Vacuum Sealing Could Be Hazardous to Your Health

Vacuum sealing food has taken this country by storm. The ability to divide and seal food in a low oxygen environment in order to prolong its freshness and storage time is a prepper’s dream.

Vacuum sealing, or ROP (Reduced Oxygen Packaging) slows down the process of spoilage by reducing atmospheric oxygen, and creates an anaerobic environment that  limits the growth of aerobic bacteria or fungi, and prevents the evaporation of volatile components. Vacuum sealing is often used in combination with other packaging and food processing techniques.

As effective as this food storage source seems, it could put your health at risk. There are certain types of bacteria that prefer low oxygen environments and will grow on foods that have been vacuum sealed. Knowing the dangers that these bacteria possess can help you avoid them and keep your food storage safe.

Botulism and Listeria Monocytogenes

Even in an oxygen-depleted environment, Anaerobic organisms can proliferate, potentially causing food safety problems. Botulism and Listeria monocytogenes are examples of pathogenic bacteria that cause food borne illnesses from growing and thriving in an anaerobic environment. Moreover, these bacteria have the capacity of growing at a faster rate in vacuum sealed foods due to the oxygen-free environment as well as the fact that these bacteria are not in competition with other spoilage bacteria. These bacteria often do not produce noticeable changes in the foods; therefore, relying on sight, smell and taste would not be helpful. However, only a tiny amount of these spores (a few nanograms) need to be present in order for them to be deadly.

According to the FDA, the following are dangers associated with vacuum sealing food sources:

  • Facultative bacteria (most foodborne pathogens) grow under aerobic & anaerobic conditions
  • Most spoilage organisms are no longer “indicators” for temperature abuse
  • Extended shelf life could allow “slow growers” to reach high numbers under refrigerated conditions
  • Secondary barriers such as low pH or aw are not always possible with cook chill and sous vide packaging
  • Potential for temperature abuse at retail and in the home is great
  • Cooking and fermentation destroy most vegetative cells but spore formers survive

Safety Guidelines for Vacuum Sealing Food

If you have  taken proper steps in preparing your food in a clean and uncontaminated environment, then this should not be a problem. However, if there is any question about the safety, then err on the side of caution and do not vacuum pack the food, as you would be creating a perfect breeding ground for bacteria.

Follow these guidelines to properly vacuum seal food:

  1. Vacuum sealing food does not replace the need to pressure can or water bath home canned foods.
  2. Wash hands before and during the vacuum sealing process.
  3. Try not to touch food with your hands. Use clean spoons, tongs or something else to handle the food.
  4. Be sure to keep utensils, cutting boards and counters clean.
  5. Keep vacuum sealed foods in the refrigerator or freezer. Dry food, like crackers and nuts, can be stored at room temperature.
  6. Freeze low-acid vacuum packaged foods and consume immediately after heating. Never heat a low-acid vacuum packaged food and allow it to stand at room temperature in the vacuum package.
  7. Ensure that you do not cross contaminate food.
  8. Properly label food sources with type of food and date packaged.
  9. Ensure the seal is complete and that there is no debris in the seal.

Which Foods are Safe and How Long Do They Store?


Shelf life of vacuum packaged foods

Food Stored In Normal Shelf Life Vacuum Shelf Life
Large cuts of meat: beef, poultry, lamb and pork Freezer 6 months 2-3 years
Ground meat: beef, poultry, lamb and pork Freezer 4 months 1 year
Fish Freezer 6 months 2 years
Coffee beans Room temperature 4 weeks 16 months
Coffee beans Freezer 6-9 months 2-3 years
Berries: strawberries, raspberries, blackberries Refrigerator 1-3 days 1 week
Berries: cranberries, huckleberries, blueberries Refrigerator 3-6 days 2 weeks
Cheese – hard, semi-soft and pasteurized cheeses.*Soft cheeses such as Brie, Camembert, Ricotta, Cottage and Teleme MAY NOT be vacuum packaged Refrigerator 1-2 weeks 4-8 months
Cookies, crackers Room temperature (periodically opening) 1-2 weeks 3-6 weeks
Flour, sugar, rice Room temperature 6 months 1-2 years
Lettuce Refrigerator 3-6 days 2 weeks
Nuts Room temperature 6 months 2 years
Oils with no preservatives, like safflower, canola, corn oil Room temperature 5-6 months 1-1.5 years
Wine Refrigerator 1-3 weeks 2-4 months

Above table adapted by Tilia Inc. from Dr. G.K.York, Dept. of Food Science & Tech, U of California, Davis

Vaccum sealing food can be a productive way to maintain your food source as well as prolong its shelf life. Ensure that you take the proper steps in handling and storing your  food to reduce the presence of bacteria in your food storage.

