I think of canning jars the same way I do duct tape and WD40 … they have literally thousands of uses. My favorite way to use canning jars is for dry storage. Using canning jars for dry storage is quick, easy, saves hundreds per year on stale, wasted food, & allows buying in bulk. For example, I have a jar of corn flakes (that I use to make my own chicken coatings) that has been in the cabinet for almost two years and it is just as fresh as it was the day I bought it … in bulk, cheap. When I need some, I open it, take what I need, reseal it, and put it right back. Yes, I would pour milk over it and eat it like corn flakes even now. To be clear, I am not talking about pressure or water bath canning or about dry canning or oven canning, which I absolutely do not recommend, endorse, or use … EVER. But that is a different blog post. The kind of dry goods canning I am talking about involves food items that are already shelf stable at room temperature and do not need to be heated or chilled at all and the only thing it has in common with pressure or water bath canning is the use of jars. Hang on, I will explain.
This blog post was originally going be a quick & dirty write up on how to vacuum seal (vac seal) a regular mouth canning jar. Only the wide mouth jars seem to make a good airtight seal. But the regular ones?!? Not so much. It can be a real pain the caboose. I still plan to share the secret to sealing a regular mouth canning jar with a jar attachment, and if that is all you are interested in right now, you can skip to that section below and find it. However, as blog posts often do, this one evolved into much more than that: How To Use Canning Jars for Dry Storage. I thought you might be more interested in WHY you would vacuum seal a canning jar (regular or wide mouth) in the first place, what food items are safe to vac seal and set on the pantry shelf, and of course, how to do it. So let’s get into that first!
Do any of these apply to your household? If you answer yes to any of the following, then you might want to learn more about how to use Canning Jars for Dry Storage.
- Would you LIKE to buy in bulk … but just don’t think you can use six family size boxes of corn flakes or a 5# bag of mini marshmellows fast enough?
- Have you ever opened a box of cereal that you bought several weeks ago (or even months ago) and wondered if it was worth wasting milk on? So you stick a flake or two in your mouth and immediately take the rest of the box out to feed to the birds or put in the compost pile? It is not “bad,” it is just stale.
- Have you ever wanted some oyster crackers in your tomato soup only to find out that someone left the wax bag open and shoved it back in the box, unsealed? Eww. Nothing like stale oyster crackers, is there? What about that last batch of chewy croutons you put in the compost pile? Or that huge container of not-so-crunchy-anymore salad topping, trail mix, nuts, oriental rice noodles, or chex mix you got on sale at Costco?
- Have you ever thrown out a huge, expensive bottle of oregano or parsley that has been hanging around so long that you cannot even smell it anymore?
- What about that flour or rice or package of beans that has some unidentified specks on them? Have you ever questioned how long it has been there, what the little specks are and thought to yourself, “Oh, never mind … I have NO IDEA when I bought this and no idea what the heck those little specks are!” *Poof.* It’s gone. (Note: Flour and rice can both go rancid and not just be stale. However, this storage method with still extend the shelf life of both products.)
- Do you love the cost per pound (or unit price) on dry pet food when bought in a 18 pound bag instead of a three pound bag, but you have just one cat or a teacup chihuahua?
- Ever have potatoes, onions, or garlic sprouting through their bags because you just could not use them up fast enough? (Yes, there is a step involved for this situation that we don’t go into in this post but, I will give you a clue on what to do with older but not yet BAD veggies, fresh fruits, and herbs.)
- One last thing … how much money do you spend on zip lock baggies (counting all sizes) every year? Do you wash, dry, & reuse them or do they just end up in the recycle bin or worse, in landfills?
Powerful food for thought? Well, how would you like to see ALL THIS WASTE and more come to a screeching halt in your house??? How badly would you like spend your food dollar on food that actually gets eaten before it goes stale? Well, using canning jars for dry storage can eliminate TONS of just such waste. It is the presence of oxygen that makes these food items go stale. Remove all the air and they will stay fresh much longer. And this is whole point behind this post … creating your own quality, airtight seal.
