Pros: Easy to use. Foods last a lot longer.
Cons: Can be tedious and requires some physical effort.
After having looked at the Tilia and Food Saver brands at the stores during the Christmas gift giving season, I thought it would be a good idea to get one for our own home use. We shop at Costco a lot and their quantities are generally quite large. Additionally, we use a lot of bulk coffee. We select various brands and roasts and blend them for our taste. We buy them in the whole-beans form and grind them ourselves or use the in-store grinders. It's important to keep them as fresh tasting as possible. We use a stove-top Italian Coffee maker and it makes very strong expresso-style coffee. Any off flavors will be prominent and easily detected. Therefore, our desire for freshness is a big one.
Keeping other food items as fresh as possible by removing the oxidizing agent (air) for room temperature, refrigerated and freezer storage environments seemed like a good idea, as well. After looking around, I selected a very basic unit, the Black & Decker VS 200. I've used it about 5 months, now, and can repeat with confidence that the vacuum technology does extend shelf life of all foods.
I found the B&D VS 200 on sale at Kohl's for $54 and we had a coupon for an additional 15% off. Our net cost came out at $49.69 (includes 8.25% sales tax). It came with a roll of the special plastic bags but no other accessories.
Like all the the vacuum food units on the market, it is extremely easy to use. In theory, bags on a roll can be cut to any length desired, bottoms sealed, filled with foods, use the unit to vacuum out the air and seal the vacuumed bag and its contents. This Sounds easy and it is easy.
The first step is to plug the unit into a 110-120 V outlet. A green pilot light indicates the unit is ready.
Some care is required in cutting the plastic bags in preparation for use. The edges have to be clean and relatively straight. Using ordinary scissors is all that is necessary. Once the "bag" is cut to length, the bottom needs to be sealed. This is done by inserting one end of the bag (now open at both top and bottom) and use the unit to seal it.
This is easily accomplished by inserting the edge into the unit just past the sealing heater wire and closing the lid onto the bag. At this point, the user initiates the process by pressing down, firmly, on the lid using both hands on both sides of the lid. The motor starts and the pilot light turns from green to amber while the pump vacuums out the air. The unit makes plenty of noise. Continuing to apply pressure to the lid, the motor will run for about 1/2 minute and then the noise will change and the light turns red. This is the heating/sealing phase. When the process is finished, the motor turns off and the light goes back to green and is ready for the next task.
With the "bottom" of the bag sealed, it is an easy matter to fill the bag with the food products of your choice, leaving space at the top needed for insertion into the vacuum well in the unit. This is about a 2" space.
With the food product inside the bag and the "top" edge inserted into the unit slightly beyond the long, rectangular vacuum well (slot or trough) inside the machine, repeat the process of closing the lid and pressing down on the lid with both hands. The unit will pump the air out of the bag, change automatically to the sealing mode and seal the bag. Again, when the process is over, the motor turns off and the light turns back to green.
Bags are available in various widths in rolls from B&D. Individual bags in several sizes are also available with the bottoms already formed (sealed, 20 per box. These bags are heavy duty and can be used as "boil in the bag" for easy reheating in boiling water. This unit will also use any of the other brands of vacuum bags (Tilia, Food Saver, etc.). And, bags can be re-used after thorough washing. This recycling, obviously, reduces the cost of the overall supply cost of the bags. The bags are sufficiently sturdy to withstand hard food items without poking through the plastic.
There are some precautions, however.
1. Constant and firm pressure is required throughout the process, especially during the sealing process. This can be tiring if you are doing a lot of items.
2. Care must be taken not to fill the bag too full as this may interfere with the vacuum and sealing steps. The bag top material must be flat inside the machine. Proper sealing cannot take place if there are any wrinkles or folds in the material, especially along the two sides where the "waffle weave" material is located. This "waffle weave" material is the key to how the air is pumped out of the bag.
3. Thin liquids (clear soups, cooking stocks, wines, etc.) require a bigger extension at the top. When vacuuming the air out, the thin liquids can be accidentally sucked up into the unit. Thin liquids are best done using the accessory cannisters. There is a port in the machine to attach a clear plastic tube that will suck the excess air out of the containers.
4. Once the vacuum process is completed, the bag can be double-sealed by repeating the sealing process at both the tops and bottoms for extra security.
The unit appears to be well-made and sturdy. It's easy to use and the vacuum process does prolong the storage/shelf life of almost any and all fresh, prepared or manufactured food products.
I have compared fresh-ground coffee to coffee that I ground and stored a month or more, earlier. The taste, flavor, aroma, appearance and "froth" are equal. Fresh meats and chicken stored in the refrigerator can last for up to 2 weeks in these vacuum bags. You could never do this without the vacuum process. We've not had a single freezer burn incident since we started using this process. I highly recommend this food storage enhancement process.
Incidentally, the unit can be used to seal other prepared/packaged foods in plastic bags. Potato chips, tortilla chips and other snack food items in those types of bags can be sealed using this unit. However, because those bags have no "waffle weave" material, air cannot be removed from them. But, it is still handy to be able to reseal a large bag of chips or other items.