According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, nearly one-third of all food produced goes to waste, with over 200 pounds of waste per person on average. I, like many others, am trying to do my part by cutting down on wasted food.
But as a solo cook, it’s tough.
Many foods aren’t portioned for one person, so I’m constantly in a race against time to use everything I buy before it goes bad. That, coupled with the price savings of buying in bulk, has led me to seek an efficient way of storing food to prolong its shelf life.
For me, the easiest and most successful way of cutting down on waste was to invest in a vacuum sealer. The best countertop vacuum sealer (ATK recommends the Nesco Deluxe Vacuum Sealer) is less than $100 and doesn’t take up much space. The investment is minimal compared to the cost savings of buying in bulk and the reduction in throwing things out. In addition to these tips on how to use a vacuum sealer efficiently and effectively, it’s good to know what others use their vacuum sealers for. Here’s how I use mine.
1. Buy Meat and Seafood in Bulk and Portion Them Myself
One of the best parts about having a vacuum sealer is that it means that I can buy perishable items in bulk. Some grocery stores (such as Costco—read my tips for shopping there) sell whole cuts of meat and seafood that I can take home and portion myself. Not only is this fresher than buying precut meat but it also means that I can cut one- or two-serving portions.
With a vacuum sealer to preserve foods’ freshness, I can also take advantage of the deeply discounted “family packs” of chicken breasts, thighs, or ground meat that many stores sell. I portion them into the serving size I want, vacuum-seal them, freeze them, then defrost them in the refrigerator the night before I want to use them.
Sign up for the Well-Equipped Cook newsletter
Shop smarter with our ATK Reviews team's expert guides and recommendations.
2. Preserve Cheese and Small Amounts of Leftover Ingredients
I love to seal cheeses after portioning out some for a snack or cheese board. It can be cost prohibitive and sometimes not possible to buy smaller quarter- or half-pound pieces of cheese, so vacuum-sealing portions cut from larger blocks ensures that they stay fresh. (And yes, you can freeze cheese.)
Other leftover ingredients are also perfect for vacuum sealing. I regularly vacuum-seal and then freeze nuts and seeds that may otherwise go rancid at room temperature. And many gluten-free flours can go bad sooner than regular flour and often cost much more. By vacuum-sealing these items, I can extend their shelf life by months.
3. Use It for Big Bags of Chips and Crackers
A vacuum sealer can also be used to reseal larger bags of chips or crackers, as well as more unique uses such as making adult juice pouches or ice pops. Most models allow you to use the seal feature without the vacuum, so resealing those chips could not be easier.
4. Make Summer Last All Year Long
I love having a membership to a local CSA and shopping local farm stands for peak-season produce, but the window during which this produce is at its best is slim. I like to freeze corn off the cob, heirloom tomatoes, and summer fruits in vacuum-sealed bags and break them out in the dead of winter when I want a quick side dish, a delicious pasta sauce, or a freshly baked pie.