In the face of a challenging economy, business owners often need to find innovative ways to set their businesses apart from others. Like many sectors, cutting costs, reducing waste and improving quality are all key factors for food service operations to consider in their bid to enhance their offering. Surprisingly, a vacuum sealer may help businesses to tick all of those boxes!
Read on for the lowdown about vacuum sealers and how they can help your business to succeed.
Vacuum food sealers are machines that are commonly used to package food, both in domestic and commercial settings. Through the removal of oxygen from a package, a vacuum food sealer aids in the long-term preservation of the material or food contained within.
These versatile machines are mostly used in the home to store food, while in restaurants and cafeterias, they’re often used to maintain the substantial amounts of food supplies purchased.
There are two main types of vacuum food sealers available: chamber vacuum sealers and external vacuum packers.
The principle behind vacuum sealers is relatively simple, but like anything, there are nuances in how different types of vacuum sealers operate.
In general, food is placed inside a specially-designed vacuum bag, which is made from non-porous plastic. The vacuum sealer extracts the air from the food’s surroundings. Once all of the air has been removed, the heating elements seal the bag airtight to prevent air from leaking back in.
As the bacteria on food typically need air and moisture to grow, vacuum sealing your food products helps to stop food from spoiling or going stale over time. It’s estimated that vacuum-packed products can last up to 3-5 times longer than foods stored in standard packaging.
Chamber-style vacuum sealers are quite easy to use. First, you place the food into a plastic vacuum bag and fold the top over it to keep the contents germ-free.
Next, place the bag and its contents fully inside the chamber. Align the bag with the seal bar and close the lid. Take care to ensure that no part of the bag is jutting out from the sealer, otherwise, the vacuum sealer will not be able to remove all of the air in the bag.
When the machine is switched on, the powerful pump reduces the pressure in the chamber. Solid food is usually sealed with a pressure of 5-50 millibars, while food that can easily be spoiled may be sealed at 200-500 millibars. Initially, the pressure in the bag is higher than the pressure in the chamber, so the plastic bag starts to bloat.
Once the air has been completely removed from the chamber, the sealing bar starts to heat up and fuses the end of the bag closed. The sealing process takes around three seconds. Finally, a valve is opened to decompress the vacuum chamber and you can remove your packaged food.
Suction sealers, also known as external vacuum sealers, don’t have a chamber. Instead, the plastic vacuum bag remains external to the sealer and only the open edge is placed inside the seal bar.
Air is extracted from the bag via vacuum channels, which can make suction sealers impractical for liquid-based foods. Often the vacuum sealer draws out the liquid from the bag, which can get caught up in the sealer’s motor.
Once the air has been fully extracted, the seal bar fuses the end of the bag tightly to prevent air from getting back in, again.
While the main types of vacuum sealers are chamber vacuum packers or suction sealers, there are various add-ons that can vastly improve the efficiency of your food business. The best vacuum sealer setup for your business very much depends on what you plan to use your machine for, how often, and, of course, your budget.
A vacuum chamber machine is a good option for high-frequency, high-volume sealing as you simply place your bag in the chamber and let the machine take care of the rest. It’s also a good option if you seal liquids on a regular basis, as air is removed from the entire chamber, not just the bag, which stops liquid from getting into your sealer’s motor.
Some useful add-ons that are a great complement to vacuum chamber machines are dip tanks, drink tunnels and dryer units. These machines use heat and water to shrink the excess bag around your food, which leaves an aesthetically-pleasing package.
Tray sealers operate in a similar fashion to vacuum sealers. In addition to removing air, a tray sealer can produce skin packaging by placing a sheet of plastic film across the top of the tray. The end result is improved product presentation, which can set you apart from your competitors.
A variation on the tray sealer is the thermoformer, which enables you to custom-produce plastic trays that perfectly fit your food product. It’s a popular machine with meat, cheese and fish producers as they can reduce packaging waste and improve profit margins.
