Putting food in Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers (OAs) is the best long-term storage method for dry staples.
Once sealed, the Mylar bag won’t let any air in. The oxygen absorber removes oxygen from the packaging, protecting food from oxidation. Some foods, like white rice, can even last 25+ years when stored like this.
At first glance, vacuum sealing food might seem similar to the Mylar + OA method.
After all, vacuum sealing also removes air from the packaging. However, there are big differences between Mylar bags and vacuum sealing regarding food storage.
The Quick Answer:
Use Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers when storing dry foods long-term (2+ years). Use vacuum sealing for shorter-term storage of foods that you will rotate through. Vacuum sealing is also better for freezer storage or storing moist foods.
Why Mylar is Better than Vacuum Sealing for Food Storage
All of the top emergency food brands package their foods in Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers. This includes brands like Wise, Mountain House, etc. The fact that none of these brands use vacuum sealing should tell you something.
Ultimately, it comes down to these three properties, which make Mylar better for food storage than vacuum sealer bags.
1. Mylar Is a Better Oxygen Barrier
Mylar is a very durable polyester film. It is metalized through vapor deposition, where aluminum is sprayed on its surface. The result is a bag that is almost perfectly impervious to oxygen. Once sealed, no air or moisture will get through the Mylar bag.
By contrast, vacuum sealer bags like Food Saver bags are made from a polymer. The material does a good job of keeping air from passing through it, but it isn’t 100%. Over time, the vacuum sealer bags will allow air to pass through.
There is a lot of research from the food industry on vacuum packaging, which proves this:
- This study found that vacuum sealing preserved dry rice better over 18 months than methods like cold storage and polythene bags – but the quality of the vacuum-sealed rice still degraded each month in storage.
- This study found that, after 12 months, the nutrients in vacuum-packaged dry black rice degraded.
2. Blocks Light
Another benefit of Mylar over vacuum sealer bags is that it is opaque and won’t allow light through. Since UV light destroys many nutrients, Mylar helps food last longer in this way. Read more about how to preserve food for years.
3. Harder for Insects to Chew Through
I’ve had Indianmeal moths infiltrate my pantry and can testify to how annoying they are. The moth larvae easily chewed through my vacuum sealer bags. A Mylar bag I had there remained untouched despite containing whole grains (which moths love).
Of course, Mylar isn’t completely impervious to pests. Rodents can chew through it. This is why you want to keep your Mylar bags of food in a bucket. But Mylar is still definitely tougher than vacuum sealer bags! Read more about how to rodent-proof food storage.
Vacuum Sealing Does Not Remove Air from Inside Food
This is an important difference between Mylar and vacuum sealing that isn’t mentioned much. When you seal oxygen absorbers inside a Mylar bag, the OA removes air from INSIDE the food. By contrast, vacuum sealing only removes air from AROUND the food.
Foods like beans and whole grains have a surprising amount of air inside them. Even if vacuum sealer bags didn’t have leak issues, you’d still have all that air inside the food, causing it to degrade and eventually spoil.
When Vacuum Sealing Makes Sense for Food Storage
Mylar bags + oxygen absorbers are usually the best methods for long-term food storage. However, there are some times when vacuum sealing is the better choice.
Storing Moist Items
Foods with 10% or more moisture should never be stored in Mylar with oxygen absorbers. This is because the botulism bacteria can grow in oxygen-less environments. It then produces toxins that can kill you.
Some “dry” foods contain a lot of moisture. For example, store-bought raisins sometimes have moisture levels of over 10% and should not be stored in Mylar with OAs. Cornmeal can also be surprisingly moist. Vacuum sealing is a much safer storage method for these foods.
Foods with lots of oil or fat will go rancid quickly even if stored in Mylar with OAs. Roasted coffee is just one example. For this reason, many people prefer to store coffee in their freezer.
Vacuum sealing is better for freezer storage than Mylar. The vacuum sealer bags will prevent freezer burn. The bag’s transparency works in your favor because you can see the product to check quality.
You could theoretically put foods in Mylar and then in the freezer.
However, I don’t like this idea: when you take the foods out of the freezer (or your freezer dies during a power outage), you could end up with moisture pockets inside the Mylar bag.
These moisture pockets might be wet enough to allow botulism to grow. (Yes. I’m very paranoid about botulism!) Better to just store the items in vacuum sealer bags.
