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Vacuum Packing 101

A Guide to Vacuum Packaging

 

Vacuum packaging is a form of modified atmosphere packaging used commonly worldwide. Vacuum packing removes atmospheric oxygen from the primary packaging products are enclosed in. Oxygen is the primary source of product degradation, so its removal dramatically extends product life. Consumable and non-consumable products can be protected by vacuum packing.

 

The basic form of vacuum packing removes oxygen from a vacuum bag and seals off the bag once a vacuum cycle is complete. Although there are a variety of new processes that can be involved when vacuum packaging.

The History of Vacuum Packing

Though early experiments of modified atmosphere packaging have been traced back to the early 19th century, most accounts of vacuum packaging aren’t acknowledged until after World War II.

 

In France before WW II, the air was removed from rubber latex bags, and the bags were sealed. This concept proved to increase the shelf life of frozen products. After WW II, plastics became more popular and commercialized, which opened the door for vacuum packaging applications.

The Cryovac vacuum packaging process – created in the 50s to package whole turkeys – was the first commercial example of vacuum packaging perishable items. Since the introduction of industrial vacuum packaging, new methods, materials, and machines have evolved that have improved the quality of human life.

 

By the 70s, the introduction of inert gas into vacuum packaging helped to increase the shelf life of perishable products dramatically. Since then, the advancements in vacuum packing efficiency and increased shelf life have made incredible advancements.

 

Difference between Shrink Wrapping and Vacuum Packing

 

Though often confused, shrink packaging and vacuum packing are very different. Both forms of packaging remove air from product packaging, but in very different ways.

 

Shrink Packaging

 

Shrink packaging, like vacuum packing, uses a sealing bar and film to package a range of products.
 

Products are enclosed in film, and heat is applied to the shrink film to “form-fit” it to them. Air escapes the shrink-wrapped package through tiny holes along the surface of the film. These holes prevent shrink-packaged produce from being completely sealed off from exterior elements but help protect the product when the form-fitting process is complete.

Vacuum Packing

 

Vacuum packing removes oxygen from the primary packaging using suction. Once oxygen is removed from the package, it’s completely sealed off from exterior elements. This modifies the atmosphere within the wrapping to extend the life of its contents.

 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Vacuum Packaging

 

Vacuum packaging boasts extensive benefits compared with other, less-specialized packaging methods.

 

The advantages of vacuum packaging are:

 
  • Drastically boosts shelf life – The absence of oxygen in the bag restricts the growth of bacteria and fungi, meaning the contents last much longer than if exposed to the elements.

  • A cost-effective and efficient option – Not only does vacuum packing help preserve the shelf life of the products inside, but it also has an incredibly low up-front cost – letting businesses package products professionally for less.

  • Reduced shipping costs – Because the oxygen is removed from packaging, the space a product occupies is reduced, and businesses can ship more products per trip – drastically slashing shipping overheads.

  • No need for chemical preservatives – Because the vacuum packaging extends the shelf life of its products, chemical preservatives aren’t necessary.

The potential disadvantages of vacuum packaging include:

 
  • Managing external gases – Importing the gases needed for product preservation – like nitrogen and carbon dioxide, for example - can be costly and notoriously tricky to use. Each product requires a different amount of each gas or a combination of gases in the exact quantities for the preservation to take effect. If not, the products still spoil, adding more in repackaging or waste costs.

  • Products require different sealing types – Additional tools - like external hoses, roll holders, cutters, and vacuum back platforms – are needed for certain products, adding to the initial purchase price of the machinery. Certain sealing types also require additional labeling to display product information which can add cost.

  • Vacuum bags can be difficult to open – Because the goal is to seal off the product, there are no perforations to make it easier to open. Tougher, thicker plastics are also used, only adding to the potential struggle of accessing your products.
 

