It has taken the country by storm, evoked numerous debates at homes and on TV, but left millions putting their health at risk. So, is vacuum sealing considered safe? How does it work? Vacuum sealing is basically the ability to seal food in a low oxygen environment, so that it can stay fresh for longer without being invaded by bacteria or germs.
Usually, food gets bad because of exposure to germs and bacteria, or organisms that thrive in the presence of oxygen. With vacuum sealing however, the rate of food spoilage is greatly slowed down because the amount of atmospheric oxygen in the package tools will get reduced.
This method also limits the growth of aerobic fungi and bacteria especially when used with a combination of other packaging processes and techniques. While this technique sounds safe, vacuum sealing could be a danger to your health as the National Center for Home Food Preservation notes.
It gives a false sense of food safety, because well, there are certain types of bacteria that can survive in very low oxygen environments; like Botulism and Misteria monocytogenes. In fact, these two types of bacteria grow at a faster rate while in low oxygen environments; mainly because there is no competition, and again, that’s their nature. The great danger however is the fact that they don’t affect the smell the looks of your food, which makes them even deadlier.
Before we delve further, just have some facts about bacteria and vacuum sealing you should know:
- Many food pathogens thrive under both aerobic and anaerobic conditions
- The longer the vacuum sealing, the higher the risk of anaerobic bacteria- They increase as food stays.
- Cooking and fermenting food does not really destroy the spore formers.
- Low PH and aw do not protect against cook chill.
So, do you think vacuum sealing is safe?
Safe Vacuum Sealing
There are numerous types of vacuum packaging devices being marketed out there, and most of them vary greatly in sophistication and ability to vacuum seal food safely. However, as you probably know, vacuum sealing is very different from heat processing for instance. Vacuum sealing requires that you take a lot of precautions especially with the perishable foods, because they are more vulnerable to quick contamination.
Basically as we had earlier noted, vacuum sealing involves removing air from the package’s contents. Why is air removed? Environmental oxygen promotes the growth of bacteria and fungi that could lead to a fast deterioration in the quality of food.
Once oxygen is eliminated therefore, the chances of harmful reaction happening near the food are reduced; and as a result a longer shelf life. However, in most cases, vacuum sealing only eliminates the dangers that you can see or perceive with your senses. For instance, the bacteria that could have changed the color or the smell of food are eliminated, but not the deadly botulism we had talked about earlier.
Why do Health Scientists Insist on Food Refrigeration Before Vacuum Sealing?
Vacuum sealing can be an effective way of extending food’s shelf life when done properly. However, some certain types of foods, especially low acid food stuffs are very vulnerable to the bacteria that grow in anaerobic conditions. You therefore have to freeze or thaw most perishable foodstuffs for more effectiveness. The non-perishable food stuffs crackers are however safe under vacuum sealing.
Effective Vacuum Sealing Tips
- Wash your hands before handling any food – In fact, try and use clean spoons or anything else but your hands during the vacuum sealing process.
- Keep your counters and utensils clean.
- Keep most of the vacuum sealed food in the freezer or refrigerators, with the expectation of non-perishables which can be kept under room temperatures.
- All low acid foods must be frozen before vacuums sealing- Also always keep such food stuffs in freezers and only heat them when you want to eat.
- You may label your food sources but most importantly ensure that the seal is complete and free of any debris.
When done properly, vacuum sealed food could stay fresh for up to three years. Yes, your poultry or beef meet, coffee beans and even fish could stay fresh for up to two or three years, while blueberries and raspberries could survive vacuums sealing for a week or two. Be careful with the precautions we had earlier highlighted though. If you wish to vacuum seal meat for instance, ensure it is extremely clean. And when you decide to eat it, be through with the cooking.
Finally, be sure to keep the food stuffs within reasonable times. For example, I often keep the ingredients for my quesadillas vacuum sealed. But I still would use them up pretty quickly. You don’t have to keep the cheese for eight months for instance, and neither should you wait for more than a year before you eat your fish. And as always, if you are in doubt as to whether the food is spoilt, throw it out!