One of our biggest worries during a camping trip is eating enough and eating healthy. Unlike homes, we do not usually have access to cooked meals and usually have to rely on dry and processed food that is unhealthy and not very fun to eat.
Also, if you are going to cook a full meal for yourself, it will take a big chunk of time out of your day that you could have spent doing fun activities otherwise. For such a situation, pre-cooked, vacuum sealed meals are no less than a blessing. In this article, we are going to explore everything about cryovac cooked meals or vacuum sealed meals.
So, How to prepare vacuum sealed meals for camping? To prepare vacuum sealed meals for camping, cook your food items in bulk, make meal size packets in a plastic bag, suck out the air with a vacuum sealer and freeze ahead of your camping trip. At mealtime, just reheat and have your dinner ready in 15 minutes.
But its easier said than done. There are a lot you should know to correctly vacuum seal your food ahead of a camping trip so, let’s look at things more closely.
What is a cryovac or vaccum sealed meal?
Vacuum sealing or cryovac is a method of packing food items (cooked or uncooked) in airtight plastic bags by removing air before sealing.
This technique is used to store fresh vegetables, meat, nuts, and other suitable food items. It increases the shelf life of food by inhibiting the growth of bacteria and fungi. Hence the food remains fresh and unspoiled for a relatively long period.
Vacuum-sealed food also reduces the bulk of carrying non-cooked food while camping.
If you pre-cook the food item before sealing, you can reduce your stove time significantly at the campsite. All you have to do is reheat the food and add some seasoning.
How to prepare vacuum sealed meals for camping?
Vacuum sealed meals are quite easy to prepare. All you need is plastic bags and a vacuum sealer which is not very expensive. You can find one for less than $100 on Amazon.
My go-to choice for a vacuum sealer is the NutriChef Vacuum Sealer (Amazon Link). It’s affordable at around 50 bucks (check Amazon for the latest prices) and does the job well. Another good brand is FoodSaver (Amazon Link) but it comes with a slightly higher price tag.
Once you have your vacuum sealer and thermal sealable plastic bags, follow the following instructions to get your food ready for your camping trip.
Select your food items carefully
NOT ALL FOOD ITEMS CAN BE VACUUM SEALED. This point is very important. While you can precook and seal a wide range of items, not all foods are meant to be shelved in absence of oxygen/air.
Some foods have anaerobic bacteria that thrive in the absence of oxygen and are dangerous to health. Some vegetables in the Cruciferae or Brassicaceae family emit certain gases that spoil them in a sealed container.
(see a list of common food items that can and cannot be sealed at the end of this blog)
Pre cook all your food
The main purpose of vacuum sealing your food is to cut down your preparation time at the campsite. For this purpose, we precook all our food items at home.
Cook your vegetables, meat, rice, pasta, etc. in large batches at home a day before you leave. Let them cool down in the pan before you put them in the sealing bags.
Put all the food in clean sealable polyethene bags
Take a vacuum seal plastic bag commonly available in the market. If you are more of an online shopper, you can order them from Amazon as well (Amazon link).
Make sure the plastic bag is clean with no leakage. Now fill the plastic bags with the cooked food item via a spoon or spatula.
Try to use small portion size meals instead of bulk ones. It will lessen wastage and leftover.
Seal the bags using vacuum sealer
Now, place the filled plastic bags in the vacuum sealer. The exact instructions to seal the food properly depend on which device and model you are using, but they are pretty self-explanatory with easy-to-understand buttons at the top.
When you turn on your vacuum sealer, it will remove all the air from the bag before thermally bonding the two layers together to seal them. You can also double seal to prevent any spoilage.
Freeze vacuum sealed bags
Now, keep all these vacuum-sealed packages in the freezer/fridge. Few anaerobic bacteria can grow in the absence of oxygen easily. Keeping the Vacuum-sealed meals in the freezer or fridge will help to deal with those bacteria as well as they can’t grow at low temperature.
At the campsite, you can easily cut the seal. Reheat your food in a saucepan or boiling pot. You will have an amazing meal ready to eat in few minutes.
Which foods can be vacuum sealed?
Certain food items are easy to go with the vacuum-sealing technique. Here is the list of food items that can be easily vacuum sealed.
You can cook or fry these items before sealing as well. These items can be preserved or stored much longer after vacuum sealing. You can easily carry them for camping without worrying about spoilage.
- Vegetables like lettuce, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, etc.
- Meat (my favourite item to vacuum seal)
- Soups and sauces
- Nuts, almonds, and dry fruits
- Snacks, cookies, and fries
- Flour, sugar, and rice
- Hard and pasteurized cheese
- Marinated Chicken or beef steaks
- Curry and gravies
- Freshly boiled pasta to cook for later
What foods should not be vacuum sealed
Some food products contain anaerobic pathogens (illness-causing bacteria) that can grow better in the absence of oxygen. According to National Center for Home Food Preservation, packing such food items in vacuum sealed bags will help in the growth of these bacteria that can be dangerous to health.
Few food items release certain gases or chemicals as well. These should not be vacuum-sealed like:
- Raw mushrooms
- Freshly cooked vegetables (let them cool at room temperature before sealing)
- Unpasteurized and soft cheese
- Vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, radish, cabbage, and turnips
Benefits of vacuum sealing food
Reduction in cooking time: Vacuum sealing precooked food items helps you enjoy your time in the wilderness better. You don’t have to worry about dinner because you can get it ready within 15 minutes.