What Can You Safely Vac Seal in a Canning Jar?
Answer: Anything that you can safely put in a cupboard or pantry (without refrigeration) and that contains little or no moisture and will go stale long before it turns rancid. This includes all the items listed above in my bullet list and then some. Since the point behind using Canning Jars for Dry Storage is to s…t….r…e….t….c…h out how long they stay fresh on the shelf, it would apply to almost anything that doesn’t go in the fridge. This includes croutons, crackers, pretzels, bread crumbs, cereal, grains, flours, coffee, tea, herbs, nuts, dried fruit (like raisins, dates, etc.), sugars (including brown sugar), dry pet food … pretty much anything that can sit on the shelf and eventually go stale, but not necessarily go “rancid or bad.”
WARNING: Do NOT use this storage method for anything that comes in a can, a pouch with any amount of moisture (such as tuna or chicken), or a jar with juices (such as kraut, pickles, etc.) The rule is: If the item would normally go in the fridge after opening, then KEEP PUTTING IT IN THE FRIDGE! Do NOT attempt to vac seal these items and return them to the pantry. However, if you would normally put it back in the pantry, then you can vac seal it.
Now that you know what you can vac seal in a jar and why you would do it (to keep it super fresh for as long as possible), let’s talk about how.
How To Vac Seal Canning Jars for Dry Storage
First you need canning jars of various sizes, lids (rings are not required) and a vacuum sealer with an attachment port, hose and jar attachments. If you are planning for long term storage (over a year), then add an oxygen absorber (oxy ab) before sealing. For bulk items going in long term storage, use half gallon jars with a 100 cc oxy ab. For smaller amounts, use smaller jars, and a 50 cc oxy ab. (You can also use mylar bags for bulk storage, but that is another post with a different purpose. This post is about canning jars.)
- Fill clean jars with the product. Use a canning funnel to help keep the jar rims clean. Once filled, make sure the rims are perfectly clean and dry. Even the tiniest little grain of sugar or corn flake dust can interfere with making a good seal. If needed, wipe with a damp paper towel and wipe again with a dry one (particularly helpful for sugar and flour).
- Add an oxy ab (for long term storage) if desired.
- Plug the hose into your vac sealer’s jar attachment port and plug the other end of the hose into the jar attachment.
- Place the lid (or lids if it is a regular mouth jar) on the jar. (See The Trick To Vac Sealing a Regular Mouth Jar section below)
- Carefully place the jar attachment over the lid and jar and push straight downward.
- Turn the vac sealer on to begin sucking the air out of the jar. You may need to place your hand on the lid of your vac sealer and apply a little pressure to get the vacuum to form in the machine. Hold your hand there until the vac sealer completes the cycle.
- When the vacuum cycle completes and humming stops, unlock the jar attachment by turning the machine off to release the vacuum.
- Gently remove the jar attachment from the top of the jar, pulling straight upward, and push on the top of the lid. It should not have any give to it and you should not hear a pop.
- Check the seal by attempting to remove the lid. If it offers resistance and would need to be pried off to get it to release, then it is done correctly. You should be able to turn the jar upside down and the lid will stay in place.
- Add a ring if you like, but it is not necessary.
- Label & date the jar and place in the cupboard or panty.
- When you need some of the product, unseal it, portion out what you need, and reseal the jar the same way you did the first time.
And here is a photo montage to show you the steps.
The Trick To Vac Sealing a Regular Mouth Jar
As for the jars themselves, I have learned not to bother with regular mouth jars because they do not seal easily. There is “a trick to it” and as a result, I now buy only wide mouth jars just to save myself the trouble of using “the trick.” Perhaps, you have experienced this: You put the product in the jar, plug in the attachment hose and the jar attachment, set it in place over the top of the jar and lid, turn the machine on, put a little pressure on the lid and wait. And wait. And wait. You never hear the sweet sound of the rising pitch of the machine letting you know it is working. All you hear is same low, dull hum that you heard when you first turned it on. Eventually, you give up. No seal.
