Oxygen Absorbers: What You Need to Know

Oxygen Absorbers-what you need to know

Have you ever used oxygen absorbers at home, or are they just the thing you chuck from the bottom of the beef jerky bag? There seems to be some confusion about the point of oxygen absorbers, whether you need to use them, or under what circumstances. But your friendly kitchen self-sufficiency expert is going to help you out <waving—that’s me!>.

What is an Oxygen Absorber?

Don’t get confused between terminology. First, what an oxygen absorber is not: a desiccant is something that absorbs moisture. There are several types of desiccants (nearly all made from Silica, a naturally occurring agent that is usually non-toxic)—some I want nowhere near my food and some I don’t mind. Maybe we’ll talk about that another day. I don’t personally use desiccants in food preservation, choosing instead to use time-tested preservation techniques like keeping food well-sealed in a climate controlled area.

Oxygen Absorbers (sometimes called an “oxygen scavenger”), in contrast, suck up all of the loose air in the sealed container. It combats the most common of all food storage enemies (your others being light, extreme temperature, and vermin—eeewww).

Why should you use Oxygen Absorbers?

Oxygen absorbers extend shelf life, prevent rancidity, delay oxidization, and even helps to preserve the best flavor.

Most people who lose food storage lose it to oxygen. Sometimes a jar lid didn’t seal, and sometimes the mylar bag or vacuum sealed bag gets a tiny little leak. I’ve discovered this stuff in both long and short term food storage. Sometimes it’s user error during processing, and other times it is just the effects of other conditions (like temperature fluctuation in your storage, or jostling the food around).

An oxygen absorber isn’t a permanent fix in situations where you have faulty packaging, but they can buy you time. Do you check your food storage routinely? Do you rotate it so that you are using oldest food first, and are you routinely using your food storage in your daily cooking? All of this prevents loss.

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An oxygen absorber delays loss. It isn’t a permanent fix; it gives you time to find the problem before losing your food. It’s insurance. If you aren’t actually checking your food, rotating it, or routinely using it, then never mind. Don’t bother with using an oxygen absorber at all if you don’t inspect. You’re going to lose a lot of food no matter what.

This is where I pull out my best Mom-Speech about starving children in India.

When should you use Oxygen Absorbers?

All dry, home-packaged food that you plan to keep for 3 months or longer should have an oxygen absorber in the container. This includes dehydrated food, herbs, spices, grain, rice, flour, and salt. There are only two dry items that should not get an oxygen absorber: do not use them in sugar or brown sugar. They dry them out (even though they are not actually desiccants).

What Packaging Should Get an Oxygen Absorber?

Well, anything that stores dry food, but the type of packaging is dependent upon the frequency of access. For instance, all of the dehydrated foods and herbs that I am not currently using get vacuum sealed. Then I place several of those vacuum-sealed bags into a larger, sealed mylar bag (to block out light and to protect from mice and insects). Each individual vacuum-sealed bag gets an oxygen absorber.

If you’re putting your food directly into smaller mylar bags, put an oxygen absorber in that. Stuff going into the freezer—if it’s a dry item (like yeast, flour, etc), chuck one into the container.

My frequently-used stuff—like dehydrated onions, powdered vegetables, and bulk spices—all get an oxygen absorber in the mason jar. This isn’t keeping the food perfectly oxygen free. I am, after all, opening that jar fairly often. It does drastically extend the shelf-life though! I find it also keeps spice blends from getting clumpy (again, working like a desiccant even if they aren’t). The tip to this use is to remember to open and close the jar expediently.

What size of Oxygen Absorber Should I Use?

Anything a quart-sized jar or smaller, a single 50cc is perfect. If you are packing something larger or something with natural air space (granola vs. dense salt), you might want to double up. When you reach the size of a #10 can, you should use three 50cc absorbers.  They come 200 in a pack, and if you re-seal the package as soon as you’re done with it, you’ll be using that same package for awhile.

