In a previous pieces, I explained the reasons you may want to take some steps to keep your food stores safe from air, light, and critters. Here, I want to give an explanation of how to use mylar bags and plastic buckets to safeguard your food.
Assemble Your Materials
In order to seal your food up well, you will need several things, beginning with an iron and ironing board. You do not need steam.
You may want a large pitcher or bucket to place the bags in while filling so they don’t turn over and spill. If you are filling quite a few at once, you may want a plastic storage bin to queue the bags up in after they are filled.
Some people use a yard stick or some other firm straight edge to press against when applying the iron. I haven’t found it absolutely necessary, but it can be helpful.
A large measuring cup or scoop will help you transfer the food from their original containers to the mylar bags.
At the last possible moment, you will want to open your oxygen absorbers from their sealed package. Plan to either reseal unused absorbers in a mylar bag or put them in a glass jar with sealing lid (canning jars are great for this) immediately. I prefer the jar so that I don’t use up a mylar bag unnecessarily. Calculate in advance how many you will need for each bag you are filling based on the bag size and the contents.
You will need to label the food once it is sealed up, so I use a permanent marker and sometimes blank white stickers (like name labels).
How to Seal Food
Create a little assembly line for yourself so that you can work quickly once the O2 absorbers are in opened. If you are using the big 5 or 6 gallon size bags, go ahead and place them inside the buckets first. Begin by scooping or pouring the food (beans, rice, or whatever) from the original package into the bags.
Once each bag is nearly full, jiggle and shake it to pack the food in better and remove any air pockets. Do not overfill the bags. You need several inches of mylar at the top to be able to seal it shut and you also need to be able to fit a bucket lid on top.
Move on to the next bag and repeat until you have quite a few filled. Turn on the iron.
Open the package of O2 absorbers. Put however many you need into each bag, pressing them down toward the center of the bag. Jiggle the contents to settle them again. Do all bags at once. Put remaining absorbers into the glass jar and close. Use the smallest jar they will fit into.
Pull the top of the bag closely tautly. Fold the end of the bag neatly and flatly over at the top of the contents. Place the straight edge there and then carefully turn the bag on its side. Press firmly down against the straight edge with the iron. Hold it there for several seconds.
Slide the iron down the remainder of the bag opening slowly. You want to create your seal closest to the contents first and then work your way down toward what had been the opening.
Did it really seal?
After the bag has cooled, check for a seal. You should be unable to open the bag now. If it did not seal, try turning the heat setting on the iron higher and moving more slowly over the bag. If it’s sealed, continue with the remaining bags.
If you have really thoroughly settled the contents of the bag and squeezed out a lot of air, you will probably find that the bags look vacuum-sealed the next day. That’s great. If they don’t, you’re still probably okay if you know they are indeed sealed and the O2 absorbers were fresh.
Oxygen only makes up about 20% of air. The absorbers only bind the oxygen so the remaining 80% that may have prevented the bag from looking vacuum sealed aren’t going to spoil the food. Also, I have found that some things take on a more shrink-wrapped look than others. Rice and beans tend to appear textured like their contents while sugar doesn’t appear as tight but the contents seem to harden into a block.
Label the bag with what is inside, the date, and any pertinent cooking information. For example, it would be nice to know if the rice inside is parboiled for a shorter cooking time. Once the bags are sealed, it’s very hard to tell what is inside, so label immediately. I also try to put a printed copy of instructions (like cook times, ratios of water to rice, etc) inside the buckets.
If you are using several smaller bags inside a bucket, fit them as compactly as you can, but be sure you can get a tight fitting lid on still. Consider storing salt or other seasonings inside the bucket as well to make the food more palatable when you open the bucket. I attach duct tape labels to the top and blank side of each bucket also, so at a glance I can find one containing what I need and use the items in order.
Store the buckets in as cool a temperature as you can. Elevated temps shorten the nutritious life of food.