Commercial Vacuum Sealer Buying Guide
Foodservice kitchens nationwide are using vacuum sealers to save time and money and to add a new cooking technique to their menus. You want in, but don’t know where to start. We can help. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about vacuum sealers and what you should consider before buying.
First, what is vacuum sealing? Vacuum sealing, also called vacuum packing, is the process of extracting air and sealing products inside an impermeable package. Nothing can get in or out, not air or water or odours. That package is typically plastic bags, but glass jars, plastic containers and even insert pans can also be used.
Removing the air, which more importantly is removing the oxygen, limits the growth of microorganisms like bacteria and fungi. The impermeable package also means that what is inside stays inside. For food, that means the juices and flavours and even the colour is preserved.
Vacuum Sealing Benefits
- Large batch processing
- Pre-portioning for efficiency
- Inventory management
- Reduce food waste/spoilage
- Sous vide cooking
- Marinades, macerates and infusions
- Packaging for retail sales
Benefits and Applications of Vacuum Sealing
Large Batch Processing: Making a big batch of soup or stew or even lasagna is always the more efficient use of time in busy kitchens. Even if your production requirements are down, you can still process large batches then vacuum seal the extra - saving you time later without compromising the quality of your menu items.
Pre-portioning: Especially with dry ingredients, it makes sense to have parts of regularly used recipes pre-measured to quickly throw together the final steps. Vacuum sealing keeps these pre-portioned/measured items fresh, safe and readily available. In some cases, removing the air also has the benefit of reducing the storage space required as the package (when using plastic bags) fits perfectly around the ingredients.
Bulk Purchases/Inventory Management: With a vacuum sealer on hand, chefs can realize the cost savings of bulk ordering ingredients, especially those more expensive ones like meat and cheese, and then vacuum sealing portions for storage. A bonus of this inventory management system is that vacuum sealing also increases the storage life of your ingredients whether destined for shelf, fridge or freezer – in some cases more than doubling their current shelf life.
Reduce Food Waste/Spoilage: Removing air (oxygen) from packages limits the growth of microorganisms that cause the breakdown and spoilage of your ingredients. It is smart business to get the most from your ingredients - the less you throw in the garbage the more money in your pocket. Removing the air also reduces the chemical reactions that cause flavour, colour and texture deterioration during storage, meaning no more freezer burn.
Pre-portioning: You already know that you can save time pre-portioning when vacuum sealing ingredients or parts of recipes but pre-portioning also saves money. Using pre-portioned ingredients, especially more expensive ones, ensures consistency across your labour staff. Every cent and gram counts in this business.
Sous Vide Cooking: A chef’s dream cooking technique - minimal hands-on time, maximum yields, interesting textures, enhanced flavours and never over-cooked. This unique process evenly cooks foods all the way through by immersing vacuum packages in precisely regulated low temperature water baths.
Marinades, macerates, infusions: Vacuum sealing also allows chefs an alternate method of marinating, macerating or infusing ingredients. The liquids get “sucked” into the foods at a faster rate when you remove the air (lower the pressure).
Retail Sales: Restaurants are continually adding revenue streams to their businesses to stay profitable. Vacuum sealing allows operators to prepare portioned menu items that can be sold for take home or be used as part of a meal subscription style service.
How to choose a vacuum sealer
As you can see, vacuum sealing has a long list of applications. But how do you know what type and model is best for your business? Depends on three factors; what you want to package, how much you want to package and your budget.
What you want to vacuum pack?
Almost all foods can be vacuum packed - dry, wet, raw or cooked. However, the consistency, texture and size of the ingredients and/or recipes you would like to vacuum pack is important in considering the best vacuum sealer for your operation.
Consistency: Liquid-rich foods like soups and stews have different needs than house-made sausages, diced vegetable mixes or dry cookie mixes. Packing liquids or recipes containing liquids are usually the key consideration in choosing a vacuum sealer.
Texture: How delicate are the items you want to pack? Croissants and muffins, shrimp in their shell, or twice-baked potatoes - each of these can handle a different amount of pressure before affecting their shape/texture. The amount of control over the vacuum will be key to ensure your package contents keep their preferred shape and texture.
Size: How much product are you going to be putting in one bag? What size bag will it fit in? What is the dimension of the contents? The size of the sealer bar is an important factor and so will the total size of the bag.
Please note: Do not vacuum pack fresh onion, garlic or mushrooms nor soft cheeses.
How much you want to vacuum pack?