Use 500cc Oxygen Absorbers for buckets. Wheat, rice, oats, all of which naturally last a long time anyway, should get at least 1 500cc absorber. We often use buckets for storing lots of smaller, sealed food bags. It provides another layer of protection. Wilson always chucks a 500cc absorber in the bucket anyway, regardless that every individual bag contains one. “Cheap insurance,” he says. We have never lost a bag of food sealed in a bucket with an absorber on top.


What is the Process of Using Oxygen Absorbers?

Fast. You use them fast. Wilson and I have a system for this that <yes, we’re dorks> is really fun! When we’re preserving food, it is rarely a bag here-and-there. Oh no, we go big.

Always preserve large quantities of food in smaller, manageable portions. Putting all of your eggs in one basket (I couldn’t resist) is never a good idea. If a mouse gets in to a 10 lb bag of oats, you’ve lost them all. Packing 10 one-pound bags is far more economical in the long-run. So this is how you do it:

  • Place all of the jars or vacuum sealing bags on your table.
  • Wearing gloves, fill all of them with the food to be preserved (using a funnel prevents spills and loss). Gloves, prevent your oils or moisture to contaminate the food.
  • Put the jar lids next to the jars, or have the vacuum sealer ready to go and warmed up.
  • One person opens the bag of absorbers and drops one quickly into each container.
  • The other person runs behind, sealing lids or vacuum-sealing (a bit slower).
  • Once you are done using them from the package, be sure to re-seal that package so that the leftovers will be there when you need them 6 months from now.

Okay, so now you understand the value of using oxygen absorbers to prevent food spoilage–pick up a couple of packs from Pantry Paratus & incorporate them into your food storage plan!


33 thoughts on “Oxygen Absorbers: What You Need to Know

  1. Thanks for this info – it’s really helpful

    1. I put oxogen absorbers in salt in my mylar bags i didn’t know not to donthis. Is the salt still good to use

  2. Thank you for your article. I use oxygen absorbers all the time in my mylar bags. Some of my mylar bags get very tight and hard and mold around the food (ie beans) but others look like they didn’t work – the mylar bag is squishy not firmly molded around the item in the bag (ie soup mixes). What causes this and are the ones that are squishy ok? Thank you.

    1. Michelle,

      I’ve had this too! Okay, so there can be 2 main causes, but in either case it means that there is still oxygen unaccounted for in there. The food naturally has space between & around it. One reason that some bags can stay “squishy” is because there are pockets of air that are blocked by food, so those pockets haven’t succumbed to the absorber. If you “knead” the food a bit, jostle the bag, it should help if this is the case. Most likely, though, you needed to throw in an extra oxygen absorber–not that you really want to cut the bag open & try again. If you have a vacuum sealer where you can re-seal that mylar bag, I do suggest trying that to see if that’s the issue. If not, mark that one for a quicker rotation. Another issue can be if the bag itself has a small hole. If this is the case, the bag usually firms up initially and only gets loose over time.

      1. Incorrect oxygen absorbers scavenge the oxygen Not the air which is why this article is missleadi g Air is made up of more than oxygen. In fact there is less oxygen than nitrogen so what u will find is you have nitrogen bubbles left not oxygen atall. This is fine and won’t prevent the longevity of your food seal.

    2. Oxygen absorber remove the 20 odd percent of the atmosphere that is oxygen leaving the rest of the gases like nitrogen remaining. It’s fine and nothing to worry about. This article is miss leading and incorrect in place.

  3. Thanks for ur help with the purchase… Apron collection… I used to do demos at Walmart, Thus depending upon the demo, if food, I advertised the product – after 3 years I have a ‘collection’!

  4. Thanks for your useful article.

    1. Glad you found it useful!

  5. Great article indeed. A true oxygen absorbers bible 🙂

  6. Quite useful info Chaya. I was looking exactly for that.

  7. I’ve never used oxygen absorbers, but it looks like there are more pros than cons in using it.

    1. Definitely. If I could come up with a con, it’s this–there is only 1 country in the world that manufactures them, and that’s China. It’s in the “con” category simply because many of us distrust what they produce. However, the Impak Corporation version of them have been tested and are generally trusted.

