Oxygen Absorbers 101

Let’s talk about oxygen absorbers. This topic always involves these questions: What on earth is an oxygen absorber? Why do I need them for food storage? Where do I buy them?

What are these things?

The short answer – they are the small packet things that you find in a variety of products that say “do not eat” or “this is not food.” Their purpose is to absorb the moisture in the air inside the package to keep everything nice and fresh. In your food storage, they keep your food dry and help to increase the shelf life.

The number you should use simply depends on how large your container is or how much empty space you have in the container. I have found that for 5-gallon buckets that are completely full (minus 1 inch or so for the lid) needs 5-6 absorbers. My full #10 cans need 1-2. My mylar bags usually get 2-3 because there is a little more empty space in those. If any of the containers aren’t completely full, I add more absorbers to account for the extra space.

How to store oxygen absorbers

The tricky thing about oxygen absorbers is that they can only “absorb” a certain amount of oxygen per packet. That’s why you need more than one in larger containers or in places with more empty space. That also means that you need to keep these little guys sealed up nice and tight at all times.

When you get your absorbers, they will likely come packaged in a clear bag that is completely sealed, tightly fitted around the packets. (Those little guys sucked all the extra air out of the bag during transit!) As soon as you open the bag, air will rush back in and the packets will again begin to absorb the air around them. Your goal is to keep the time they are exposed to the open air to a minimum. You want them to use all their power to absorb the extra air in your cans, bags, or buckets and not the air, in general. For this reason, I recommend having everything ready and waiting for the absorbers. As soon as you open your bag, quickly pull out what you need, then quickly squeeze the air out of the bag and secure it with an air-tight bag clamp. I use one that is similar this option I found on Amazon. Make sure that the clamp is long enough to seal the entire opening of your bag.

Another option is to store the unused oxygen absorbers in a glass canning jar.

Where do you buy these cool things?

You can buy oxygen absorbers from a variety of places, including the LDS Church, Amazon and many emergency supply outlets. The prices vary – A lot! I have found that LDS Church sells a good absorber at a good price. Feel free to shop around, though. You might find something you love even more!

If you are interested in the long answer, or just want to know the science behind how these little guys work, feel free to use Google. The explanation is beyond the scope of my blog (and my comprehension!).

Mylar Bags vs. #10 Cans

If you have spent any time looking for food storage items to buy, you have undoubtedly come across #10 cans. These are the large cans that contain things like dehydrated carrots or freeze-dried cheese. They are the most popular ways to package long shelf-life foods commercially (think Emergency Essentials, Augason Farms, Thrive, and others). The shelf-life for these cans, depending on the product, is generally 20-30 years. They are strong, stack and store easily, and are rodent-proof. On the flip side, rust can be a problem if they get wet (tainting your food inside) and they take up a lot of space.

For home canning, you need a large, heavy #10 can sealer (around $1500 for an electric model – which you want). In the past, the LDS Church had these sealers in their dry-pack canning locations where people could borrow them for no charge. Unfortunately, they no longer have them. It is also more difficult to find the empty cans and lids since the church no longer carries them.

Mylar bags are those shiny, silver bags that you find in some of the cookie or cracker packages from the grocery store. The mylar bags that are much thicker are perfect for storing food. They come in a variety of sizes and I have found that the 11×13 size holds about the same amount of product as a #10 can. The shelf-life is the same as the cans. These bags are strong, water-proof, and can be easily opened with scissors. They are more difficult to store because they don’t stack as nicely as the cans. They are not rodent-proof.

For home canning, mylar bags make things easy! You need a mylar bag sealer (I have heard that a flat iron works but I have not tried it personally). There are a variety of options, sizes, and prices. Because of their price and size, these sealers are so much easier to work with and own than the #10 can sealer. The mylar bags themselves are also much cheaper than the cans. The LDS church sells them here or you can get them other places, including Amazon.

There are pros and cons to both #10 cans and mylar bags. Rest assured that both are great options for storing your food for the long-term.