Vacuum sealing a few bags here are there is completely different than running a small production line where you need to have a certain number of bags completed per hour. What is your limiting time factor? Is it how much you need to pack in an hour, a shift, a day or over a week?
You should also consider how often it will be used, daily or once a week. Remember to factor in when you have staff available to operate the sealer and how long they are available.
What is your budget?
Like all equipment, there is a wide range in prices for vacuum sealers. Starting out, it doesn’t make sense to jump right into a model built for high productivity that has all the bells and whistles, unless you know exactly what you need. Instead, find a model that fits most of your requirements that hits your budget.
If you want to calculate the difference between the cost of different models, it is always good to do a quick ROI (return on investment) calculation to see if going up a level will be of benefit.
Okay, so you know what you are going to vacuum pack, your estimated productivity and have a budget range. Details on the types of vacuum sealers and some of their features is the next step.
There are two types of vacuum sealers – chamber and external. Both types vacuum seal by removing air then quickly sealing the package. The main difference is where the packaging is positioned during the vacuuming process.
Chamber Vacuum Sealers
With a chamber vacuum sealer, the bag is placed inside the machine, lid is closed, air is extracted, sealing bar fuses the bag closed, pressure is released, lid is opened and vacuum sealed package is removed.
When you are packaging liquids, chamber vacuum sealers are by far the best choice. Because of the chamber system, the air in the chamber and the air in the bag are removed simultaneously which keep pressure the same and the liquids stay in place. When the liquids stay put, your seal will not be compromised.
Although these units are more expensive than the external type, the bags are cheaper. So, depending on your productivity needs, it may end up being a more cost-effective choice.
Chamber vacuum sealers are the best choice for medium-high processing operations, working with large batches (meaning continual use) and if you are sealing liquids and liquid-rich foods. Typically, they always outperform external models and have more available features for customization and control.
External Vacuum Sealers
With an external vacuum sealer, the bag is placed outside the machine, machine extracts the air, sealing bars fuses the bag closed, package is released.
Special vacuum sealer bags are required for this type of unit; one side of the bag is textured to allow for a better grip for the vacuum and seal. Because of their design, the bags are more expensive than the smooth bags used in chamber models.
Although an external vacuum sealer is capable of vacuum sealing liquids they will never be as effective as a chamber style machine.
Most external vacuum sealers are what they call the bar style. However, another type is available - a Pistol Vacuum Sealer. It uses special bags with built-in valves where you physically attach the gun and manually draw out the air.
External vacuum sealers are the best choice for low packaging requirements and if you are typically not sealing liquids or liquid-rich foods. The more cost-effective option, external vaccum sealers still save you time and money and provide a well-sealed final product, they simply do not offer the range of features available in chamber models. A great option for those starting out.
Additional Features to Consider
Gas flushing - the ability to flush your package with an inert gas for additional preservation or for maintaining texture (like chips).
Pulse mode – having a pulse mode allows you to slowly remove air and reduce crushing of delicate food items like baked goods.
Optional external vacuum sealing - some chamber vacuum sealers have an optional external vacuum sealing port to vacuum seal in containers.
Programmable - if you are using your vacuum sealer for multiple recipes/ingredients, programmability might be a key feature to consider as it allows you to consistently seal those items at a predetermined level of vacuum and time.
Pump – the type of pump will determine the durability of your unit and also what your unit’s capability. Dry pumps can be prone to overheating and therefore not great for continual use. Oil pumps typically offer more durability but may require maintenance to ensure maximum efficiency.
Chamber vs External Vacuum Sealer Comparison
|Feature||Chamber Vacuum Sealer||External Vacuum Sealer|
|Cost||$$ - $$$||$ - $$|
|Productivity||medium to heavy duty||light duty|
|continual use||non-continual use|
|Product Size Capacity||limited by chamber size||limited by size of bag opening|
|limited by sealer bar length|
|Bags||any bag for vacuum sealing||special bags for external|
|bags are less expensive||bags more expensive|
|Applications||dry ingredients, liquids and||dry ingredients, small batches|
|liquid-rich combinations,||sous vide possible|
|large batches, sous vide||some can seal liquids|
|Additional available||Can include:||Can include:|
|features||Programmable||Vacuum level adjustment|
|(depends on model)||Vacuum level adjustment||Marinating|
|Optional external vacuuming|
|larger, double chamber models|
|Unit size||Tabletop to full size and double||small, minimal counter space|
|chamber floor models||easily stored|
Embrace the benefits of using a vacuum sealer in your foodservice kitchen and start racking up the savings.