  8. I have never know the whole process of using Oxygen Absorbers. I am always missing something. Thanks for the article. Really Appreciate it.

  9. Thanks Chaya. I recently started testing out storing food in those 2 liter soda bottles. I hadn’t see a funnel like you advertised before. I was using a plastic one from Walmart that they use for changing oil in a car. but I like the idea of getting a stainless steel one that has a built in strainer. great idea. I still use mylar bags too, but the soda bottles seem to work well for storing stuff for like 5 years. it seams that the plastic in the bottles aren’t as good at blocking out the oxygen as a mylar bag is.

  10. It is good to know all the facts regarding the process of using Oxygen Absorbers. Thanks for sharing this useful article!

  11. I want to use oxygen absorbers to help preserve dried herbs but I heard from one source that the oxygen absorbers he used ended up wet, thus ruining what he was storing. Can this happen? Thank you.

    1. Well, I’ve certainly never heard of that. I use them in all of my dehydrated foods. I suppose the question would be how and where he stored the items. Sometimes vacuum-sealed bags can get pin-prick holes and leak, if they are a poor quality of bag or if the food stored is sharp (like a broken piece of dehydrated potato, for instance). I am not saying it could not happen, but the oxygen absorber would not have been wet when he used it, so moisture must have come in another way.

  12. Thanks for the useful information. I’ve never used oxygen absorbers before but after reading your article I will definitely give them a try.

  13. Fantastic article! I have read many articles about o2 absorbers over the past four years or so and thank you for your time and efforts. Found you while searching for more info on this subject.

    I have a question about moisture dessicant. As you mention that you don’t use them, why not? Hypothetically I’m about to pkg&store approximately 200lbs of hard red winter wheat that is about 13%in moisture content. What I’ve learned from the IMPAK site is that they suggest to not place the o2 and the dessicant packets too close to each other as the dessicant can “negatively affect” the o2 packet!! Waiting on a reply from them for clarification on proximity… Not to put you on the spot, but Wilson&Chaya , whats your reasoning for not using dessicants? (Might be time for that dessicant article) ????

    Thank you very much, keeping your site close by! DD

  14. Hello. My question is if I use 50cc or 100cc oxygen absorbers in my 2.5 oz beef jerky pouches(sealed, but not vacuumed packed, with my Food Saver), how long should I write down my expected shelf life or approximate expiration date? I’ve followed USDA dehydration guidelines to get the meat up to 160 degree temperature during the dehydration process to kill any microorganism. I see many Jerky manufacturers list 1 year shelf life on their product. That seems really long and not very fresh.

  15. In recent year I have gained alot of experience in oxygen absorbers by working with Sorbead India and I got to know the advantage of oxygen absorbers.

  16. I recently bought one hundred of the 300cc oxygen absorbers which were then packaged in smaller packs of 10. I used 4 of the absorbers and put the leftover 6 in a pint container. After being in that container for a while I noticed moisture forming in the jar.
    Should these absorbers be thrown out?

  17. Hello, I found this post while looking for an answer to the following question:
    If you can only partly open a #10 can of dried vegetables that has an oxygen absorber and have to leave the can that way until you can get a can opener capable of finishing the job of opening the can, such that you can’t remove the oxygen absorber right away, will that cause any kind of food safety problem? Thanks for any answer you can provide.

  18. what are quality tests for an oxygen absorber?

  19. Can you put salt and rice in food safe buckets with oxygen absorbers? Save space because it takes so many bags?

  20. Greetings Chaya. I have a very important question for you. I have stored all of the following food stuff in each of five food-grade pails: three 5-pound bags of rice, one 3-pound tub of sugar, two 1-pound boxes of thin spaghetti, plus one 5-pound bag of flour – with five oxygen absorber pouches in each of the food-grade pails. At first, for the first three weeks, the suction in the tight-sealed pails were so strong that the walls or sides of each pail were sucked and bent in. But after the first three weeks, the walls or sides of each pail straightened and smoothed out again – they are not sucked or bent in anymore. Could that mean that the oxygen absorbers are not working or that there is a leak on each of the pails/lids? And, if there is a leak, could the oxygen absorbers now be pulling moisture into the food stored in the pails? I haven’t opened the pails, so as not to break the seal of the lids, since once I do open them, the lids will not tight-seal again.
    Please guide me, since I am new at food storage? I am worried. I fear that moisture, from the oxygen absorbers might start collecting in the tight-sealed food pails. Thank you kindly.

