam is wider, but the trade off is it’s weight and size. The VMP vacuums out air, seals in contents, there’s no more mess, so it’s totally adequate for our needs. We even use it to keep electronics and health and beauty aids dry until we need them,

    The one gem I can share with vacuum sealer lovers on a budget is my source for vacuum bags and rolls: vacuumsealersunlimited.com. Lisa, the small business owner, is friendly and is available to answer all questions.

    How do they compare to others? FoodSaver bags are really nice but expensive (especially when you use them in bulk). The gauge is thick and it has a white strip for labeling. The VSU bags and rolls are thinner gauge, the inside texture is not as pronounced, and there’s no labeling strip. Of the two residential grades available, Premium (texture down the center only) and Economy (texture throughout), I prefer the economy. Lisa offers “Combo Packs” of multiple sizes in small and bulk quantities. Once I figured out which sizes I tend to use most I just fill in when I run low. I have to pay shipping but their reliability and cost savings make this savvy shopper satisfied.

    If you purchase from Lisa at vacuumsealersunlimited.com please mention Susan on Luna Sea Catamaran. Fair winds y’all!

    Susan and Dave
    s/v Luna Sea
    1999 Lagoon 410

    • Thanks for the recommendation and good info! I loved mine, but it’s not made any longer and I hadn’t found another model I liked as well. Glad to hear about the VacMaster Pro 90!!

      Carolyn

  8. Jacques Landry says:

    My vacuum sealer is now 57 years old, and never failed (well, not at sealing). I use one of these small cocktail straw, put the stuff in a ziplock, close most of it and insert the straw at the end of the zip. You just have to suck the air out, and close quickly. You can even have many shots at it. It seals as well as most of the bargain home sealers, cost nothing and uses no electricity! Try it, you’ll never buy a vacuum sealer. Yes the big machine will do better, but I have no space for one of these. Note that you will be packaging the food at a warmer temp than your fridge, so there will be extra vacuum!

    • I know of someone who was hospitalized with salmonella after sucking air out of a bag of chicken. Whatever is in the bag could potentially get into your lungs.

  9. I bought a food saver (maybe the mini) and 2 rolls of bags for $7 at goodwill. I see them fairly often (except last year when I was looking for one) and have been thrilled so far.
    I tried the ziplock pump, but it constantly broke the vacuum in the freezer.
    At home I have chicken in marinade in the freezer, ready to go when I need a quick diner

  10. Very good article!!

  11. Patricia Royall says:

    I bought a Deni Champion 1750 Vacuum Sealer about 9 years ago. I have never had a problem with it and I had enough bags and rolls to last me a long time. Now, I am running out of bags/rolls and I can no linger find the original website. Comments from people who have recently purchased bags from other sources are complaining that they are way too thin. I am hoping I can find the original bags/rolls. They we we very sturdy. Can anyone help me?

    • I always got mine through commercial outlets or companies that sell stuff for hunters. One of my favorite companies was Meat Processing Products — I’d buy them in bulk and they were always heavy. I think that these are the same bags I bought (I got several different sizes): http://www.meatprocessingproducts.com/weston-vacuum.html — and the good news is that they are having a sale right now!

      If those don’t work for you, try Googling “vacuum sealer bags for hunters”

  12. We loved having it for provisioning before the Bahamas. Chopped up onions and peppers, sealed and froze them, great to add to dishes!

  13. Yes they are luxuries, but a small one does not take up much room. I hsve a small Sunbeam Foodsaver. We use the rolls and wash out and reuse when we can. We use it to seal up blocks of cheese after we have broken down a 2.5 kg megablock. When we find cheese in Malaysia it came in caterers packs. So each 250 g pack is resealed and it lasts for ages, opening one block at a time, the rest sitting in the bottom of the fridge. I have also used it to seal dried goods like crispy noodles if resupplying for a long passage as they get a bit chewy if not sealed up. Good for meat and fish too
    We get new rolls in Australia when back home or get our visitors to bring us some if we need them.

