The Nitty Gritty of Commerical Food Storage Packaging: Oxygen vs. Nitrogen in Food Storage

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oxygen vs nitrogen

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Over the years, I’ve tried out dehydrated and freeze dried foods from many different companies. Nearly all of the packages I opened, whether cans, buckets, or pouches, had an oxygen absorber inserted inside.

When I’ve packed my own foods in 2-liter soda bottles, buckets, or canning jars, I’ve also used oxy absorbers because they are the easiest technique in food storage packaging for removing oxygen, one of the main enemies of food storage.

However, there is actually a much better system for preserving food for the longest shelf life possible, and that is a system that removes the oxygen and replaces it with nitrogen. Ready Reserve Foods is one of only 2 or 3 in the country that use this system in all their food packaging. I’ve toured their facility and have seen this system in action.

Nitrogen vs. Oxygen

Because we typically use up the food in our kitchen pantries and refrigerators rather quickly, we don’t often see the results that oxygen has on food. Although oxygen makes up only 21% of the air we breathe, it can cause food to spoil, go rancid, lose its nutrients, as well as its flavor.

Oxygen allows microorganisms to grow, which results in mold, and when there are microscopic insect eggs present in dry foods such as cornmeal, flour, and pasta, the oxygen provides a friendly environment for those insects to develop and eventually hatch.

Nitrogen, on the other hand, is actually beneficial to food. When used in food packaging, it helps the food retain its flavor, smell, and appearance, and extends the shelf life.

So, when it comes to food storage, oxygen = bad! Nitrogen = good!

Oxy absorbers are the easy way out with food storage packaging

Removing oxygen from a can or pouch of food is time consuming. It has to be vacuumed out very slowly. This takes time and not a lot of companies have the time, or want to take the time, to do that. Generally, oxygen absorbers are okay but they aren’t nearly as effective for very long-term storage.

The food storage companies that solely rely on oxygen absorbers do so because its easier, less expensive, and, to a point, effective. When you and I re-package bulk food for storage, using oxygen absorbers is, by far, the easiest technique for removing oxygen. Regardless of where the food is packaged, oxygen absorbers do not remove all the oxygen.

Over time, though, the oxygen that remains in the sealed containers will have a detrimental affect on the food in spite of the absorber.

Buying food for the long haul

If you believe, like many Americans do, that keeping food stored for emergencies is a priority, you’ll want to take into consideration how that food has been packaged. Companies that use only oxygen absorbers and claim a 25-30 year life of their food are grossly exaggerating.

Under the most ideal conditions, including consistent storage temperatures of 70 degrees or lower, most foods will be at their optimum for 10-15 years, or so. When preservatives are added to the food, the shelf life can be extended for a few more years, but oxygen will still be present.

Ready Reserve Foods takes the time to slowly vacuum the oxygen out of every container and then fill them with nitrogen. The nitrogen pushes out any remaining oxygen and the container is sealed. At most, there might be 2% of oxygen remaining. This method, by far, is the most effective.

Should I throw out my foods with oxy absorbers?

Since most every food storage company relies solely on the use of oxygen absorbers, chances are the food you have purchased fall into that category. This doesn’t mean you have been buying rubbish, just that there are foods out there that have been more effectively packaged.

In my own food storage pantry I have foods from at least 5 different companies, including Ready Reserve Foods. The food I’ve purchased from them has been individual ingredients, such as parboiled rice (I love it!), chicken and beef stock for soups, noodles, and dehydrated vegetables. All of these can be used in my everyday cooking, but because of the way they’ve been packaged, I’m keeping many of them on hand for longer-term storage.

If all your food storage products have come from companies using the oxygen absorber technique, it’s more important than ever to keep that food stored in the coolest spot in the house. When it comes to food storage, cooler is always better.

NOTE: Until further notice Ready Reserve Foods is offering a 20% discount on all their food storage products. Use coupon code SURVIVAL.


5 thoughts on “The Nitty Gritty of Commerical Food Storage Packaging: Oxygen vs. Nitrogen in Food Storage”

  1. Thank you for all of you research and trips. I am a Father and I love your webpage. I am just getting started and I find your tips extremely helpful!!

  2. Nitrogen is absolutely the way to go here. One way for preppers to use it in their own preps is to look into homebrew beer keg kits that use nitrogen to force beer out of the keg instead of CO2. Basically you need a tank filled with nitrogen beer gas, regulator, and some hoses.

    By putting the hose in the bottom of whatever you’re sealing (of course it has to be air tight for it all to work), the heavier nitrogen pushes all the CO2 out of the container which can then be safely sealed. There’s likely still oxygen in there, but since the nitrogen is heavier, the oxygen should stay at the top of the container hopefully above your food.

  3. Makes perfect sense although this is the first time I have seen this advice. I guess it is similar to optics systems that are more reliable because waterproof and nitrogen purged.

  4. Are there any products similar to oxy absorbers that add nitrogen? I really don’t know anything about this… Thanks!

    1. I believe you can purchase a gadget that flushes nitrogen into containers. It’s a very good way to prepare food for storage but because the absorbers are easier to use, most people go with those.

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