As the name suggests, a single-chamber vacuum sealer has just one vacuum chamber whereas a double-chamber vacuum sealer has two. Both types of machines operate the same way and the key difference is volume.
Single-chamber vacuum sealers are used for sealing small to moderate quantities. Double vacuum chamber packers can seal medium volumes. They often have a sliding lid to allow you to position a new batch of bags on one side, while the other side is vacuum sealing. Both types of machines work well with liquids.
An automated rotary belt vacuum packer is designed for higher volumes. Food items are placed on a belt, which rotates into the vacuum sealer. The items are then sealed. These machines are ideal for packaging large quantities at once and can also be used to seal liquids.
There are numerous benefits of vacuum sealing foods, from enabling you to organise your resources better to improving your food’s appearance.
Vacuum-sealing food into self-contained portions means it’s easy to see what you’ve got in your pantry or freezer and you can easily grab what you need. You save time rummaging around in the back of your freezer or trying to chip out just enough chicken fillets to feed your family!
Plus with the sous-vide method of cooking, you won’t need to watch over the pot! Simply place your food into the hot water bath, and then get on with something else.
Removing the air and moisture that contribute to food turning bad more quickly means that you can preserve food for longer, so you can take advantage of bulk purchasing deals as well as efficiently store leftovers for another day – win-win!
As vacuum-packed food can be stored for much longer than foods stored conventionally, you’ll benefit from reduced waste. Vacuum-packed foods also retain their flavour better, so you’re less likely to throw away leftovers if you vacuum-seal them prior to storage.
Businesses looking to extend the shelf life of their products, cut waste and costs, as well as improve the overall presentation, stand to benefit from the use of a vacuum sealer. Restaurants, catering companies and food manufacturers are just some of the food service operators that may find vacuum sealers a tremendous asset in their businesses.
One of the most appealing features of a vacuum sealer is the ability to store food for longer periods of time. How long vacuum-sealed food lasts depends on the type of food being stored and how it’s stored. On average, dry foods can last 2-4 times longer, while frozen, vacuum-sealed meats may last up to 2-3 years vs 6 months if stored conventionally.
The best vacuum bag to use depends on the type of vacuum sealer you own. Chamber vacuum sealers use smooth-textured bags, while suction sealers use mesh-textured bags. It’s important to use the correct type of bag for your machine – it’s not one size fits all.
Vacuum-sealing liquid is not only possible, but it’s also very popular! To vacuum seal liquid food products, use a chamber machine.
While it’s theoretically possible to vacuum seal a liquid in an external vacuum sealer, it’s not highly recommended as the liquid tends to get drawn out of the bag along with the air. One way around this problem is to freeze the liquid before you package it.
Freezer burn occurs when frozen food is damaged by oxidation or dehydration, which leaves food discoloured and tasting pretty awful! As vacuum sealing your food removes the air and moisture from the package, vacuum-sealed food will not get freezer burn.
Certain foods contain anaerobic bacteria, which can grow and thrive without oxygen (such as the environment inside a vacuum bag). It’s best to avoid vacuum sealing these types of food, which include mushrooms, garlic and unpasteurised soft cheeses, like brie.
Commercial settings are more likely to need to vacuum seal products on a regular basis, which makes chamber vacuum sealers well-suited for business use. These machines often allow you to seal multiple bags at once, helping you to save time in the long run. In addition, although the bags for chamber vacuum sealers cost more upfront, you tend to get more of them in a packet so the per-unit cost is often lower than external sealers.
On the other hand, if your business only needs to vacuum seal products on an occasional basis, then a suction sealer may be a better fit and often take up less room than a chamber sealer.
At First Food Machinery, we stock a wide range of vacuum sealers to suit every business and budget. We’re proud to be the main UK agent for Webomatic packaging machinery and can supply machinery on a lease basis. Get in contact with us today to discuss your business needs.