Consume less fuel: Since you have cooked most of your food at home, you will only need to reheat it which uses significantly less propane and help your propane cylinder last longer.
Cryovac food takes less space: Vacuum sealed food items take less space in your backpack or camping refrigerator because of all the removed air which otherwise takes a lot of packing volume. You can carry more in the same available space.
Longer shelf life: Cryovac food inhibits the growth of bacteria and mold due to the absence of oxygen. Due to reduced bacterial growth, the food remains fresh for a longer period in the wild.
Enjoy healthy food: Without vacuum sealing home cooked food, you might end up buying a lot of canned food. Canned food are easier to carry and consume but they are unhealthy. A lot of chemical preservatives go into keeping the canned food “fresh” for years. Vacuum sealing your clean and hygienic home cooked meals help you eat better during camping.
Better food management: By making portion-size sealed meals, you can actually save food. If you are going to cook a full meal at the campsite, you will often end up cooking more and wasting a lot. With portion size sealed meals, you only reheat/cook what you need.
Is vaccum sealed meal safe to use?
Vacuum sealing definitely inhibits the growth of food spoiling bacteria and helps keep the perishable food fresh for long. When you remove air from the container, you restrict the oxygen supply for most bacteria, molds, and fungi to multiply and grow.
However, if you don’t follow basic cleanliness and safety procedures, you might end up contaminating your food with certain anaerobic bacteria that thrive in oxygen-less environment, thus making the food unhealthy to consume.
To make sure your food is perfectly safe for consumption, follow the following basic guidelines.
- Precook your food at home to kill bacteria and pathogens.
- Wash your hands and always use clean utensils for cooking and storing food.
- Make sure you use new plastic bags to avoid any contaminations.
- Always freeze the sealed food in your camping refrigerator to inhibit anaerobic bacteria.
How long does vacuum sealed food last?
Vacuum-sealing prolongs the shelf life of the food significantly. How long can it lasts depends on the kind of food you have vacuum sealed and how it is stored after sealing.
If you are vacuum sealing food at home, your main aim is to increase the shelf life. But since we are discussing cryovac for camping here, the main aim is not to increase shelf life (most camping trips are less than a couple of weeks anyway) but to decrease prep time at a campsite and get healthy, home-cooked meals.
If you are using vacuum sealing with refrigerated storage, you can be sure that your food will last at least a few months (for example vacuum-sealed meat can last up to 3 years in a deep freezer).
Can you vacuum seal soups and sauces?
Yes, you can seal runny foods like soups and sauces but before you do that, you will have to freeze them first.
Prepare the food, let it cool down at room temperature, and once cooled, put it in the freezer to freeze at below zero. Once fully frozen, you can cut the solid into smaller meal size portions and seal each in a separate plastic bag to carry in your camping refrigerator
How to vacuum seal food without a vacuum sealer?
If you are about to leave on your camping trip and just discovered vacuum sealing but don’t have the time to actually order a vacuum sealer, don’t worry. There is a simple method to seal foods in ziplock bags without a vacuum sealer. It won’t be as effective as the actual vacuum-sealed bags, but it will do the trick.
This method utilizes a concept called water displacement. You simply use high water pressure in a container to “displace” the air out of the plastic bag. Instead of sucking the air out with a machine sealer, you “push” the air out using water pressure.
Here is how it works.
- Take a bathtub or pot full of water.
- Fill the food you want to vacuum seal in the zipper bag.
- Seal the bag using the zipper leaving around an inch of the zipper at one corner.
- Lower the bag in the water holding the unsealed corner above the water surface.
- The water pressure will cause all the air out of the bag through the corner opening.
- Seal off the opening before the whole bag is submerged in the water. Pull the whole bag out of the water.
- Ta-Da! You have perfectly sealed food in a plastic bag.
You can simply utilize this technique and get air-free vacuum-sealed food. You can repeat the process if there is any air left inside the bag. To watch how it is done, see the below video for visual demonstration.
What other things can be vacuum seal in addition to food for camping?
In addition to preserving food for a longer period and have a fresh home-cooked meal in less time at the camping site, a secondary benefit of sealing food is to save packing space. But the good thing is, you can seal almost anything to reduce the amount of space it takes in your backpack.
What other things can you vacuum seal to save space and keep them safe? Here is a starter list.
Personal belongings: You can vacuum seal your clothes and other personal items. This will help you keep your stuff safe from water and moisture and save packing space. If your camping site is expecting rain, it will help you to water seal your mobile phones, keys, tablets, and money.
Documents and papers: If you are planning to camp around a water lake or pond then it’s a good idea. Vacuum sealing your important documents and papers will keep them waterproof.
Fire supplies: For starting a campfire, the fire supplies must be moisture-free. Vacuum sealing all the fire supplies will help you to keep them safe.
First aid kit: You can vacuum seal your medical kit like bandages, ointments, gauzes, and medicines. It will keep them dirt-free and easy to carry. It will also avoid any kind of spillage and leakage.
Toilet paper: By packing toilet paper you can free up a lot of space by vacuum sealing. Vacuum sealing will shrink the size of toilet papers making them easy to carry. You can easily reshape the paper before using it.
Wet wipes: Vacuum sealing will help wet wipes to retain all the moisture. You can keep your hands clean throughout the trip easily.