Vacuum packaging is a fantastic way of storing all types of food. A longer lifetime, better hygiene and packaging that takes up less room are the biggest advantages compared to traditional freezer bags. Vacuum-packed bags also look much more attractive and neater, and you mustn’t underestimate that! Once upon a time it was perhaps mostly hunters back from a successful chase who wanted to package large amounts of game for freezing, but in recent years more people have realised the advantages of using a vacuum sealer for a range of food products. In addition to the ability to pack food into bags, most machines have a variety of accessories that mean you can suck the air from different cans and containers to store soft items such as rolls, or for quick marination of meat. When the meat is marinated in a vacuum, the process is much quicker.
It’s most common to package meat, fish, berries or vegetables that you intend to freeze, but you can also use the method for pantry and refrigerator items if you want to store them for longer. It’s incredibly satisfying to pack frozen goods so it's easy to see what’s in the bag – and to have them in perfect condition when you thaw them. Berries look like they were frozen the day before, even if they were picked a couple of years earlier, and meat is always in perfect condition without any sign of freezer burn.
The name “vacuum sealer” is a little misleading, as the bags used don’t really contain a vacuum. But the principle is that the machine sucks the air out with a pump and then seals the bag with a welded seam. Because air is the villain of the piece when packaged food in general – and frozen goods in particular – go bad. For example, if frozen meat comes in contact with air, it results in freezer burns in the form of dehydration and also ultimately leads to the fat in the meat becoming rancid. Vacuum sealers use thick plastic bags. Almost all of the air is sucked out and the weld seam that closes the bag ensures that no leakage occurs. This is what gives vacuum packed food a significantly longer lifetime compared to food packaged in traditional plastic and freezer bags.
The bags used are significantly thicker than normal freezer bags. You can buy these ready-made in different sizes or as bags on a roll where you choose the length of the bag before cutting and sealing it. Ready-made bags are easy, but rolls have the advantage that you can change the size of the bag according to the size of the contents.
In the majority of cases the bags allow the food to be cooked in the bag. Either in the oven at low temperature or in a water bath – what’s known as “sous-vide” cooking. Sous-vide cooking means that you use a special sous-vide circulator to heat up a water bath to a selected temperature, and then cook meat, fish or vegetables by placing the vacuum packed bag into the water. The results are perfect every time. The majority of bags are also microwave oven safe.
If you want to pack soft things, such as bread or cakes, it’s easiest to use the containers available as accessories for the majority of machines. These containers are also great to use for storing vegetables or salad. They keep fresh for much longer than if they were stored in a normal bag. Vacuum packing berries works very well, but make sure you freeze them first, otherwise they may be crushed. Damp or saturated products are a challenge as the fluid can easily be sucked into machine and make it impossible to seal the bag. However, many machines have a specific function for packaging moist foods, which makes things easier. But it’s still best if there’s a manual function so that you can stop the process and seal the bag in time. Another tip is to fold a bit of kitchen roll and place it as a moisture barrier at the opening of the bag to stop any liquid from being sucked into the machine.
And of course you can also package things other than foods. For example jewellery or cutlery that tarnish in the air can benefit from being stored in vacuum bags.
We carry out our tests ourselves and test all products as they are intended to be used in reality. In our tests of vacuum sealers, the machines have been used in everyday life to attempt to pack all types of foods, with different characteristics. Soft, hard, moist, large and small. Everything from a range of cuts of meat to freshly baked rolls. To assess the different machines and be able to choose a test winner, we examined the following parameters.
Vacuum & seal quality: How good is the machine at sucking the air out of the bag? Are there still air bubbles? Does the machine produce a durable weld seam? Does it create one or more weld seams?
Size: How much space does the machine occupy? Can you keep it out on the kitchen counter?
Capacity: How quick is the machine at sucking the air out of the bag? How many bags in a row can be packed without the machine overheating?
During the tests, we have assumed that the machine is for home use. There are others which are better suited for use in a commercial kitchen, restaurant or industry. These are machines which are intended for use in a kitchen, and should not be confused with the type of appliance used with a vacuum cleaner to pack clothes, pillows and duvets. The score is based on the overall experience of the product in relation to its price.
The Foodsaver V2860 deliver excellent packing quality and there are rarely air pockets left in the bags. Other machines have problems with pieces of meat, but the Foodsaver handles these with panache. The included container, which is intended for packing soft or brittle products, works very well. Freshly baked rolls can be packed without being crushed, which means that they stay soft for longer. It’s also very effective at speeding up marination of meat or fish for the barbecue. The Foodsaver V2860 has both an integrated cutting function and built-in storage for a plastic roll. It has three different speed settings, an option to control the pump completely manually, and even an automatic wet mode. Sealing is done with a good weld seam and you have the option to manually add an extra weld seam to the pack if you want. Of course this requires a slightly more complicated operation, but it's a useful function, above all if the item being packed is damp or in liquid, as the sealing process is then more secure with less risk of leakage.
