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Vacuum packing and mason jars questions
December 8, 2013 8:04 AM   Subscribe

I recently got a FoodSaver (vacuum packing device). I have a couple questions about accessorizing it with mason jars.

I've vacuum packed some spaghetti into bags just to try it, but the result seems unwieldy when it comes to storing it. What I'd really like (with respect to spaghetti) would be to vacuum pack it into a jar. So I poked around a bit, and found that you can purchase an accessory that allows your FoodSaver to vacuum pack various canisters.

I've read that the canisters that FoodSaver sells for use with this accessory aren't very good (they develop cracks, apparently). But you can use them with mason jars, too, which sounds great, except I can't find a mason jar that's tall enough to hold spaghetti (without breaking the spaghetti, which I don't want to do).

The tallest mason jar I've been able to find is 9.4 inches. To hold standard USA supermarket-bought spaghetti, it would have to be more like 11 inches. Are there any mason jars out there that are this tall, or taller?

My second question is about the lids. I don't really know much about home canning, but I believe that you're not supposed to reuse the lids of mason jars. Is that also true if you use them in this vacuum packing way, as opposed to "real" home canning?
posted by Flunkie to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've never seen Mason jars that tall. You can reseal jars with the same lids in the foodsaver hundreds of times. I would just use new lids for actual canning. FWIW, the "vacuum" produced by the foodsaver is not nearly of the same quality as canning produces (it doesn't actually produce a vacuum), so you can't treat the jars you produce as "canned" in terms of food safety.
posted by Lame_username at 8:08 AM on December 8, 2013

If you want to cook spaghetti and then vacuum-pack it into jars for storage at room temperature, I think you are begging to get sick.

On the other hand, if this is dry, uncooked pasta, I do not understand what you are hoping to achieve. Dry pasta is sold at retail in shelf-stable, compact packaging. There is no benefit that I can see to removing shelf-stable food product from its much better industry packaging into a home-brewed storage system of mason jars. As soon as you open the factory's packaging, you've dropped the shelf life considerably. What is the point of what you are proposing?
posted by Tanizaki at 8:17 AM on December 8, 2013

I too have no idea why you are vacuum packing pasta.

The mason jar lids are fine to reuse for your purpose as long as they can hold a vacuum
posted by JPD at 8:18 AM on December 8, 2013

Thank you, I am aware that dry pasta can be stored for relatively long periods without doing anything special. I have read in multiple independent sources that storing it in vacuum packing can extend what "long period" means. But even if you disagree with that, this is a derail. Please just assume, if you want, that I'm stupid and I want to vacuum pack dry spaghetti regardless of how stupid that is.
posted by Flunkie at 8:25 AM on December 8, 2013

[Removed a few iterations of "why do this with dry pasta?"; OP thanks for clarifying.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:30 AM on December 8, 2013

You should be fine to reuse the lids. They're not being heated the way they would be in home canning, so the gasket should remain undamaged. As long as the gasket part looks OK, it probably is OK as far as your purposes are concerned.

As far as finding tall enough mason jars, that I'm less sure about. If you look on some specialist canning-supply websites you will probably get a good picture of what the available selection looks like in terms of jar sizes. I suppose you could always switch to a shorter, more jarrable pasta if you can't find tall enough jars for spaghetti.

All that said, if I were looking for a way to extend the storage life of dry spaghetti, I would just put it in the freezer in its original packaging. That should extend its lifespan from "a few years" to "basically forever". I have put (open) packages of spaghetti in the freezer before for up to weeks at a time (because I didn't have a big enough tupperware to hold it and there's not a cupboard in the entire City of New Orleans that doesn't have a few roaches hiding in it) and the freezing didn't harm it at all.
posted by Scientist at 8:55 AM on December 8, 2013

And hey, since I'm a biologist and one of my favorite lab games is "how can I make absolutely sure that this will never go bad/degrade/become contaminated?" I present to you my protocol for making abso-damn-lutely sure that your dry spaghetti lasts for as long as it possibly can. This is way overdoing it, but since we're already talking about taking dry spaghetti out of its perfectly-good factory packaging and trying to do better, we may as well go all the way. No responsibility here if this ends up destroying your pasta or your Foodsaver, I'm just thinking out loud.

First, find those mason jars. I still haven't been able to find any that are tall enough (they may not exist) but for the moment we'll just assume that either you found them or else that you're using rotini or something.

Pre-heat your oven to 180F/80C. Anything over 80 degrees Celsius is pretty much death to almost all bacteria. We don't want to go hotter because we don't want to damage the pasta – maybe we will anyway at this temperature, but I doubt it. Experiment with a single jar of pasta first.

Pop your mason jars in the oven with the pasta in them but the lids off. Throw some desiccant packets in there while you're at it, so that the pasta will remain nice and dry in storage. Put the lids in the oven too, but don't attach them yet. Close up the oven and leave that stuff in there for about an hour until it's all been sitting at 80C for a good while. At this point it should be good and sterile, very nearly as sterile as if you'd actually boiled it.

The next part would be tricky. Open the oven door just enough to do your work, and with everything still in there (because you don't want to let cool air into the jars) get your Foodsaver to do its thing in terms of attaching the lids to the jars and vacuuming them on. Seal it all up good.

