February 7, 2017

Dry-Pack Vacuum Canning

"Canned" pasta, dried beans, noodles, cereal, crackers, dried fruits, & more.

Dry-pack vacuum canning is a preservation method for dry foods such as grains, dried beans, crackers, pasta, cereals, herbs, spices, flour, dehydrated foods, etc. The gist of it is to store these foods in air-tight containers under a vacuum. It has appealed to me because I have such terrible problems with pantry moths. And while the chickens may benefit from the moths destruction, I certainly don't appreciate it. Consequently I've stored almost all of my moth-susceptible items in the refrigerator or freezer.

Probably the most common device for vacuum sealing foods is the FoodSaver. Every time I blog about my moth problem, someone usually suggests one of these. So why haven't I gotten one? Well, for several reasons. Cost is one, but not the biggest reason I haven't invested. The real turn-off for me is that I've only seen them advertised for vacuum sealing in plastic. That means I would be continually having to buy (and dispose of) the plastic sheets needed for the process. I'm trying to get off the consumer merry-go-round, not find more ways to stay on board, so I might as well stay with my current practice of refrigerating and freezing.

Something I have been tempted by is the Vacucanner. This clever device is a pressure canner converted for dry-pack canning. It uses regular canning jars with metal canning lids, so that's a huge plus. The deterrent is the cost, and I never seem to have a spare $400 available to make the purchase. All of my dry goods remain in the fridge and freezer. For the DIY crowd, there are instructions for a do-it-yourself version over at earthineer.

There are other ways to create a vacuum. Remember my blogging about finding this?

It's a "Pump-N-Seal Food Saver Vacuum Sealer" that I originally bought for Y2K. (Still sold here). It uses plastic tabs as check valves, which is less plastic and more economical than the sheets required by a FoodSaver. Mine's been packed away for a number of years, so I've never actually gotten to use it.

Recently I discovered a way to use it without punching holes in my canning jar lids for the plastic tabs. I learned of it while watching this video - "Dry Goods in Mason Jars - Vacuum Seal - Pump-n-Seal" by Learning Self-Reliance. It only required a few one-time-only-purchase attachments from FoodSaver.

FoodSaver jar sealers (regular and wide) and attachment hose
(which is supposed to attach them to the FoodSaver device).

The other items I needed were things I already have on hand: canning jars and metal canning lids.

Could I use used lids or did they have to be new ones? Opinions vary, but part of the appeal is reusing old lids. These can't be reused for water bath or pressure canning, and it seems a shame to throw them away after one use. As long as they are clean, dry, and not bent, they can be used for dry-pack vacuum canning again and again.

I decided to try out this technique with some dry artisan noodles I got from Aldi. The bags were 25¢ each on clearance, so I bought a bunch.

The Pump-N-Seal comes with a small hose which is attached to the bottom of the pump for use with their tab system. For dry-pack vacuum canning, it is attached to the side hole and the bottom is plugged (the plug came with the Pump-N-Seal).

Slip the Pump-N-Seal hose into one end of the Foodsaver attachment hose, and it's ready to use.

Two preliminary steps are a good idea:
  1. Kill possible moth eggs and larvae
  2. Sterilize the jars, especially for long-term storage
Killing Moth Eggs and Larvae. Most people recommend freezing to do this, with a temperature of at least 0°F (-18°C) for three to five days. Allow to warm to room temperature before packing into the jars.

Heat can also be used to kill moths. Recommended temperature is at least 140°F (60°C) for an hour. This can actually be combined with vacuum sealing, because as the lidded jar contents cool, they will create a vacuum. The following are two informative blog posts on oven canning:

Sterilizing the jars can be done several ways. Either of the above two heat methods would work. Or the jars could be steam sterilized for about 15 to 20 minutes. Another way would be in the oven. Place clean empty jars in a cold oven and turn it on to 225°F (107°C). Heat for 20 minutes, then turn the oven off and allow jars to cool before taking them out. It is said that dry goods in sterilized jars can keep for up to 15 to 30 years.

Canning lids must be washed and dried thoroughly as well.

Another bit of good advice is to not vacuum pack dried goods in high humidity. We want the contents to remain as dry as possible, so low humidity conditions are best.

Now, on to giving it a try.

Fill the jars and check to make sure rims and lids
are clean and smooth. Place the lid on top of the jar.

Place the appropriate size jar sealer on top and press firmly.

Attach the hose to the jar sealer accessory.