One really nice detail on the Foodsaver V2860 is the handle on the right-hand side, which is used for controlling the lid and makes closing it much easier. This is something that must be done with a certain amount of force so that the lid locks, which is necessary before the machine will start. There aren’t many buttons on the vacuum sealer and you’ll quickly learn what they are. However, the buttons are only marked with symbols – text would have made it more user-friendly. The lamps by each button show which setting you have chosen, and a red button shows clearly when the machine has finished the packing process. Cleaning is easy as the machine has a drip tray that can be removed and washed. One of the few weaknesses of this machine is that it tends to overheat if you pack a number of bags in a row. This quickly becomes a problem if you're packing large quantities of meat after a successful hunt, or freezing the day's harvest of berries. When the machine overheats, an alarm shows in the form of a flashing lamp, and you can’t restart it before it has cooled. On the whole, the Foodsaver V2860 is still a very good value for money, functional and user-friendly machine.
OBH Nordica’s Supreme Food Sealer is a very good value for money machine which is easy to use and delivers good packing quality – one of the best in the test. It effectively empties the bags of air and rarely leaves air pockets. The machine is relatively quick. It sucks the air out and seals the bag in a highly acceptable time. The noise level is normal compared to other machines in the test. The built-in storage for the plastic roll and the integrated knife work extremely well. Sealing is done with a single weld seam which holds well. To reduce the risk of leakage, of course you can always manually add an extra weld seam. The strength of the vacuum can be set to gentle or normal, with the gentle mode intended for soft, more sensitive products. There is also a wet mode for packing wet or moist products. Unfortunately there’s no pulse function, where the pump can be controlled manually, which is a shame as this facility makes packing easier in many situations.
The machine has few buttons and is easy to use. The buttons have texts in English. The lid must be shut with quite a lot of force for it to lock on both sides, which can be difficult if the user is older or doesn’t have full strength in their arms and hands. Another disadvantage with this machine is that it doesn't have a drip tray that you can remove and wash. If meat or fish is packed, it's almost unavoidable that the liquid will get into the machine, which is why it's useful if the drip tray can be removed. Unfortunately there's no function that gives an overheating warning. Instead, a clear sign that the machine has become too hot is that the bags are sealed prematurely. However, if you follow the instructions and wait for one minute before sealing each bag, then you can pack lots of bags without problems. Overall, the OBH Nordica Supreme Food Sealer is a very good value for money and efficient machine, with only minor shortcomings.
The Foodsaver V3840 is a vacuum sealer with a design that stands out. The machine stands on edge, including while you use it, which naturally takes up less space on the kitchen worktop than machines that “lie down”. Another different function in the V3840 is the automatic handsfree function. To start the packing process, you insert the end of the bag into a slot on the front of the machine. The bag is automatically held in place, the air is removed and the bag is sealed. This is a function that we don’t see any advantages with – in fact it's more often irritating as it's sometimes difficult to get the bag in correctly. The Foodsaver V3840 has built-in storage for one plastic roll together with an integrated cutting function that works very well. The vacuum sealer has few buttons and is easy to use with the help of the instruction manual. The packing quality is good, sealing is done with a broad weld seam and the machine effectively empties the bags of air.
Like its sibling, the V2860, this model also has different speed settings for the vacuum pump, and even an automatic wet mode. Unfortunately there’s no option for controlling the pump manually. This function is very useful when packing wet or soft products. Even when the machine is set on wet mode, liquid is quite often sucked into the drip tray and the weld seam isn’t tight. Cleaning is easy as the Foodsaver V3840 has a drip tray that can be removed and washed. Like a number of other machines in the test, the V3840 also overheats if you pack a number of bags in a row, even if you wait between the bags as stated in the instructions. On the whole, this is a good value for money, functional and user-friendly machine. The vertical design with the handsfree function leads to a number of disadvantages from a purely functional viewpoint, but if you prefer a machine that takes up less space on the kitchen worktop than traditional machines, you should definitely take a closer look at the Foodsaver V3840.
This simple and scaled-down model from Caso has few buttons and is easy to use. Unfortunately the text on the buttons is in German, which reduces the user-friendliness somewhat. However, with the help of the instruction manual and a few attempts, it’s not difficult to learn how the vacuum sealer works. The VC 100 is intended to be used with ready-made bags and not bags on a roll where you choose the size yourself. The machine is one of the poorer ones in the test when it comes to packaging quality. Air pockets remain in the bags quite often, which reduces the lifetime of the food. Air pockets primarily occur when uneven pieces of meat are packaged, as you need some force to remove the last air pockets. Uniform and hard products, such as frozen berries, work better but still not entirely satisfactorily. However, the double weld joints mean that the bags are very well sealed and also reduce the risk of leakage. Other than this, the machine is unfortunately both slow and noisy, which doesn’t contribute to a positive experience.
It’s possible to run the vacuum pump entirely manually, which is good if the goods to be packed are wet or soft. It’s a bit of a fiddly process that requires timing and there are a number of buttons to press, unlike some of the more advanced machines which have fully automatic wet/soft modes and better manual functions. The Caso VC100 is very easy to clean and you can put the drip tray in the dishwasher. Another advantage of this machine is the size. It’s so small that it’s easy to store in a normal kitchen drawer. However, the overall impression is that it’s a plasticky and cheap machine with several obvious shortcomings that reduce its score.