Advantages/Disadvantages of Vacuum Packing

Advantages of Vacuum Packing Disadvantages of Vacuum Packing
Substantial Increase Shelf Life External Gases Can Increase Cost
Barrier From External Elements Proper Gas Levels and Oxygen Levels Must be Known to Increase Shelf Life
Clear and Visible External Packaging Loss of Preservation Once the Package has been Opened
Minimal Need For Chemical Preserves Additional Sealer Attachments may be Required Based on Each Product
Quick and Efficient Additional Labeling Often Needed
Reduced Product Loss Basic Vacuum Bags can be Difficult to Open
Affordable Packaging Option  
Minimal Up-Front Cost  
Excellent For Freezer Storage  
Professional and Accepted Packaging Option Used Around the World  
 
 

Vacuum Bag Sizing

Unit of Measurement Vacuum Bag Size Notes to Consider
1 Cup 5"x7" The 5"x7" bags fit one cup of dried or liquid products still allowing room for a seal to be made.
1 Pint 6"x10" 6"x10" bags loosely fit 1 pint allowing room for small products such as dried fruits, nuts, baked goods and more.
1 Quart 8"x10" The one quart 8"x10" bags are a perfect for vacuum packaging cut meats, cheeses curds, and other deli products.
1/2 Gallon 8"x12" Two quarts is a half gallon, the 8"x12" bags fit two quarts with enough room for a vacuum nozzle and to make a seal.
Gallon 12"x18" The 12"x18" vacuum bags may be slightly large for a gallon of products, but it allows room to hold and maneuver the bag during the vacuum and sealing process.
 
 

What is Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP)?

 

Modified atmosphere packaging aims to change the chemical atmosphere of traditional packaging in order to preserve the quality, integrity, and shelf life of its contents. It is commonly used to package foods.

 

It is is a form of packaging that acknowledges product degradation is heavily influenced by the surrounding atmosphere. Modified atmosphere packaging involves the removal and introduction of specific elements to increase product lifespan.

 

Different atmospheric gases need to be used depending on the product being packaged. Though the most common gases used in modified atmosphere packaging are oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen, other gases such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, ethanol, and argon can be used.

 
 

How Does Vacuum Packaging Preserve Food?

 

Much of how vacuum packaging helps preserve food is in the name. Because individually wrapped food parcels have the oxygen removed, it makes it much harder for bacteria and fungi to grow and thrive – helping to keep the contents fresher for longer.

 

However, even though vacuum sealers create harsh conditions for bacteria, they aren’t inhospitable. Nasty bacteria can still form on your food products without air – however, it dramatically increases their shelf life.

 
 

Additional benefits of vacuum packaging your food include:

 
  • Managing external gases – Importing the gases needed for product preservation – like nitrogen and carbon dioxide, for example - can be costly and notoriously tricky to use. Each product requires a different amount of each gas or a combination of gases in the exact quantities for the preservation to take effect. If not, the products still spoil, adding more in repackaging or waste costs.

  • Products require different sealing types – Additional tools - like external hoses, roll holders, cutters, and vacuum back platforms – are needed for certain products, adding to the initial purchase price of the machinery. Certain sealing types also require additional labeling to display product information which can add cost.

  • Vacuum bags can be difficult to open – Because the goal is to seal off the product, there are no perforations to make it easier to open. Tougher, thicker plastics are also used, only adding to the potential struggle of accessing your products.
 
 

Examples of Modified Atmosphere Packaging

 

The ability to modify the atmosphere inside the package can dramatically increase the shelf life of a product. See a list of everyday products that use modified atmosphere packaging below.

 
  • Poultry – Some of the first products to be commercially packaged using modified atmosphere packaging. Low oxygen content with high carbon dioxide content is often used to increase shelf life.

  • Fresh Fish – Fish has a tendency to degrade quickly due to a rapid breakdown of enzymes. Even fish placed in low oxygen MAP still deteriorate notoriously quickly. A mixture of carbon dioxide, oxygen, and nitrogen works best for extending the life of most fish products.