Depending on the size of the jar and how full it is, I'm
finding that 40 - 60 or so pumps make a good vacuum.

There is an audible "PFFT" when the hose is removed. The lid
should be firmly in place after the sealer accessory is removed.

The seal can be tested by tapping the lids. If they bounce or click when tapped, then repeat the process. Seals that appear to be successful but later pop may be due to something on the rubber ring part of the canning lid, or because the lid is bent. I left my sealed jars on the kitchen counter overnight and resealed the few that popped. If they popped again, then I discarded the lid as no longer being able to hold a seal. Rings can be applied for storage.

Check the seal about once a month by tapping on the lids. If the vacuum is broken check the contents. If everything remains dry and moth free, then the jar can be resealed.

The jars don't actually have to be canning jars. They just need to fit canning lids.

That's an old coffee jar in the center, and one of those 3/4
jars (the ones I wasn't sure what to do with) on the left. 

Of course if you already have the FoodSaver you don't need the Pump-N-Seal. Some folks use a manual brake bleeder to suck the air out of the jar, but do check out Learning Self-Reliance's video before buying one for this purpose. Apparently the bleeders can contain lead which doesn't recommend them for food related use. It's also possible to convert a bicycle pump into a manual vacuum pump, instructions here.

The beauty of this system is that the jars can be quickly and easily resealed every time they're opened. I also love that as long as I have enough jars and lids, then I don't need to continually buy supplies. Nor do I need electricity to do it! All that plus increased shelf-life and food quality. What's not to love?

The only thing left to mention is that dry-pack vacuum canning is not suitable for fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, or other high-moisture foods. Neither is it suitable for garden or sprouting seeds, i.e., things that require oxygen to maintain viability. Nor is it a good idea for oily rancid-prone foods such as nuts (although vacuum packing is recommended for freezing too, so if the nuts were popped into the freezer for storage this would probably help).

This vacuum packed jar of fancy bow tie pasta gave me some ideas
for gifts - jars of fancy pastas, dried soup mixes, baking mixes, etc.

Will the method live up to all the claims made about it? I don't know. I do know that basic storage recommendations will help, especially low light and low temperatures to increase longevity. For myself, I think it will help, especially if it deters pantry moths. And that means I'll be able to get back to more dehydrating, which I've somewhat fallen away from because of the moths.

So now I'll have to buy more 1/2-gallon canning jars! I buy wheat berries in 50-pound bags to store in the freezer, so how many jars would it take to vacuum can that! Plus I now use the Tattler reusable canning lids, so I no longer have a continual supply of old disposable lids. It's always something, isn't it?

Dry-Pack Vacuum Canning © February 2017 


Goatldi said...

I need to look into this. I used to have the "seal a meal" I believe it was called. Found it in another life at Costco. We parted ways when we moved in '06. Considering this uses no electric, we are always trying to figure ways to save what electric we have, it is helpful. I will be interested in the how it takes care of the moths and their progeny.

Leigh said...

I'll have to do an update this summer when moth season is in full swing. I'm really hoping to find a solution where I'm not continually having to buy moth traps and such.

Fiona said...

We bit the bullet so to speak and got the Vacucanner. One note observation on Vacucanning.
If you have any mice at all leave the rings on the jars. We discovered that mice can chew on the edges of the lids and in some instances break the seal, this ha occurred in our basement. We are finding it a challenge to deal with the mice.

Theresa said...

I keep looking at those vacuum sealers for frozen meats, but the constant need and use of plastic is the main deterrent for me. For me the solution was to have the butcher cut and pack the meat that way to begin with. We eat so little meat these days and at least I am not coming home, removing the supermarket wrap, rewrapping /vacuum sealing the meat.
Your dry canner system is very cool. We don't have much of a moth problem here though.

Leigh said...

Excellent tip, Fiona, thanks! Interesting that the mice can smell the contents even in a sealed jar. We do have mice, but with four cats they aren't much of a problem.

Leigh said...

Definitely agree with the plastic problem. Not only buying, but then having to throw it away. Even doing our own meat I have to buy plastic coated freezer paper. You've got me wondering if meat could be vacuum sealed in a jar and then stored in the freezer, because canning jars can be used for freezing too. I may have to give this a try. Thanks for the idea, Theresa!

Renee Nefe said...

Thank goodness we don't normally have much of a moth problem...although I did see one yesterday (I think it might have snuck in on some costumes I brought home...ack!) Moth wise we only get the Miller invasion but they aren't the destructive kind...well except for defecating near my light bulbs. Hope this works well for you. Sounds like an awesome plan.

