Monday, October 1, 2012

Save with the Food Saver

If you've read some of my posts about grinding your own hamburger or other food preservation posts, you know that I buy foods in bulk when on sale.  Well, you've got to do something with all that food.  Freezing is by far the easiest method of storing it on the front end.  Previously I bought so-called "freezer bags" (i.e., Zip-Loc) but found them to be lacking for long term storage.  I had wanted to buy a Food Saver for quite some time but put it off because they're really expensive and I wanted to be sure I got one that had all the features I wanted and for the right price.

After researching various models and brands on the web, I found that the better models have a moist/dry setting which helps when you are packaging wet foods, such as blanched squash or meats.  I also watched some YouTube videos showing how to use it and learned some tips and tricks.

I bought the "Gamesaver Bronze" model.  It was about $169.00.  It has a "camo" design on it which I don't care for, but since I keep it in a cabinet I guess it doesn't matter. It has a fast and regular setting, a moist/dry setting, a separate vacuum/seal setting and a seal only setting. It also has a removeable drip tray, a built in cutter, storage compartment, and a vacuum tube for use with accessories.

I also ordered a jar sealer (sold separately of course) which fits on the top of a mason jar. They have two - one for regular mouth and one for wide mouth mason jars.  The regular is $8.99 and the wide is $9.99.  You attach the tube to the FS, place the jar sealer on a jar on which you've placed a canning jar lid (no ring) and it sucks out all the air.  You don't "can" wet foods in the traditional sense with this method, but it works to extend the freshness of dry foods like nuts, seeds, beans, etc.  You can also vacuum seal refrigerated foods to help preserve them a longer.  Again, it doesn't "can" foods.  But it works so well you have to use a can opener to get it open.  You could also use it to prepare jarred foods for freezing.  Once you sign up on their website you get occasional emails with free shipping, or discounts on bags.  I bought the jar sealer and got free shipping.

The FS website claims that foods keep up to 5x longer. I was skeptical at first, but my research shows that is true. I found this information to be corroborated in the Ball Blue Book and several state college extension websites.

Before buying the FS I was limited to using Zip Loc freezer bags or freezer paper. I can't find freezer paper at the local Wal Mart. I found some recently at a quilt store if you can believe it and paid $4 something for it. If you are only buying and freezing small quantities of foods you probably won't have an issue with freezer burn, but if you buy meat in bulk or raise your own vegetables you will find that Zip Loc bags aren't the answer.  They do let in vapor.  Before buying the FS, twice in one month we pulled some steaks out of the freezer that had been stored in Zip Loc bags which were freezer burned. A couple of episodes like this and the Food Saver will pay for itself.

The very first thing I sealed with the FS was pecans. I always check the mark down section at Kroger when I shop and I found chopped pecans for $1.25 per 6 oz. bag. The regular price was $4.65! The expiration date was many months out. I packaged them in FS bags, three to five bags per FS bag. I pierced the original bag first to make sure all the air came out. I labeled the bags with the expiration date. If I haven't used them by that date I can drop the bags in the freezer for long term storage to be on the safe side.  I bought 20 of the bags and realized I should have bought all of them. I really like pecans, but they're so expensive! This way I have them ready to use. I saved $3.40 per bag, which totals $68 in savings for the 20 bags.  You can see how the Food Saver will pay for itself over time. 

I also learned that I can seal Mylar bags or reseal chip bags (which are usually mylar). I have sealed up wheat and beans in Mylar bags for long term storage, since I have a pretty good supply of wheat in short term storage.  It doesn't vacuum the Mylar (I think because it's too thick), only seals it so you still have to use oxygen absorbers.  To be on the safe side, I add a second seal about 1/2" from the first seal. Mylar bags can be purchased on the internet, but I get them at the Mormon cannery for pennies, so much cheaper than anywhere else. 

To freeze meats or moist vegetables for long term freezer storage it works best if you pre-freeze the foods.  You load up the bags and set them in the freezer till partially or completely frozen.  This way any liquids don't get sucked up  into the sealer.  This is what causes most seal failures.

In the pic below you can see two chicken breasts that I've prefrozen.  I am sealing them in this pic.  Also you can see the bag storage area and cutter. 

The bags can be somewhat expensive, however, they do keep foods 5x longer than a zip loc or freezer paper wrap.  They can be purchased in pint, quart, gallon, "portion-size", or on one long continuous roll which you cut to make your own custom sizes.  This is what I use. Also, they can be reused.  I only reuse the ones that do not contain meats.  I hand wash, air-dry and put them away for future use.  You can boil the foods directly in the bags as well.  They now make a bag that you can microwave in, which would be convenient for corn on the cob or other veggies.

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