  14. It is great! I wana use it! How much it costs? I hope I can buy it in Sweden!

  15. As far as I am concerned it’s darn close to a necessity! Lol

  16. Use ours for hunting and will use it for boat prep — check out Costco for the rolls. We pre -seal one end at home to make our own bags cheaper.

  17. I have the small Hand Held version w/ the special Zip Lock Bags, works great and it takes up very little room. “FoodSaver Fresh Saver”

  18. I’ve had the Foodsaver V3840 for the past 12 years and it’s still running great. I use it at home for everything I pack for boat trips. Food, ice blocks, even spare engine parts. 🙂

  19. Katerine Boivin says:

    Hi Carolyn,
    love your site, your book and all the various subjects that you cover in your blog!
    I bought the Manual ‘ Vac N Store’ storage system with reusable bags (3 sizes, S-M-L) at Home Hardware in Ontario 3 years ago and been using it ever since (see it here). The initial kit comes with the pump and 6 bags. You can buy separate sizes after depending what you prefer. When dealing with meat I find that by rapping it first with ‘Press N Seal’ (Glad) before sealing keeps the bag very clean.

  20. I’vd got a Seal-a-Meal, which I like. I use it almost exclusively for provisioning for long voyages. I make meals ahead at home, cut them into 2 portion units, freeze them, and then seal them. I’ve found that with many juicy things, if I don’t freeze it first the sealer sucks juice out along with air and then it won’t seal properly. For soup, stew, chili, etc., I turn the edges of the bag over, pour 2 servings into it, lay it in the freezer, getting it as flat as I can without it spilling out, and freeze it overnight. Then the next day I seal it shut. I’ve been much happier with my sealer since I discovered doing it this way vs. sealing it right away.

  21. I have a vacuum sealer, but I don’t use it much anymore and I never take it out on the boat. I find that I like to use zip lock bags for storing my fish. I put the fish in, and a little water. Then I seal the bag until I have about 1 inch left. I carefully roll the bag up pushing all of the air out I roll the water by the sealed part of the bag, and then roll past that last 1 inch as I seal the last of it up (put a towel under the bag to catch the water at the end). This way the air is 99% gone, and the fish lasts a long time. I think a vacuum may be better for other things, but the bags are so expensive.

  22. In the early 1990s, there was a company that made a vacuum sealer called foodsaver. It was based on an italian model that I have never been able to find. This one uses canisters and special bags which I found to be a PITA. We use it on LeeZe to vacuum out items stored in glass jars. We also use it with a thing narrow tube to suck the air out of twin seal ziplock bags.

    About every 5 years i have to take it apart and apply silicon grease to the vacuum motor. The company went out of business years ago and knock on wood, this sealer has been with me for over 20 years. It runs on 110 VAC but here in Europe, i use a 2:1 step down transformer and to 50Hz does not seem to bother it.

  23. I own the Food Saver V2460. It is large, but I am still glad to have it. Beside preserving food we also us it to vacuum seal tools that will not be used for awhile so they do not rust on the boat. Also clothing. They now make a roll of bags that has pleats so you can get big items in them. I was lucky and bought the machine last year at a yard sale for $25.00. So far so good. My only comment would be that I have found when I seal up really greasy foods, it is a pain to be able to reuse the bag, as it takes a lot of water and soap to get it clean. I may switch to zip locks for greasy stuff, which will be less expensive to throw away after just one use.

  24. If you don’t have room for another piece of equipment, GLAD Press and Seal works great. No freezer burn. Package frozen items in freezer bags and they keep 6-12 months

  25. I love my Foodsaver V3240 and seal more than food. I seal spare parts, first aid supplies, documents that we don’t need often, off season clothes if they will fit in a bag, and almost anything that gets stored in the bilge.

  26. Thanks for the article. I was thinking about getting one for storing some spares and parts in in the bilge. did not think much about food storage. concerning freezing everything. we only have a single box. we have been using it as only a fridge and not a freezer. wondering if you would still have one for food if you only had a fridge and not a freezer?

    • It’s still good for sealing a lot of dry goods if you’ll be carrying them for more than a month or so, particularly in humid climates. Things like cereal, crackers, baking supplies and, as you mentioned, for spare parts and filters.

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