 

Additional Resources:

What is Reduced Oxygen Packaging and What are the Food Safety Concerns & Controls?

Should I Vacuum Package Food at Home?

The Prepper's Blueprint

Tess Pennington is the author of The Prepper’s Blueprint, a comprehensive guide that uses real-life scenarios to help you prepare for any disaster. Because a crisis rarely stops with a triggering event the aftermath can spiral, having the capacity to cripple our normal ways of life. The well-rounded, multi-layered approach outlined in the Blueprint helps you make sense of a wide array of preparedness concepts through easily digestible action items and supply lists.

Tess is also the author of the highly rated Prepper’s Cookbook, which helps you to create a plan for stocking, organizing and maintaining a proper emergency food supply and includes over 300 recipes for nutritious, delicious, life-saving meals. 

Visit her web site at ReadyNutrition.com for an extensive compilation of free information on preparedness, homesteading, and healthy living.

This information has been made available by Ready Nutrition

Originally published February 12th, 2013
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  • David

    Great table at the end. Printing this out to put on the frig door.

  • http://www.preppingforthefuture.com Mr. Prepper

    WE HAVE VACUUM SEALED FOR YEARS AND HAVE NEVER HAD A PROBLEM. JUST MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A CLEAN AREA TO DO IT. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS METHOD.

    • http://www.readynutrition.com Tess Pennington

      @ Mr. Prepper,

      I have never had this problem either when we have vacuum sealed our foods, but nevertheless, the dangers are present. When preparing food for vacuum sealing, ensure that the area is clean, your hands are washed and you do not cross contaminate foods. If you do this, you should be fine.

      Thanks for your comment.

      Tess

    • bob

      My dog had a habit of getting out and crossing the street. He never had any problem until the day that truck ran over him.

  • Sande

    This is more true for foods that are not dehydrated? If they are dried enough to be brittle then vacuum sealed they should be safe?

    • http://www.readynutrition.com Tess Pennington

      Sande – Yes, absolutely this is referring to the more perishable food items.

  • http://readynutrition Fred

    So my deer meat is about 10 months old and no good??

  • http://readynutrition Fred

    Sorry.  It’s in butcher paper, what I have left.

  • GA Girl

    I though sugar keeps basically forever anyway.  So, if I vacuum  seal it, why would it keep less time?  Also, I though white rice would keep for 10 yrs. in a cool, dry place.  So I thought vacuum sealing would make it even longer.  Right?  My parents have tons of blueberries and I always freeze them in vacuum seal bags.  They have to be frozen, then suck the air out later, and stick back in freezer.  Works great.  Does heat kill these bacteria mentioned in the article?  Please advise.

    • http://www.readynutrition.com Tess Pennington

      Hi GA Girl,

      The chart in the article is meant to be a guide for when food can turn. It is based on findings at the University of California, but I’m pretty sure they are not preppers. Personally speaking, I have vacuum sealed sugar that I packed in 2006 and is still good. The best thing to do, as you probably already know is when you take food out of your food storage pantry, examine it to make sure the bag hasn’t been damaged, the bag hasn’t been infested with bugs and that it still looks good.

  • Rocky Mtn

    We have been using a vacuum sealer for years and have never had a problem. Clean hands means everythig in health.

  • Allyssa

    Hi Tess, I am wondering if it is necessary to refrigerate dehydrated apples that I have also vacuum sealed? 

    • http://www.readynutrition.com Tess Pennington

      Allyssa,

      If you wanted to go a step further to ensure that your food sources are at optimum temperatures, you could. But the fact that you dehydrated the apples means that they are shelf stable and can be stored in the pantry.

      Thanks!

      Tess

  • Opinion02122

    I made some home cooked frozen dinners, like turkey, potatoes and gravy. I vacuum sealed them and froze them. Have I created a problem?

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