Vacuum Sealing Canning Jars
Vacuum sealer bags will eventually allow oxygen to leak through. By contrast, vacuum sealer jars won’t leak oxygen. The lids are also usually very durable and create a strong seal.
I have yet to see research about whether oxygen will leak into vacuum sealed mason jars. And I’m not a fan of glass for food storage because it breaks easily (earthquakes, hurricanes…). However, storing smaller amounts of food in jars may be a good option.
Some foods are fine to store in vacuum sealer bags, even long-term. This includes foods that will last a long time, even without special packaging. Pasta is a good example.
Unless it is fortified, pasta has very few vitamins or other nutrients which will degrade from oxidation. I’ve encountered pasta in a friend’s pantry that was 3 years expired, and it still tasted perfectly fine (yes, I ate it).
Can I Put Oxygen Absorbers in Vacuum Sealer Bags?
Yes, but using oxygen absorbers in vacuum sealer bags will not have much or any benefit long-term. Oxygen absorbers only make sense in completely air-tight packaging like Mylar bags. Vacuum sealer bags will eventually leak air through, thus removing any benefit from the OAs.
Can I Put a Vacuum Sealed Bag Inside a Mylar bag?
I have heard of preppers doing this:
- Put an oxygen absorber inside a vacuum sealer bag with food
- Vacuum sealing the bag
- Putting the vacuum sealed bag in Mylar
- Sealing the Mylar
However, this method is overkill and unnecessary. The only benefit is that the extra layer of bags will protect against puncture. But, for that, you could just keep your Mylar bags in a bucket.
Note that you should NOT put a vacuum sealed bag in a Mylar bag with an oxygen absorber (the OA between the vacuum sealer bag and Mylar). While vacuum sealer bags do leak, they don’t leak much right away. So, the vacuum sealer bag could prevent the OA from doing its job. Oxygen will remain in the vacuum sealer bag and cause the food to spoil.
Can You Use a Vacuum Sealer to Seal Mylar Bags?
Some vacuum sealers do get hot enough to seal Mylar bags. However, vacuum sealers generally don’t do a good job sealing thicker Mylar bags. Using an iron or hair iron to seal the Mylar bags is more reliable.
Can You Use Mylar Bags with a Vacuum Sealer?
No, you usually cannot use a vacuum sealer on Mylar. The issue is that Mylar bags are smooth so the vacuum sealer can’t suck air from the bags.
There are some workarounds to this problem, though. For example, you can use an iron to seal almost all of the Mylar bag and then stick a vacuum hose attachment into the bag to suck the air out. Once the air is sucked out, you quickly finish sealing the bag. This video shows you how to do it.
Another hack is to cut strips from vacuum seal bags and put those strips between the layers of Mylar. After you have done vacuum sealing, you must reinforce the seal with an iron.
But vacuum sealing Mylar is not recommended!
Vacuum sealers do not remove all oxygen from packaging. So, even though Mylar bags are better than vacuum sealer bags, the food inside the vacuumed bags will still slowly start to go bad. Using oxygen absorbers in your Mylar bags is easier and more reliable than vacuum sealing. For short-term food storage, stick to vacuum sealer bags.
Oxygen Absorber + Vacuuming Mylar Bags?
Some preppers like to put an oxygen absorber in the Mylar bag and vacuum it. While this theoretically reduces the amount of OAs you need to use, it is overkill. Just push out as much air as you can from the bags before sealing them and you will be fine.
The only benefit to vacuuming Mylar bags that already have OAs is this: because vacuuming makes the Mylar bag look “sucked down,” you will be able to tell if the seal has broken. I still don’t recommend it because it’s an extra step, and the wrinkles caused by vacuum sealing can make it hard to get a good seal on the Mylar.
Note: Mylar Also Comes in Small Sizes!
One of the main reasons that people want to use vacuum sealing instead of Mylar is size. Mylar bags are often very large, whereas you can find tiny vacuum sealer bags. The small size is much more convenient for storing foods you don’t use much, such as spices.
But Mylar bags also come in small sizes and are easy to find. You can even cut Mylar bags to size. Just seal the sides and bottom, and you have whatever size you want.
What foods do you store in vacuum sealer bags, and which in Mylar? Let us know in the comments section below!