Here is what you do. Place not one, but TWO lids, on the jar. Yes, that is what I said. Use TWO lids. Usually, only one will stay on the jar and the second one will release, but occasionally, both lids will seal in place. Don’t worry about it. Just leave it. At least, you got it to seal. Don’t ask me why this works. I just know that it does … almost every time.
What About Those Potatoes, Onions, Carrots, and Herbs? And Fresh Fruit? Can those go in Canning Jars for Dry Storage?
Yep, you can vac seal ALL these things in canning jars and store them in the panty, too, but you have to dehydrate them first. Once all the moisture is removed, all you need to do is remove the air and bacteria cannot grow. I mean — think about it. Open a bag of Liptons Onion Soup. What do you see? Dried onions. Open a jar of garlic powder. What do you see? Dried garlic that has been ground. Do you refrigerate dried herbs now? No? Then dried herbs are clearly shelf stable to begin with. But now, you can make all these things yourself without all the chemicals and anti-clumping agents and all those things no one can pronounce AND you can keep them fresh much longer than ever before. Lucky for me, I have a dehydrator.
A note about anti-clumping agents: It is just another chemical preservative designed to keep things like onion and garlic powder from getting hard. It does not do anything to make the product last any longer or be any fresher. If your powders clump after a few months, just run them through your spice mill, coffee grinder or food processor again. Problem solved.
Bottom line is that if you dehydrate your fruits, veggies, and herbs first, then you absolutely CAN store them canning jars at room temp for up to a year … just like any other dry/dehydrated food product. However, because your product is also going to be “preservative-free” (which, in my book, is a good thing), you need to check your seals often (at least, once a month) and never, ever use a product that seems even remotely off. If the color or smell is not just as it should be, don’t use it. It just means that you may not have removed enough of the moisture and/or your seal was not a good, tight seal. This is why I do not use rings. I can tell right away whether a seal is broken if there is no ring on the jar.
Check these links for detailed instructions on dehydrating and vac sealing garlic, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and herbs. (This post is about dill but this process works for all herbs. See the Packaging Section in particular). Soon, I will be posting instructions for onion powder which is virtually identical to making garlic powder.
So to sum up, here is what you need … a dehydrator (for fruits, veggies, and fresh herbs), a vacuum sealer with an attachment port, hose connector, jar attachments, jars & lids, a canning funnel, and a place to work. Oxy abs are optional and needed only for long term storage. (Ignore the battery charging station in the photo below … everything has to be somewhere!)
Where To Find These Things
Now, you may be saying, “But I don’t have a dehydrator or a vacuum sealer. Now what?” Well, you will need to save your pennies and buy them. There is truly no other way to do this efficiently and no other way that I would endorse. I know a lot of folks who have picked these items up cheap at garage, yard, and rummage sales. You can also find them at thrift stores, online resale sites like EBay, or you can buy them brand new. We got our dehydrator first (direct from the manufacturer), added the vacuum sealer a few months later (from Amazon), and built up our supply of jars and lids over time when they went on sale at the end of canning season. My spice grinder was a Christmas gift. It does not have to happen all at once. Be patient and alert. You will find them. Then, they will pay for themselves in food dollar savings in no time!
However, if you wish to purchase them now, and you use the links below, you will find the exact makes and models that we use & recommend here on the blog. We have personally tested, used, and recommend these products. Yes, these are affiliate links and we make a small commission, but it in no way increases your cost and helps support our blogging activities so we can do this sort of thing. See our full disclosure page here for more information. So we invite you to click through and place your order. Or bookmark this page and come back when you are ready to buy. We thank you for your support. Please, please let us know if you have any questions.
So without further ado: This is the exact vacuum sealer model that we bought (and it is on sale right now half price! WhooHoo!) and we love it, but there are other good models to consider too! Just make sure that which ever model you order has an attachment port and don’t forget the jar attachment because you will need those to seal jars. Oh, I will also give you the link my spice grinder. I use that thing almost every day and I just love it.