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The Essential Guide to Using Oxygen Absorbers in Food Storage

As someone who spends a considerable amount of time in the kitchen and values the longevity of food, I've learned that proper storage is key. Oxygen absorbers, small packets that do a big job, have become an integral part of the food preservation routine for many. These nifty little tools are crucial for prolonging the shelf life of dry goods by preventing oxidation and the growth of aerobic pathogens and pests.

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How Oxygen Absorbers Work

Oxygen absorbers contain iron powder which, when exposed to oxygen, begins to oxidize. This reaction removes oxygen from the air and can reduce it down to less than 0.01% in an airtight container. It’s this lack of oxygen that keeps food from spoiling and maintains its quality.

When and Why to Use Oxygen Absorbers

Oxygen absorbers are ideal for dry, shelf-stable foods such as grains, legumes, nuts, and spices. They are particularly useful when you are packing food items in mason jars or mylar bags for long-term storage. You'd want to use them when you're looking to store food for months or even years, as they significantly extend the shelf life and freshness of your goods. The key is to match the size of the absorber to the volume of the container and the type of food, using larger absorbers for more airy foods like pasta and smaller ones for denser foods like beans.

Choosing the Right Size Oxygen Absorber

The size of the oxygen absorber should match the volume of the container and the type of food you are storing. A handy reference chart, like the one posted with permission from PackFreshUSA, suggests using a higher capacity absorber for foods with more air, like pasta, and a lower capacity for denser foods like sugar. For example, a one-gallon to two-gallon container would require a 300cc oxygen absorber for dense foods and up to 1000cc for lighter, fluffier items.

Chart showing a guideline for oxygen absorbers
Oxygen Absorber Guideline

Mason Jars and Mylar Bags

Mason jars and quality mylar bags are both excellent choices for storing dry goods with oxygen absorbers. For mason jars, which are often used in smaller quantities such as pints and quarts, a 50cc to 100cc oxygen absorber is typically sufficient. For larger mylar bags, which can range up to 5 or 6 gallons, the size of the absorber can vary from 1400cc to 3000cc, depending on the food's density.

Oxygen Absorbers with Vacuum Sealing and Desiccants

Using oxygen absorbers in vacuum-sealed containers can be redundant since vacuum sealing removes a significant amount of air. However, there are some instances where adding an oxygen absorber can provide an extra layer of protection, especially if you're concerned about the long-term integrity of the vacuum seal. I find oxygen absorbers most beneficial for dry, non-perishable items such as grains, legumes, and spices.

Now, I've seen some confusion about whether to use oxygen absorbers with desiccants. They have different functions—oxygen absorbers remove oxygen, while desiccants absorb moisture. Generally, they're not used together because they serve different types of storage needs. Desiccants are great for environments where moisture is a concern, but when it comes to dry goods in an airtight container, oxygen absorbers are usually sufficient on their own.

When Not to Use Oxygen Absorbers

You should avoid using oxygen absorbers with foods that have high oil content, as they can turn rancid even in the absence of oxygen. These include nuts and seeds. Moreover, they're not suitable for moist foods because they can promote botulism in the absence of oxygen. Always ensure your food is completely dry before using an oxygen absorber. Botulism can thrive in low oxygen, room temperature, and moist environments.

In conclusion, mastering the use of oxygen absorbers can take your food preservation to the next level. Remember to tailor the size of the absorber to your container and food type for the best results. And always keep an eye on your storage environment – it's as vital as the preservation method itself. Happy dehydrating and food storing!

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