Is it worth buying a vacuum sealer?
We trialled a vacuum sealer and its accessories to find out whether it’s worth buying one.
Vacuum sealing is the process of removing air from a bag or container and sealing it airtight. It’s a great way to extend the shelf life of food: removing the air minimises oxidation, which limits the growth of bacteria and maintains your food’s vitamins, flavours and colours.
But is a vacuum sealer a one-trick pony you’ll hardly use, that’ll take up space in your cupboard?
To find out, I trialled the FoodSaver Lock & Seal Vacuum Sealer VS4500 ($129–$279).
What’s in the box?
- The FoodSaver Lock & Seal Vacuum Sealer VS4500.
- Five precut bags.
- A 28cm-wide bag roll for cutting your own bags to size.
- Five reusable zipper bags.
- A handheld sealer with accessory hose to use with FoodSaver zipper bags and containers.
You can also buy (separately) extra pre-cut bags, reusable zipper bags and cut-to-size rolls in 20cm, 28cm and 30cm (expandable to 41cm) widths.
There are also vacuum sealable containers available in various sizes from 710ml to 2.3L for preserving and marinating. I tried a set of 3 cup (710ml) and 5 cup (1.2L) containers ($69).
How the vacuum sealer works
To use the VS4500, put your food or other items in a FoodSaver bag – either a pre-cut one or a cut-to-size section of bag roll. Lift the vacuum sealer’s lid, insert the edge of your bag, close the lid, and turn a dial on the unit to Operate – this locks the bag in place. Then press Vac/Seal.
It's a bit fiddly to use at first. To get a good seal, you need to insert just the right amount of bag and line it up straight and flat. But you soon get used to it.
It takes about 20 seconds: 10 seconds each for vacuuming and sealing. It’s quite satisfying watching the bag close in tight on its contents as the air’s sucked out. The VS4500 then creates a seal by heating and melting the plastic bag edge.
The vacuum function is powerful and can crush brittle foods. You’re better to put them in FoodSaver containers. Alternatively, there’s an option to stop vacuuming early, by pressing the Seal button.
You can also seal without vacuuming any air out. That’s so you can make a bottom edge for a cut-to-size bag or add an extra seal to a bag if the first one failed.
Once sealed, you’ll need scissors to open the pre-cut or cut-to-size bags.
Using the handheld sealer with reusable zipper bags and containers
My first go at using the handheld sealer with a reusable zipper bag didn’t work. There are minimal instructions in the user manual, but I soon got the hang of it.
You fill a zipper bag, press it closed and lay it flat. Insert the handheld sealer’s accessory hose into the port on the vacuum sealer. Then hold the handheld sealer down on a dedicated patch on the zipper bag and press the VS4500’s Vac/Seal button.
Less air is removed when using the handheld sealer with the zipper bags compared to regular vacuum sealing. But the zipper bags are reusable and they’re easy to open with just your hands (rather than needing scissors). They feel more durable than the resealable bags sold in packs at supermarkets, and they have a double seal that feels very secure.
The FoodSaver containers are another reusable option, and they’re easy to use. With your food in and the lid on, simply turn the dial on the container’s lid to Vacuum, connect the handheld sealer, and press the VS4500’s Vac/Seal button.
You know the air’s being removed as the container’s lid has a soft button that gets sucked in by the vacuum. The button pops back out when you open the container.
I sealed the dried food from my food dehydrator trial with the VS4500. But I found many more uses for it – and it wasn't just food I sealed.
I stored the bags of vacuum-sealed foods from the dehydrator trial in the freezer for 8 weeks. The FoodSaver bags remained airtight for the duration, and I feel confident they’d stay sealed for many years.
But the biggest revelation was how many other uses I found for the vacuum sealer.
- I sealed a leaking pack of tofu to keep my fridge clean. Vacuum sealing packs of fresh fish, chicken or other meat would also help prevent contamination.
- I pressed the liquid out of a block of firm tofu to prepare it for marinating. I wrapped the tofu in paper towels, then vacuumed it in a FoodSaver bag, stopping before my tofu got squished.
- I kept an open block of cheese fresh in my fridge. Each time I used the cheese, I cut the sealed edge off the FoodSaver bag. Then I put the cheese back in the bag and vacuum sealed it once more. The reusable zipper bags would be better to prevent waste.
- I extended the shelf life of a 5kg bag of rice. I split the rice into several smaller bags made from the FoodSaver bag roll and vacuum sealed all but the one in use.
- I heated a slice of lasagne in the FoodSaver bag I’d stored it in. I dropped the vacuum-sealed bag of frozen lasagne into a pot of gently simmering water and let it heat for 30 minutes. It was perfect! This would be super on a hike – no leaking in your pack, then dinner without dishes.
Other things are suitable for vacuum sealing too
I now regularly use the zipper bags on outdoor adventures. Vacuum sealing my warm emergency clothes flattens them, meaning I can fit more in my small running pack while keeping everything dry.
My first aid kit goes in a zipper bag too. The reusable bags are also ideal for protecting valuables when hiking or kayaking.
My research turned up lots of tips from others for using a vacuum sealer, including:
- re-sealing partly eaten packets of chippies
- storing dehydrated meals for emergency supplies or outdoor adventures
- storing non-food items, such as plant seeds, medications, small electronics, keepsakes and important documents
- transporting items you’re sending by post to keep them dry
- making ice packs for injuries, and ice bricks for your chilly bin
- sealing fish bait to keep your freezer clean and stink-free.
Preserve & Marinate containers
FoodSaver’s Preserve & Marinate containers are designed for use with the vacuum sealer. FoodSaver claims using the containers can reduce marinating time from several hours to 12 minutes.
To test this, I put half a block of firm tofu in a 5-cup Preserve & Marinate container, and vacuum sealed it. I put the other half in a regular container the same size. After 12 minutes there was no difference between them.
I had another go with a thinner marinade, but the result was, disappointingly, the same.
The containers work for airtight storage, though. While I didn’t have any issue getting them to vacuum seal, it’s a bit fiddly getting the lids to stay in place. The rubber seals on the lids tend to push the lids away from the containers a little.
The FoodSaver Lock & Seal VS4500 is surprisingly versatile.
It’s easy to use and small enough to store in my tiny kitchen. That means it’ll stay close to hand, rather than being relegated to the back of a cupboard.
The pre-cut bags and cut-to-size bag rolls create plastic waste. You can avoid that by using the reusable FoodSaver containers and zipper bags. They won’t keep food fresh for quite as long, so they’re best for items you use regularly. Save the pre-cut bags and bag rolls for long-term food storage.
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