Posted on Wed, Nov. 08, 2006

Express Lane

The seal deal

With Thanksgiving leftovers looming in your future, you may be wondering whether those vacuum sealers you see on TV are worth the bucks.

Ask an expert.

Elaine D'sa, a research coordinator with the National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia in Athens, uses a vacuum sealer at home.

"I have found that vacuum-packing spices extends the shelf life and prevents their pungent odors from permeating other foods," D'Sa said. She likes to save money by buying in bulk and repackaging her purchases.

Essentially, the machines do at home what food manufacturers do on their processing lines. Removing excess air from a container radically slows spoilage of the food inside. Vacuum-packed foods stay crisper, retain nutrients and last longer on the shelf or in the refrigerator. Meats and poultry that are vacuum-packed before freezing don't get freezer burn, prolonging their useful life.

"You can portion-pack your foods," D'sa said. "Cook once, [portion them out], vacuum-seal them, then microwave them later in the week. If you do it in a bag, you can microwave or boil in the bag."

Vacuum sealers are available at warehouse stores such as Sam's Club and Costco, at some retail stores such as Wal-Mart and from online outlets such as Amazon.com. Prices tend to range from $50 to $300, and most require special bags, which aren't interchangeable among brands.

Chicago Tribune testers fell in love with the least expensive one, Pump-N-Seal, distributed by Pioneering Concepts of Wapiti, WY. It works like a bicycle pump in reverse, takes only a few seconds to operate and uses no electricity. At $20 for the basic set-up and video instructions (optional accessories are available), the Pump-N-Seal represents an excellent value. Plus, it doesn't require pricey special containers. It works with regular zip-top bags and any jar that has a soft ring inside the lid.

To check it out or order one, visit www.pump-n-seal.com or call (800) 323-3965.

-- Robin Mather Jenkins, Chicago Tribune

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