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Vacuum Sealing Guide

Reducing food waste and spoilage is important to any foodservice operation, and using a vacuum sealer 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 factors that cause them to break down.

How to Vacuum Seal

A vacuum sealer removes the air from the space around your food and then uses a heated seal bar to fuse the sides of the bag together, preventing it from leaking back into the bag. Exposure to air will spoil food or make it go stale over time.
Diagram of vacuum sealing process for chamber and external vacuum sealers

Benefits of Vacuum Sealing Food

  1. Preserve Food Quality:

    By removing all of the air from the bag, you prevent bacteria growth and also protect foods from freezer burn and dehydration. Your foods will retain a higher degree of freshness for a longer period of time.
  2. Save Time and Labor:

    With sous vide cooking, vacuum sealed portions require less attention than they would if cooked using other methods - put your foods in the hot water bath and do other tasks while they cook. Even if you don't cook sous vide, it can be helpful to package individual servings so that when your employees go to prepare a meal, they're being consistent and practicing portion control!
  3. Save Money:

    Vacuum packaging dramatically increases the shelf life of food, which reduces waste and saves you money. Many food types see dramatic increases in how long they can be stored:
Shelf life of vacuum sealed foods
Two individually vacuum sealed steaks coming out of Hamilton Beach vacuum sealer

What Foods Can I Vacuum Seal?

Almost any food can be vacuum packaged easily - meats, vegetables, hard fruits, and bulk goods all seal very well. However, there are a few exceptions that either require more attention or that should not be sealed at all.

Blanch Before Vacuum Sealing: 

Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and turnips can be vacuum sealed, but they should be blanched first. Boil briefly, submerge in ice water to stop the cooking process, and you can safely seal and freeze these foods! Blanching halts enzyme production that deteriorates quality and color over time.

Do Not Vacuum Seal: 

Mushrooms, garlic, and soft / unpasteurized cheeses like Brie and Ricotta should not be vacuum sealed. These products are at risk to contain anaerobic bacteria, which can grow and thrive within the oxygen-free environment inside a vacuum pouch.

Also make sure that you allow foods to cool to at least room temperature before sealing, as higher temperatures are more likely to harbor bacteria. Be sure that you are cooling foods safely, and keeping them out of the temperature danger zone for as long as possible.

Types of Vacuum Sealers

To choose the best vacuum sealer for your business, consider what you expect the machine to do. Chamber and external (also called out-of-chamber) machines are your two main choices, and which one you pick boils down to how much sealing you intend to do, whether you want to package liquids, and your budget. Some specialized applications might also benefit from a pistol-type vacuum sealer.
Person lifting lid of VacPak-It chamber vacuum sealer to reveal mixed vegetables

Chamber Vacuum Machines

Chamber vacuum sealers are best for applications where you'll be doing a lot of sealing, sealing in large batches, and sealing liquids. They have a higher upfront cost, but give you much better performance and versatility than an external machine. If you'll be packaging liquid-rich foods frequently, a chamber machine is practically a must-have.

Sealed piece of raw meat coming out of Vollrath external vacuum sealer

External Vacuum Machines

External vacuum sealers are a great choice if you'll only be doing occasional sealing, and if you will not be sealing liquids. They cost a lot less than chamber machines and provide an excellent seal, but lack a lot of the versatility and performance a chamber unit can provide. If you're trying out vacuum packaging for the first time or you know you only need a light duty model, an external machine is a perfect solution.

Waring pistol vacuum sealer with sealed and unsealed meats and vegetables

Pistol-Type Vacuum Sealers

A pistol vacuum sealer is primarily for applications where it's more convenient to take the sealer to the bag, rather than the other way around. It uses a special bag with a built-in valve - you seal the bag first, manually, using an included handheld sealer tool and then draw air out through the valve. The pistol-style grip lets you draw air out as-needed, similar to the pulse mode of a traditional external machine.

Choosing the Best Vacuum Sealer

When picking out a vacuum sealer, be sure to consider factors like bag cost, how much sealing you plan to do, and how often you plan to package liquid-rich foods. These will all play into how well your machine meets your expectations.
Gloved hands holding onto chamber vacuum sealer

Can I Vacuum Seal Liquids?

It depends on which type of sealer you have.

Chamber Machines can be used to package almost any item, including liquids and wet foods, without any extra attachments needed.

External Machines are not ideal for sealing liquid-rich foods like marinated meats, soups, and stews since the liquid tends to get drawn out of the bag with the air. Some units do have a "marinate" button on the control panel but this usually requires the use of a canister and extends the cycle time greatly.

One way around this is to freeze the liquid before packaging it.

Person holding bag of sealed asparagus above vacuum sealer with bag of sealed chicken nearby

Which Vacuum Sealer is Best for Commercial Use?

Chamber Machines are well-suited for commercial applications. To work faster, choose a sealer with a larger seal bar (some go up to 3' long) and/or multiple seal bars - these let you accommodate multiple bags at once and make it easy to seal large batches. A vacuum sealer with an oil pump is also a great option for even better performance and durability compared to dry pump units.

External Machines are great for light duty use. If you'll be occasionally sealing a few bags, they are a much more cost-effective choice, but since they only have 1 seal bar and they do not offer longer bar sizes like chamber machines (about 16" max), large batches will take longer.

Sealed bag of ribs and herbs being lowered into sous vide cooker

What is the Best Vacuum Sealer for Sous Vide?

Chamber Machines are the best choice for sous vide cooking because of their versatility. You can package liquids easily, unlike an external machine, and with multiple or longer seal bars you can package more items, faster.