  21. Hey Luke, you sound like you’re fun at parties. The article was neither misleading nor incorrect. You just gave extra information; mostly condescending hot air but I have a nitrogen absorber for you… Lighten up.

  22. In the article it says O2 absorbers can be used with dry yeast, but I’ve also read that despite oxygen being an enemy of yeast, we shouldn’t use the absorbers when storing it. I have a bulk pack (1 lb) of dry yeast that I want to preserve as long as possible and I want to trust what this article says, but because it’s in conflict with other articles I’m trying to understand what risk I run if I were to use an oxygen absorber to repackage this. Why would someone say it is NOT okay to use them with dry yeast, especially after admitting that oxygen is an enemy of yeast? Thanks for your time and for the article.

  23. Hi thanks for the info. Just a thought for the previous poster (donep) Yeast is a living thing so perhaps it suffocates?? Just a thought but ALSO one pound is a huge amount for cooking purposes. Spiltting it into smaller amounts may be the way to go? 16 one ounce packs gives you better odds, Vacuum seals break, absorbers may faulty etc.

    I have just tried a sachet of yeast that was 2 years out date. I fed it with sugar to encourage growth, It didnt work as the packet said (rising within 30 mins) but after 2 days it grew enough to produce some acceptable bread.

  24. I’m glad that you explained why NOT to use the oxygen packet with sugar. I’ve started storing my dry goods in plastic bottles (like coke, water, juice bottles). So far I’ve put an oxygen packet in each one. I’ll go back and make sure that I use the sugar with the packets first. The new bottles of sugar won’t have the packets.
    I put ALL dry goods in the freezer in the original packaging for about 30 days. I want to make sure that any weevil eggs are killed. Weevils come from the farm and can be in ANY grain product even after it’s been processed for flour, cereal, biscuit mix, ect.
    After it’s been frozen, I get the bag out of the freezer and let it come to room temperature.
    I then put it in the bottle with a funnel. I put the oxygen packet about the middle of the bottle.
    I cut the cooking instructions off the bag and tape them to the bottle with clear packing tape. I also cut the name of the product and tape it to the bottle. These can now go to my long tern storage area. I rotate the food according to expiration dates and how things look. I want to use the freezer and refrigerator as little as possible. Just in case of a power outage. I even store water. Correctly bottled water does not expire. Water doesn’t expire although it may not be as fresh.
    Store your foods in a cool dry area away from excess heat and moisture.

  25. I know I’m late finding this, but if you happen to see this…

    I’ve been prepping for longer than the cute label existed but I focused on freeze dried things. I’m now a lot older and diabetic. As long as I stay keto, I’m not diabetic, so I’m now wanting to get into storing my own keto foods.

    Trouble is, I’ve had a series of oxyabs that don’t seem to work. I’m wondering if what I think I know about them is wrong.

    If I put a 2000cc (not a typo) oxyab into a pint size mylar (just to test one from the batch), would it not draw up, wrinkle, have some visual indication that it’s working?

    I realize it’s not going to shrivel up like a vac seal, that there’s still gas inside, just not oxy, but is there no visible indication?? Even for such a vast size mismatch as that?

  26. I don’t know what kind of oxygen absorbers to use. Some come with my inhalers, some with food and some with items I order through a catalog. Is there a difference, and if so, please explain what it is because I see different types of absorbers on websites. I don’t know what kind or brand or ingredients in them to use. I haven’t seen any information in any of your replies or usages. Thanks so much for your help. You are very informative.

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