There will always be things we don’t think about before we encounter an emergency. But, I’m here to help you think about some of the non-food storage items you might want to keep on hand for the next rainy day.
What You Need to Know About Using Oxygen Absorbers for Food Storage
You know those little packets in food canisters or bags? Yeah, those are oxygen absorbers (aka OA) and they’re a great way to keep food fresh for longer. I know it might sound boring, but keep reading because I’m going to share the What, Why, When and How of using oxygen absorbers for food storage.
If you plan on doing any Mylar bagging or Bucketing of your own food, this is information you’ll want to have handy.
**This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click on a link and make a purchase, I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you.
What IS an oxygen absorber?
First, let’s just make sure you’re clear on what oxygen absorbers are. Maybe this is obvious to some of you, but others not so much.
Oxygen absorbers are those little packets you’ll often find in sealed bags or cans of food, some supplements and vitamins. I see it in beef jerky a lot. They’re made up of iron powder and they do what the name implies: they absorb oxygen from a sealed container.
Don’t go freaking out about the iron powder. Though the absorber allows moisture in, the iron can’t get out (unless the satchel is cut or punctured). Science is cool.
Why should I use Oxygen Absorbers for food storage?
If you’re trying to build up a long term food supply, oxygen absorbers are a great way to extend the shelf life of certain foods.
In addition, oxygen absorbers also:
- Keep Vitamins A, C and E from oxidation
- Prevent mold
- Prevent discoloration
- Help keep dry goods free from pests (have you ever opened a bucket of flour to find little gnats? Yeah, it’s gross.)
- Keep food from spoiling and growing bacteria
- Eliminate the need for additives
- Preserve product quality
What is the shelf life of opened vs unopened oxygen absorbers?
Unopened in their original packaging, you can expect OAs to stay good for about 2 years. You can store unused packets in an airtight container for up to 6 months.
Once you open that bag, you need to use them within 15 minutes or get them resealed. That means you better be ready to get those suckers in your food bags or buckets quick. Don’t open the package and then prep the rest of the stuff.
If you do not plan to use all of the OAs, have a container ready to store them in. Ideally, you want to store them in a container that is just large enough to hold the extra absorber packets, and then seal it up tight. Mason jars and vacuum/iron seal bags are great options for this. You can use a Ziploc bag temporarily, but that won’t work for long term.
Also good to note: oxygen absorbers are not reusable but they are pretty budget friendly.
What Types of Foods Can I Use Oxygen Absorbers With?
Typically, you should use OAs with foods that are low in oil and have a moisture content 10% or below.
I want to point out that you’ll see white rice on this list, but not brown rice. That’s because brown rice has a higher oil content, which makes it susceptible to going rancid. This has to do with the processing that takes place – with white rice, more of the external layers are removed and that is where more of the fatty content is located.
You simply cannot store brown rice as long as you can store white rice, even with oxygen absorbers.
How Many Oxygen Absorbers Do I Need to Use?
Let’s start with a basic understanding of CCs.
- CCs are what matters; not the amount of oxygen absorbers. Oxygen absorbers come in all different variations of CCs. One 2,000-CCs oxygen absorber has the same oxygen absorbing capacity of four 500-CCs oxygen absorbers. Either option is great for a food and quantity that requires 2,000 CCs to be preserved for long-term use.
- Typically, the denser the food, the less CCs you need. For example: flour is higher in density than pasta. There is more air around each individual piece of pasta, than there is around each granule of flour. Therefore, flour requires less CCs of oxygen absorbers than pasta does.
- When in doubt, round up. It’s always going to be better to use too many oxygen absorbers than not enough; the extra CCs won’t harm your food.
Now back to the original question: How many oxygen absorbers do I need to use?
Just being up front here, answers to this question are all over the map. So I’m erring on the side of caution and going with
- The highest amount of CCs recommended (because remember, extra CCs don’t hurt)
- The lowest shelf life (because I’d rather eat the food well within its expiration date than have to wonder if maybe we should have trusted the person who said it would last 20 years longer than everyone else said it would).
I just don’t think you want to mess with spoiled food – or maybe that’s just me.
That being said, I’ve done the research so you’re not having to compare and contrast 10 different websites and trying to calculate it all. Simply snag this free printable below and keep it handy while you’re prepping your food.
How to Package Your Food Using Oxygen Absorbers
Let’s talk about the process of using OAs when packaging up your food.
I mentioned this just above, but I’m going to say it again…You need to have everything prepped and ready before you open your oxygen absorber bag! Otherwise you’re just going to waste all those packets because they will fill up with oxygen before you even get them in the food container.
I’m specifically talking about mylar bagging and bucketing because that is what I have personal experience with. If you are wanting to learn more about canning, this blog post of do’s and dont’s from Food Storage Moms is a great resource.
Gather all your supplies (and knowledge)!
- Food that you’re preserving
- Bags or buckets
- Whatever you need to seal those containers (flat iron, lids, etc)
- Measuring cups
- Be sure you know how many OAs you’re going to need
Set up each bag or bucket that you plan to fill.
Measure your food and pour it into the containers.
Once your containers are full, go ahead and open up the oxygen absorber package. Place the appropriate number (more on this in a minute) of absorber packets on top of your food. Honestly, they can go anywhere in the package, but since you need to seal things up pretty quick, it’s just easiest to toss them on top. Plus, then you know exactly how many packets you dropped in.
Put the unused oxygen absorbers in a mason jar or Ziploc bag for safe-keeping until you’re ready to seal them up. Remember, if stored properly, these will stay good for use up to 6 months.
Once you have your containers filled with food and have placed the OAs, you’re ready to seal it all up for long term storage. Use a heat sealer, flat iron, clothing iron, etc. for mylar bags. Use an air-tight plastic lid for buckets.
After you have everything sealed up tight, you’ll want to label the packages. I like to put the packing date as well as the expiration date on my mylar bags. I don’t want to have to look up shelf life of different items several years in, to determine if my food is still good or not.
*Don’t forget to label what’s inside the bag too! Haha!
Re-package your OAs in something airtight (like a vacuum sealed bag, a mason jar, etc).
Store your mylar bags/buckets in a cool, dry place.
After a few days, double check your containers to make sure that the oxygen absorbers are actually working. This is mainly necessary with Mylar bags. You should see a slightly more compressed package. If not, you might need to add another OA and then re-seal the package.
When should I NOT use oxygen absorbers for food storage?
While these little packets come in handy for storing many of your favorite dry foods, there are definitely times you do NOT want to toss them in. This list gives some guidelines to help you know if you need to worry about adding an OA and when you definitely shouldn’t.
Basically, oxygen absorbers are a great way to help keep food fresh and safe for a longer period of time.
OAs are easy to use, but you do need to understand what foods to use them with and make sure you’re adding the appropriate amount of CCs to your containers.
And for the love, make sure you get those containers (whether they be mylar bags, buckets, cans, etc.) sealed up properly! Otherwise you did all that work without any of the benefit from the oxygen absorbers.
If you have any questions, feel free to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I love hearing from you and am always happy to answer your questions!
Berkey water filters are THE BEST water filters, not only for emergencies, but for everyday use. They are so good, they are classified as a water purifier, which is a step up from a filter!