Take the jars out of the oven and let them cool on the counter for a while. While they're cooling, wrap them in tinfoil to prevent UV light from getting on your precious pasta and to prevent your jars from collecting frost later on.

Once they've come down to ambient temperature, put them in the freezer (or the deep freeze, if you have one). Now you've not only sucked most of the air out of your sterilized pasta jars, you've also dropped the remaining air down from 80C to 0C (Or -20C if you have a deep freeze). This will give you a considerably better vacuum than you would get if you'd done everything at ambient. Even without the Foodsaver it will probably be very nearly as good as normal home-canning, since you have an 80C temperature differential which is about the same as what you would get if you boiled your cans (100C) and then stored them at room temperature (22C, more or less). Plus, your pasta is now stored at sub-freezing temperatures where bacterial growth will be stopped or at very least dramatically slowed.

You now have dry, sterile, vacuum-sealed, frozen, light-protected pasta! It will never go bad. Your grandchildren could probably eat it, even if you don't have grandchildren yet! The tinfoil wrapping will prevent frost from collecting on the jar and eventually compromising the seal. It will also block UV light, not that UV is particularly bad for pasta as far as I know and not that there is going to be significant UV in your freezer anyway, but hey.

If you want to go fully overkill with your pasta-storage system, that's the way I'd do it. I'd want to experiment with a small batch first because I'm not totally sure that dry pasta can stand up to 80C for an hour without being damaged, but I bet it would be OK. I'm also not 100% sure that your Foodsaver will be OK with sucking air that hot, but I imagine it would be find for short bursts. In any case this is more of a thought experiment than something I would expect anyone would actually do, but until this post it never crossed my mind that the factory packaging would ever be considered unsatisfactory either, and I love a good overkill protocol.
posted by Scientist at 9:25 AM on December 8, 2013 [9 favorites]

Oh and more realistically, if you can't find those mason jars and you don't want to use a shorter pasta, you could just use the Foodsaver bags and then put those bags into a plastic tub or a cardboard box. That will fix your stacking issue for you without you having to go out and buy a bunch of fancy and possibly-nonexistent canning jars. Plastic and cardboard boxes come in an infinite selection of sizes, after all – it should be no big deal to find one that's the right size and shape for the amount of pasta you want to store, whatever that amount is.
posted by Scientist at 9:28 AM on December 8, 2013

Yes, you can vacuum seal pasta in jars, but there isn't a standard jar that will hold the pasta unbroken. There are some gallon size jars, but they do not have standard sized lids, and the food saver doesn't have an adapter that fits it anyway.

Yes, I've reused the jar lids multiple times without any issues. It sometime helps to warm them up on a heating pad or blanket to make for sure the gasket is pliable enough to seal well.

The food saver pulls a vacuum of about -20psi, which is actually better than the canning process seal in many cases, but the food product isn't sterilized so that is why you can't just vacuum seal anything.

I would like to suggest based on your goal, that you look at sealing your pasta in mylar bags using oxygen absorbers (search amazon and youtube) and you don't need the foodsaver for this process. Then you can package the sealed pasta in buckets or boxes where they will be in fine condition for 10-30 years. Spaghetti type pasta can easily be stored in this way without breakage.

I don't have refrigeration in my RV so I use this for many dry goods like rice, beans, peas, etc. I'll buy a big package at a warehouse store, make up a dozen vacuum jars of the item and then seal the remaining amount in a big bag stored in a bucket until it is time to restock the jars.

If you are looking for really long term storage, make for sure you have a place to keep it cool. 30 years at 50 degrees, 5 years at 80, 2 years at 90, etc.

If you have more specific questions, feel free to send me a message.
posted by Hollowman at 9:34 AM on December 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

1-1.5 gallon jars are about 12" high (think those huge jars that pickled eggs are stored in in TV Bars). You shouldn't have any problem reusing the jars though the best lids for reuse are rubber ring style lids. You can buy plastic lids with rubber seals for standard mason jars.
posted by Mitheral at 9:36 AM on December 8, 2013

I use the mason jar sealer that you are talking about all the time. I reuse the rubber sealing part of the lids all the time when using the vacuum sealing (but not if actually canning) I have never had problems with the seal breaking. I believe the main problem is that when heat canning the rubber softens and takes the shape of the jar a little to make a strong seal so it won't seal as well if you reuse it.

If that doesn't work then maybe buy a spaghetti jar and throw in some oxygen absorbers. You'd go through a few if you used the pasta a lot, but I am assuming as you want to store it it would not be for everyday use.
posted by wwax at 9:50 AM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd be very leery of pulling vacuum on gallon jugs, as someone mentioned, those vacuum savers pull more vacuum than canners. One of those imploding would be pretty dangerous. You could always break the spaghetti in half.
posted by 445supermag at 10:36 AM on December 8, 2013

I've used a Foodsaver for years and years.

I've got a tall plastic canister that I've used for spaghetti occasionally in the past. It works just fine. I've got several of the plastic canisters and have never had one crack.

Also, what made the bag unwieldy? There are different size of bags available. Maybe a different one would work better? There are also different manufacturers, so if one kind doesn't do it for you, try another.

Also, there are rolls available of the bag material, and you can make your own bags in whatever size you like. Just unwind the length you want, cut it (carefully) with scissors, then seal one end. Fill with whatever, and then vacuum seal the other end.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 10:36 AM on December 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

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