External Machines can be used for vacuum packaging foods for sous vide, but they will not be able to handle liquid-rich foods as effectively as a chamber machine.

Gloved hands placing two raw pork chops into bag for vacuum sealing

Which Vacuum Sealer Bags Are Best to Use?

Chamber Machines use smooth-textured bags. The packs are more expensive but they contain more bags, which lowers the cost per bag.

External Machines use mesh-textured bags, which provide the extra "grip" these machines need for a good vacuum and seal. The packs are less expensive but they contain fewer bags per pack, which increases the cost per bag.

If you are on the fence between a chamber and an external machine consider whether you might eventually expand how much you package. A chamber machine may be cheaper in the long run due to bag cost.

Control panel of VacPak-It vacuum sealer

Automatic vs. Manual Vacuum Sealers

On manual vacuum sealers you can adjust how long you want the machine to pull air out of the bag by using a timer. This feature is great if you will be packaging lots of soft, delicate items like muffins, that could be damaged by sucking all of the air out. Once you figure out the desired time, it's easy to set it rather than holding down a pulse button every single time.

On automatic sealers the vacuum cycle runs until all of the air is pulled from the bag, which is generally faster than setting a timer. If you'll be packaging more durable types of items, this is a more efficient system. Combination manual / automatic machines offer both choices.

Vacuum Sealer Features

Once you've decided whether a chamber or external machine is better for your needs, you'll want to consider a few other design features to help you work more efficiently.
Gas flush vacuum sealer with lid lifted and sealed piece of meat inside

Gas Flush

  • Replaces oxygen in the bag with another gas mixture, usually carbon dioxide and nitrogen.
  • Extends shelf life, great for items that could be damaged or flattened if all of the air is drawn from the bag.

Control panel for VacMaster vacuum sealer

Pulse Mode

  • Allows you to draw out air on-demand.
  • Great for occasional, delicate foods that could break or flatten under vacuum pressure.

Hands cutting vacuum sealer bag from roll in storage bag / cutter for vacuum sealer bags

Roll Storage / Bag Cutter

  • Pull off what you need and cut it to length.
  • Check that any bag rolls you purchase will fit within the machine's storage area.

Gloved hands placing sealed bag of meat into floor model vacuum sealer

Floor Model

  • Layout preference - great for packaging facilities and layouts with more floor space than counter space.
  • Chambers are about the same size as a comparably-sized counter model.

Vacuum Sealer Accessories

Vacuum packaging bags are the biggest thing you'll need besides a vacuum sealer, but there are plenty of other vacuum sealer accessories too! These tools will help save you money and increase the versatility and productivity of your machine.
Gloved hands placing raw chicken inside bag for vacuum sealing

Vacuum Sealer Bags and Rolls

You will need to pick the right type of bag for your unit, either in-chamber vacuum sealer bags or external vacuum sealer bags. They are not interchangeable. Pick a bag with an open end shorter than your machine's seal bar, and that also fits inside the chamber if you’ve got a chamber machine. Vacuum sealer bag rolls can also be purchased to cut custom-sized bags.

Clear vacuum sealer canister with black lid off

Vacuum Sealer Canisters

Vacuum sealer canisters are great if you seal items that could be easily crushed, or just want the convenience of a reusable container. These accessories also allow an external machine to marinate, and to package liquids like soups and stews - just make sure you select a sealer that can accept vacuum canisters.

White filler plate inside VacMaster vacuum sealer with lid open

Vacuum Sealer Filler Plates

When you want to package small bags that don't use the whole chamber, a filler plate can be used to take up space and thereby reduce the vacuum time. When you need the full space for larger bags, just take the plate(s) out.

Hand holding bone-in pork chop sealed in bag

Bone Guards

Foods with sharp or hard surfaces, like bone-in meats, can puncture the bag as the air is drawn out. A bone guard provides extra padding to prevent the bag from ripping against these edges during the vacuum cycle.

How to Cook and Re-Heat Vacuum Sealed Foods

Vacuum sealers are well-known for improving the shelf life of foods, but they also make it easier to cook and re-heat foods. You can use vacuum sealing to create pre-portioned meals that cut down on food waste and are easy to prepare, too! Putting a sealed meal pack in the microwave or the stockpot requires far less training than cooking on-demand, and you can even label the pack with instructions to make re-heating it a breeze!
Microwave with open door

How to Re-Heat Vacuum-Sealed Foods by Microwave

This method is good for any foods that are sealed without much extra oil in the bag. Because the foods are already contained inside the bag, you'll have less splashing and food debris on the interior of your microwave, too. Choose microwave-safe vacuum packaging bags to seal your foods, and cut a hole in the corner to allow steam to escape.

Large stainless steel pot with lid off

How to Re-Heat Vacuum-Sealed Foods by Boiling

This method works very well for dense, thick foods like pulled pork. Like sous vide, hot water is used to transfer heat efficiently into the food, but since you are re-heating you can generally use higher temperatures and shorter times. Use boilable vacuum packaging bags if you plan on boiling them.

Hand placing bag of herbed salmon fillet into VacPak-It sous vide cooker

Sous Vide Cooking

Sous vide cooking is a process by which vacuum-sealed pouches of food are cooked in a hot water bath, with a sous vide immersion circulator regulating the water temperature. It requires very little training to produce great food, and it provides a number of benefits like consistent, repeatable results, reduced over-cooking and shrinkage, and a reduced need for fats, oils, salts, and spices.

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