  • Baked Goods – Moisture loss and mold growth are the most common reasons for baked goods spoiling. Modified atmospheric packaging for baked goods uses carbon dioxide and nitrogen to extend shelf life.

  • Prepared Foods – Pre-cooked foods continue to grow in popularity around the world. Most prepared foods are chilled and packaged with carbon dioxide or nitrogen with little or no oxygen content.

  • Fruits and Vegetables – Increased carbon dioxide levels help slow down the degradation of fruits and vegetables. The balance between the proper amounts of carbon dioxide and oxygen can vary depending on the product being wrapped. The wrong balance can cause fermentation and off-flavors, so packaging companies need to be careful.
 
 

Items Needed for Vacuum Packaging

 

To get started with basic vacuum packaging operations, a vacuum sealer and bags are all that’s needed. For more complex packaging, you might need additional components like an external air compressor and an inert gas. The most common inert gas used is nitrogen which can be found at most local welding supply stores.

 

Below is a breakdown of the different types of vacuum bags and vacuum sealers often used in commercial vacuum packaging.

 
 

Vacuum Bags and Film

 

Vacuum bags are the exterior package to the products customers purchase. Luckily, there are bags with varying degrees of thicknesses, types, and oxygen permeability that are readily available on the market.

 

When choosing a vacuum bag, companies want to ensure they choose bags thick enough for the products being wrapped. The most common vacuum bag thickness used is a 3 mil thickness that provides ample protection for most products.

 

Below are some varieties of vacuum bags available. For longer products, why not check out our vacuum tubing and make your own bags?

 
  • Channeled VacuumChanneled vacuum bags have embossed sides and are often used with home-use vacuum sealers. These allow air to escape from the bag easier.

  • Zippered Vacuum Bags – Very consumer-friendly, vacuum zipper bags are used to package a variety of products. The easy-open bag and re-closable zipper allow the user to swiftly open the bags with out scissors and seal them again without hassle.

  • Notched Vacuum Bags – A consumer-friendly bag, notched vacuum bags aim to offer an easy opening for consumers.

  • Foil Vacuum Bags – The foil keeps light from compromising the packaged product. It’s this reason why they’re used worldwide for things like coffee storage.
 
 

Vacuum Sealers

 

Identifying the right vacuum sealer to accommodate the volume of product being sealed is essential to any commercial vacuum packing project.

 

There are a variety of sealers to choose from, with multiple production levels available. We primarily sell commercial-grade sealers capable of sealing more than 300 products per hour.

 

See the different types of vacuum sealers listed below.

 
  • Nozzle Vacuum Sealing – The most common vacuum sealer used around the world. Most home-use vacuum sealers use a nozzle to remove air from the vacuum bag. Some vacuum sealers offer a dual nozzle system to seal two bags at once.

  • Chamber Vacuum – Chamber packaging uses a vacuum chamber with a heat seal closure to remove air from the vacuum bag and complete a full seal. Vacuum chambers are very popular in meat and cheese packaging.

  • Vacuum Skin Packaging – Vacuum skin packaging uses two rolls of film to remove air and seal the exterior package. A chamber compresses the film together to create an airtight seal. A variety of meats, sausages, and cheeses are often packaged with skin packaging or thermoforming.

  • Hot Fill Vacuum Packaging – The oldest form of commercialized vacuum packaging. Hot fill vacuum packaging uses plastic bags dipped into water over 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Negative pressure from the water removes excess oxygen – sealing off the product from exterior elements. Hot fill is still a popular method of vacuum packaging hams, whole turkeys, and other similar products.

  • Vacuum Packing Experts You Can Trust – Work with US Packaging & Wrapping for all your vacuum packing projects. We tailor our vacuum packing projects – from equipment to gases and bag types – to your individual products, so you get peace of mind over high-quality packing that maintains product integrity for longer.
 

Contact us today to find out how we can support your high-volume packing projects.

 
 
 
 
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