Oxygen absorbers are remarkable tools for extending the shelf life of various food items and products by creating a low-oxygen environment within sealed containers.
By actively removing oxygen from the packaging, they help prevent the growth of spoilage organisms, inhibit oxidative reactions, and maintain the freshness of the contents.
Oxygen is extremely damaging to your food storage because it will deteriorate your food overtime. If there happens to be any sort of pests in your rice or wheat berries, oxygen absorbers will eliminate them by removing their oxygen supply.
Oxygen absorbers are a wonderful prepping tool for building a food storage. In this comprehensive blog, we will explore the ins and outs of using oxygen absorbers effectively for both food and non-food items, providing you with valuable insights into maximizing their potential.
The Science Behind Oxygen Absorbers
To understand how oxygen absorbers work, let's dive into the science behind them. These small packets typically contain iron powder, activated carbon, and salt. The key component is the iron, which undergoes an oxidation process when exposed to oxygen.
This reaction results in the formation of iron oxide, commonly known as rust. As the iron inside the oxygen absorber rusts, it effectively removes oxygen from the surrounding environment. The activated carbon helps absorb any moisture that may be present, further protecting the contents from spoilage.
I think it is neat that we can leverage different chemical reactions to optimize our food storage.
Now, let's explore how to use oxygen absorbers step by step.
Step-by-Step Guide on How to Use Oxygen Absorbers
1. Gather Your Supplies:
- Oxygen Absorbers: Choose the appropriate size and oxygen-absorbing capacity for your container. These absorbers come in various sizes, typically measured in cubic centimeters (cc) or milliliters (mL). My favorite absorbers that I have used have been from Wallaby. I have used generic oxygen absorbers, but Wallaby’s come packaged nicely, are sturdy, and hold up well in my opinion.
- Airtight Containers: Select food-grade storage containers made of materials like glass, plastic, or Mylar bags. These containers must provide an airtight seal to effectively create a low-oxygen environment.
- You can use Mason jars as storage containers, but be aware that because they let light in, food stored in them will deteriorate more quickly. I love Wallaby mylar bags because they stand up by themselves, and that is a big deal when you are packaging food. It saves you a hand from having to hold the bag up. Trust me on this one, lol.
- Dry Food or Items: Oxygen absorbers are most commonly used for preserving dry food items like grains, beans, rice, pasta, and dehydrated fruits and vegetables. However, they are also invaluable for non-food items such as pharmaceuticals, electronics, and collectibles.
- Vacuum Sealer (optional): If you are using vacuum-sealed bags, a vacuum sealer can help remove excess air before adding the oxygen absorber. Another important consideration is restoring the oxygen absorbers you don’t use. If you open up a package of oxygen absorbers, but don’t use them all, you need to restore them in an oxygen-free environment or they will continue to absorb oxygen and become useless. A vacuum sealer will allow you to restore your oxygen absorbers or you will have to plan to utilize them all in one go.
2. Prepare Your Items
Before you begin the packaging process, make sure the items you intend to store are clean, dry, and free from moisture or contaminants. Even a small amount of moisture can affect the absorbers' effectiveness.
Moisture will spoil whatever you are storing. If you have freeze-dried something, ensure it is moisture free. You can test whatever you are storing with a moisture meter.
3. Choose the Right Container:
- Glass Jars: Ideal for storing smaller quantities of dry goods. Ensure the jar has a tight-fitting lid and is clean and dry.
- Mylar Bags: Flexible and lightweight, Mylar bags are excellent for larger quantities of dry items. They are often used for long-term food storage.
- Vacuum-Sealed Bags: These bags are airtight and can be used with a vacuum sealer for efficient removal of excess air.
4. Fill the Container
Carefully place your dry food or items into the chosen container. It's important not to overfill the container to allow space for the oxygen absorber without crowding the contents.
The corners of oxygen absorbers can be sharp, so that is why it is important not overfill. If you have thin mylar bags, they can poke the sides.
5. Add the Oxygen Absorber
Here's how to add the oxygen absorber correctly:
- Open the package of oxygen absorbers just before use. These absorbers begin working immediately upon exposure to air, so minimize their exposure to air.
- Place the absorber(s) on top of the items inside the container. If you're using multiple absorbers, evenly distribute them to ensure efficient oxygen removal.
- Avoid direct contact between the absorber and the contents.
- You may have to use multiple cc’s of oxygen absorbers depending on what your food is and how big the bag is.
- My Prepper’s Guide to Food Storage has a helpful chart to ensure you get your oxygen absorbers correct for what you are storing. It will also help you build and organize your food storage!
6. Seal the Container
For different container types, follow these guidelines:
- Glass Jars: Wipe the rim of the jar to ensure it's clean and free of debris. Place the lid on the jar and screw it tightly. The oxygen absorber will start removing oxygen from the air inside the jar. If there is debris on the lid, it will be a potential entrance for air. Similar to canning, you can use a vinegar dipped towel to wipe the rim.
- Mylar Bags: Seal the bag using a heat sealer, ensuring an airtight closure. If you're using bags with ziplock seals, press out as much air as possible before sealing.
- Vacuum-Sealed Bags: If you have a vacuum sealer, use it to remove excess air from the bag before sealing. Place the oxygen absorber inside before sealing the final edge.
7. Store Properly
After sealing the container, it's crucial to store it correctly to maximize the shelf life of your items. Follow these storage guidelines:
- Keep the container in a cool, dry, and dark place. Temperature and humidity can affect the effectiveness of oxygen absorbers.
- Label the container with the contents and the date of packaging. I have mylar bag-sized labels that will go right on the front of your mylar bags making them easy to organize. This information will help you keep track of the freshness of your items.
- Another way to store your mylar, is to store the bags in five gallon buckets with gamma lids. Gamma lids are a thick and durable lid that screws onto the top of the bucket, making them pest-proof.
Now that you know how to use oxygen absorbers effectively, let's explore some additional tips and considerations.
Tips and Considerations for Using Oxygen Absorbers:
Choose the Right Absorber Size: Select absorbers based on the volume of air inside the container. Using too few absorbers in a large container may not create the desired low-oxygen environment.
Single-Use Only: Oxygen absorbers are not reusable. Once they have absorbed oxygen, they become inactive and should be disposed of properly. If they are hard and not malleable, that means they have been used. Toss them.
Handle with Clean, Dry Hands: Always handle oxygen absorbers with clean, dry hands to prevent moisture contamination.
Resealing Containers: When you open a container with oxygen absorbers, replace the absorber with a new one if it has been exposed to air. Reseal the container to extend the shelf life of the remaining contents.
Check for Proper Seal: Ensure that your containers are tightly sealed to prevent air from entering. A loose seal can compromise the effectiveness of the absorbers.