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Vacuum Sealer Buying Guide

Reducing food waste and spoilage is important to any foodservice operation, and vacuum packaging is a great way to do just that! Vacuum packed products can last up to 3-5 times longer than non-packaged foods, and they will also taste fresher because you're removing most of the things that cause them to break down.


Best of all, you only need a commercial food sealer and some compatible bags to get started. Use this guide to find the right products for your needs.

Vacuum Packaging Features and Terms

A lot of vacuum sealers come with some fancy bells and whistles, and some lingo you may be unfamiliar with. To help you navigate the buying process, here are a few terms you might come across, and what they mean.

Manual Machines vs. Automatic Machines:

Manual

  • Adjustable seal and vacuum time (usually by timer).
  • Gives control over how much air to take out of the bag.
  • Customizable results for a variety of products.

Automatic

  • Adjustable seal time only.
  • Pulls all air from bag, automatically (unless pulse feature is used).
  • Trades customizable results for easier use, and eliminates guesswork of how much time a vacuum cycle will take.
ARY VacMaster PRO 350 External Vacuum Packaging Machine with 12 inch Seal Bar

Vacuum Cycle: A vacuum cycle is the point at which air is drawn out of the bag. The amount of time varies depending on the machine. For example, chamber vacuum packaging machines, like the VacPak-It VMC10OP, could completely vacuum out the air in 20 to 40 seconds, ensuring better operational efficiency.

Seal Cycle: The seal cycle is when the machine closes the bag off, and the amount of time it takes varies on your unit. The VacPak-It VMC10DPU creates a secure seal everytime in just 6 seconds, conserving valuable time.

Gas Flush: Some chamber machines come with what’s known as a gas flush option, which removes oxygen and replaces it with a mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrogen. This further reduces the rate at which food spoils and is commonly used with the pre-packaged meats you find in the supermarket.

Pulse Mode: Different manufacturers may use different names for it, but pulse draws air out in bursts, so you can take most of the air out without crushing your product. This feature is useful on delicate items like muffins because it lets you remove air on-demand, whereas a normal cycle draws air out for a set time and can completely flatten soft items. When marinating it can be useful too, so you don't draw liquids out of the bag.

Seal Bar: Once a vacuum cycle is complete, the seal bar super-heats the bag using two wires (which are concealed under a protective coating, like Teflon tape), to lock it shut and prevent oxygen from re-entering the bag.

Roll Storage / Bag Cutter: This is a feature on some external machines - it lets you keep a roll of bag material on your machine, so you can roll off what you need and cut the bag where you need. Seal off one end, place your product in, and then initiate a regular vacuum and seal cycle on the other open end. This is great for applications that need a lot of different sized bags for different products.

Types of Machines

External Strip Vacuum Packaging Machines


ARY VacMaster PRO 110 External Vacuum Packaging Machine with 12 inch Seal Bar

How it works: The bag is placed outside the machine. Air is drawn out the open side of the bag and once the vacuum cycle is complete, the bag is sealed shut by super-heating the plastic, bonding it together.

Who will use: These machines are typically found in residential or light commercial applications.

Uses: External machines are not suitable for packaging bags of liquids (your soup will get drawn right out of the bag). Small amounts of marinating are doable and a "pulse" feature will help with that, but if you plan on doing more than a few meals a day this way consider a chamber machine. Aside from that, most meats, cheeses, bulk foods, veggies and more should work just fine.

Purchasing Considerations: External machines are geared more for light use, so this boils down to features. Do you want to be able to package items in special vacuum canisters? Do you need a pulse feature for delicate items or marinating? How about roll storage, so you can cut custom-size bags? Our comparison chart below gives you a good point-by-point overview of all our models.

Also keep in mind that while external machines themselves are cheaper than chamber machines, the cost per vacuum bag is higher, so if you’ll be using it regularly, a chamber machine might actually save you money in the long run.




Chamber Vacuum Packaging Machines


VacPak-It VMC10OP Chamber Vacuum Packaging Machine with 10 1/4 inch Seal Bar and Oil Pump

How it works: The bag is placed in a chamber inside the machine. Air is removed from the chamber to equalize the pressure inside and outside the pouch (this is what lets them handle liquids). Then, air is drawn out of the pouch and the bag is sealed by super-heating the plastic.

Who will use: Businesses that will use the machine several times a day, or that will package bags of liquids. Applications that do a lot of vacuum packaging in general, like meat processing businesses or those that use sous vide cooking, will also benefit.

Uses: Just about anything. Unlike external strip machines, a chamber unit can handle pouches full of liquid and is great for marinating applications.

Purchasing Considerations: Usage is the big one. If you'll be doing big items in big bags, you'll want a longer seal bar to account for that. If you'll be doing high-volume packaging, you might consider a machine with 2, 3, or even 4 seal bars.

You should also consider whether you’d use a gas flush system, which can help to further prolong the life of packaged goods.

Machine Comparison

Machine Manual or Automatic? Seal Bar Length Maximum Bag Size Accepts Vacuum Canisters? Roll Storage and Bag Cutter "Pulse" Option Included Accessories
Automatic 12" 12" wide bags or rolls Yes No No

* (20) assorted bags

* Accessory hose

Manual 12" 12" wide bags or rolls No No Yes None
Machine Manual or Automatic? Seal Bar Length Maximum Bag Size Accepts Vacuum Canisters? "Pulse" Option Included Accessories
Manual 10" 10" x 13" No No None
Manual 10" 10" x 13" No No None
Manual 16" 16" x 20" No No None
Manual (2) 20" 20" x 21 1/4" No No None
Manual (2) 20" 20" x 21 1/4" No No None
Manual

(2) 12 1/2"

(1) 27"

12 1/2" x 33 1/4"

27" x 19 1/2"

No No None
Manual (2) 16" 16" x 17 1/4" No No None
Manual (2) 17" 17" x 16 1/2" No No None
Manual (4) 31" 31" x 25" No No None
Manual (4) 34" 34" x 37" No No None
Manual 12 1/2" 12 1/2" x 14" No No None
Manual 17" 17" x 18" No No None
Manual (2) 17" 17" x 18" No No None

Sous Vide Cooking

Vollrath 40861 Sous Vide Immersion Circulator Head, Bath, and Cover - 120V, 1100W

Another application of vacuum packaging, sous vide cooking is a process by which vacuum-sealed pouches of food are cooked in a low-temperature water bath. First practiced in Europe, sous vide is gaining popularity in North America and compared to traditional cooking methods, it offers several key benefits:

  • Consistent results with minimal staff training; foods are soaked in the hot water bath for a set amount of time, taken out, and finished if needed. The time and water temperature are the only points that need monitored.
  • Low cooking temperatures drastically reduce the risk of over-cooking and practically eliminate shrinkage.
  • Your food retains more nutritional value and more of its natural flavor and texture, since everything is sealed away inside the vacuum pack.
  • Because you retain more of the food's natural qualities, you can add fewer fats, oils, salts and spices.
  • Because the food is immersed in circulating water hot, cold spots are eliminated, allowing more even cooking. That medium rare steak will be medium rare tip to tip, not just in the middle.
  • Pre-prepped meals can be vacuum sealed and easily rethermalized later on.

And the best part is, sous vide cooking is remarkably simple; invest in a vacuum packaging machine that can keep up with your needs and an immersion circulator, and you're set.

Want to know more? Here’s a video that takes you through the whole process.

How to Cook Sous Vide

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