Leigh said...

Lucky you! The other thing I'm hoping this will help with is humidity. Dan likes his store-bought soda crackers but we get enough humidity that even unopened sleeves end up becoming stale. So that's my other high hope with this method. We'll see how well it works once summer hits!

Ed said...

This greatly appeals to me because like you, I hate having to buy refills for any gadget. I also see quite a number of gallon and half gallon canning jars at yard sales and auctions but have never bought any because we never can anything that needs those quantities. They would be perfect for storing pasta and in our household, rice in bigger quantities. Thanks for a very informative post!

Leigh said...

I've never seen a gallon canning jar! Now I'm on the lookout, LOL. I love the half-gallon ones, but they aren't cheap. Yard sales would truly be the best way to go.

deb harvey said...

we got moths because i brought in bird seed. now i leave it in the trunk until it has been well frozen.
at the pet store;
'wondercide evolv flea and tick control'

holistic veterinarian recommended
austin, texas

expensive and worth it.

spray in empty pantry everywhere, not forgetting lintel, posts, and walls. corners of floor.
kills all exoskeletal creatures that i have used it for.

spray on your ankles to offend mosquitoes. daughter used it last summer and had only one mosquito bite!
careful as some are allergic to cedar.
it will take some doing to be rid of the moths. they seem to like cat litter when other places are anathema to them.
have actually found them in cloth folds on a clothes hanging rod near the cat litter box, too.

Leigh said...

Deborah, actually, I have something very similar for fleas on the cats! I didn't know I could use it for moths. I'll give it a try.

One moth problem that I will probably never beat is the ones in our home grown wheat hay. We harvest it with the grain heads attached and feed the whole thing to our goats. It gets full of moths, but I can't imagine where they came from. Can't be the grocery store since I've never brought groceries into the barn!

Mama Pea said...

Excellent, informative post, Leigh. Thank you. Food (no pun intended) for thought.

I would be lost without my 1/2 gallon jars for storing all kinds of dry food. Last fall we found them at one of the big chain stores for $8 for a case of six and I went a little crazy.

Living up here near the tundra does have it's advantages. No moth problems and not even a lot of humidity in the summer. I had to crack open the pantry door today because the temp in there was 39 degrees. High winds and slightly below zero outside. I know most people wouldn't call this type weather an "advantage!" :o]

Pricket said...

I have been using the Foodsaver mason jar attachments for years for my dehydrated garden produce, ( tomatoes, green beans, English peas, summer squash, strawberries, apples, pears, okra, etc.). Have used new and reused lids. food is then stored in dark root cellar. I have had no problem with spoilage or loss of flavor at 5 to 6 year point. It is now a principle part of my yearly harvesting and long term prepping. Others experiences may differ but it is critical to my long term plans to the point that I have purchased a duplicate system in the event they would not be available at some future point.

Leigh said...

That's a great buy for the 1/2-gal canning jars! I get them for a little under $10 per half-dozen, but I notice something like $12 is more common.

It's always good to find positive points about one's living location. I like being able to grow cool weather crops in winter, but I do wish our pantry was cooler. Your's sounds like it's almost a refrigerator! Ours just picks up too much heat from the fridge, freezer, and the rest of the house.

Leigh said...

I love hearing it's a success for you; that's encouraging. Good idea about getting spare parts, just in case.

Kev Alviti said...

Great idea. Would it work well for dried fruit and veg I wonder? As apples can go soft after a while in storage. Might have to look at importing one.

Leigh said...

I'm hoping the same thing for my dried fruits and veggies. I did some dried figs, peaches, cantaloupe, dates, green peppers, and tomatoes, and hope to do dried rugosa rose hips next year. Those hips were particular favorites of my pantry moths!

Ed said...

We live around a large amish colony and they are the ones I've seen with the gallon sized jars. I've generally seen them preserve meat in them, mostly breakfast sausage. They cook the patties and then make layers of them covered with hot fat that congeals and seals them inside. Then when they want to eat them they scrap away a layer of fat, pluck them out and fry them up quickly. They also use the fat for everyday cooking as well. I have also seen them pickle eggs and pigs feet in them.

Leigh said...

Thanks for that information, Ed, very interesting. I seem to recall in one of the Little House books that this is how Ma preserved sausage balls. That may be contraindicated in my hot climate however.

I got a comment on facebook from someone who used gallon jars to oven can dry goods, and she said that worked well. I have a few gallon jars, so I'll have to experiment. (The heat would kill the moth eggs and larvae too!)

Sandy Livesay said...


Sealing dry goods helps with keeping food for longer periods of time. We love using our food saving tools. I will admit, the tools are not cheap. We had to save for sometime before purchasing them.

My mom would buy bird seed for her parrot, and found the bird seed would have moths/eggs. She stored they seed in the house next to the bird cage. Once the seed was in the house, the moths seemed to be attracted to cereal in the cabinet. It took a long while to get rid of all the moths/eggs. We had to discard everything in her cabinets stored in bags or boxes. Washed everything down, and had to pull every curtain down to kill moths, and wash the curtains. It took us several weeks to get rid of the moths.

Sam I Am...... said...

Wonderful information Leigh! You never leave any stone unturned....thank you so much for sharing!

Leigh said...

Sandy, nothings cheap these days! But being able to preserve our own food (and more) makes it a good investment.

I'm glad to hear you were successful in getting rid of your mother's pantry moths. I've seen them flying around in grocery and feed stores, so if the dry good we buy are infested, it will be an ongoing problem.

Leigh said...

Seems like most of what I learn is to address problems I'm having. At least there are answers!

Leah said...

I could certainly mail you some of my old canning lids as we finish them! We still use the one time use lids unfortunately in my house. Haven't quite gotten to the point of using reusable yet!

Farmer Barb said...

Oh, Leigh, It IS always something! I will be interested to see how you fare when the humidity really picks up.

1st Man said...

OK, now that I'm searching your website I missed this post from a couple weeks ago. We got pantry moths at the farm and I had to throw everything out. BOOOO!!! We do have a vacuum sealer so I need to read up on all this. Thanks!!

Leigh said...

I would take them! But I'd also recommend you get (or rig up) a vacuum-creating device of your own!

Leigh said...

It should work! I have two quart jars of plain ol' soda crackers vacuum packed now, so that will be a good test. Dan likes them on occasion but we don't eat them often enough for them to not go stale. If I can accomplish that plus less moth damage, I'll be one happy gal!

Leigh said...

That is so annoying, isn't it? And they are so hard to get rid of. I'm really excited about this and am actually looking forward to "moth season" to see if this works.

I also did a couple jars of meat the other day before popping them into the freezer. The vacuum is supposed to help for freezer burn, and that would be another excellent use if for the vacuum sealer!

admin said...

I really like the FoodSaver method combined with the Pump-n-Seal. I will definitely try it. I have the P-n-S pump, but the disadvantage of the tabs is that in time they may allow air to enter. Perhaps a bit of dust got under the tab when you last released the vacuum with a pin and it appeared to work at first when re-sealing, but eventually enough air creeps in to remove the vacuum. The other problem is that if a mouse gets into the store room they will chew the tab. Even if they can't get at the food, they will have potentially ruined the content if you don't discover it for a while, especially in a humid climate.

Another problem I have discovered with using metal lids in a humid climate is that in a cool store they will eventually rust. It might be a good idea to place some thin plastic sheet (e.g. from a carrier bag) over the lid secured with an elastic band below the lid. That should at least delay any rusting.

In any case, for long-term storage it's a good idea to schedule periodic checks on the vacuum.

I have made my own tabs just to see if it can be danoe (easy), but so far have only used the ones that came with the pump. One thing that occured to me about the P-n-S tabs is that they are rather stiff plastic. When the vacuum is formed in a warm room like the kitchen, the plastic will be softer and dent more easily to the shape of the hole. When moved to a cold room the plastic becomes harder and may also shrink just enough to pull away from the hole. Whilst the content of the jar will also cool down and form a greater vacuum, it can only do so with a sound valve. I will do some experiments with my own tabs which are more flexible to see if there is a difference.

Leigh said...

Judy, great comment, thanks for all the information. Even though I got the P-n-S for Y2K prep, I never used it! Something about the pinholes and tabs seemed too fussy. I did research making your own tabs, but not sure where that got to. Have to agree about rust in a humid climate, that's the same problem I have with wet canning. And maintaining the vacuum. I'll be interested in your experiments. Vacuum sealing really broadens the possibilities for storage, so it's a good skill to hone.

Nancy In Boise said...

Glad I saw this! They have the new ones too that come with the plastic covers, no holes to make on the lids

Leigh said...

Nancy, I'll have to look into that. Thanks for sharing!