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How to Use Oxygen Absorbers

When building up a long-term food storage supply, it makes good sense to use oxygen absorbers to keep your food shelf-stable as long as possible. Use this guide to learn how to use oxygen absorbers and know the size packet you need to store your food correctly. 

A jar and a vacuum sealed package of oxygen absorbers.

Why You Should Learn How to Use Oxygen Absorbers

In the past, I have shared a full pantry tour as an example of what a year’s worth of food preservation looks like. We use various preservation methods, including canning, dehydration, deep-freezing, root cellaring, dry storage (both pantry staples and bulk storage in barrels) and freeze-drying foods.

The shelf-stable freeze-drying, dehydration, and dry storage methods do not kill bacteria, so oxygen absorbers keep air and moisture inactive, extending the shelf-life of our foods to make sure that we get the most out of the effort we put into growing a year’s worth of food.

This simple step increases our self-sufficiency to support our homesteading lifestyle.

Freeze dried chicken in a glass jar with vacuum sealing tool.

What Are Oxygen Absorbers?

Oxygen-absorbing packets are a food-safe porous material filled with iron powder and sodium. The size of the oxygen absorber for food storage measures in cubic centimeters, varying in size from 20 CCs to 2500 CCs for use in small and large capacities. 

The purpose of oxygen absorbers is to remove oxygen from food storage containers, keeping it free from bacterial growth and pest invasion. As the oxygen absorber works, oxygen is removed, creating a high-nitrogen environment, extending the food’s shelf-life.

Three oxygen absorbers on a counter with jars of freeze dried food in the background.

How Do Oxygen Absorbers Work

Oxygen absorbers undergo a chemical reaction between the iron powder and sodium and its interaction with oxygen. 

The air causes the iron to rust, oxidize and create the absorbing action to bind the oxygen. Once oxygen is removed, the reaction stops (down to an amazing 0.1%), making an oxygen-free, nitrogen-rich environment.

Preserved food with oxygen absorbers is protected from mold growth, bacteria growth, and other critters you don’t want in your food. The oxygen absorber removes oxygen from your food, and a vacuum seal provides an extra measure of insurance.

A jar of raspberries with oxygen absorber.

Types and Sizes

There are a variety of oxygen absorbers used in the food industry, including packaging raw meat, deli meats, and processed food items like chips and crackers. However, oxygen absorbers are not exclusive to commercial use. 

I order the iron powder and sodium-filled Oxyfree Oxygen Absorbers for home food preservation through Azure Standard. They work great for dry foods, dried herbs, coffee, grains, freeze-dried foods, nuts and seeds, and more.

Oxygen Absorber Chart

The pack of oxygen absorbers comes with oxygen sensors that show a dot when there’s oxygen inside the pack; this is how you know if you’re starting with a good product.

Oxygen absorbers come in various sizes and shapes, ranging from 20 to 2500 CCs. There is a mathematical calculation concerning how many CCs (cubic centimeters) oxygen absorbers absorb per container, food type and volume. 

You’ll need to calculate the absorption required, accounting for headroom, food type and container size. Some foods are more dense with less air, and some are less dense with more air. Oxyfree provides this chart to help make those calculations.

Homesteading Hack: Be sure you understand that there is a difference between oxygen absorbers and desiccants (or silica moisture absorbers). Desiccants work to absorb excess moisture that can cause spoilage. However, since oxygen absorbers require moisture to help absorb the oxygen, it’s not recommended to use oxygen absorbers and desiccants together. 

A jar of raspberries with oxygen absorber.

Foods to Use With Oxygen Absorbers

Foods high in fats and protein and below 10% moisture content (think jerky) preserve better and last longer with oxygen absorbers. 

When using a home freeze-dryer, oxygen absorbers are a must, especially if you live in a humid environment. Freeze-dried food, in particular, holds a lot of oxygen, so vacuum sealing with an oxygen absorber is recommended.

Foods That Should Not Be Used With Oxygen Absorbers

Foods high in moisture (35% or more), containing oils that can become rancid, foods that aren’t sensitive to oxygen and foods that clump when starved of oxygen should not use oxygen absorbers.

Best Containers for Oxygen Absorbers

I recommend clean, dry, airtight containers for food storage. There are a few choices, such as glass canning jars, Mylar bags and rigid plastic containers. Vacuum-sealing the container with the oxygen absorber will keep your food product as fresh as possible.

Plastic ziptop bags and thin-walled flimsy plastic containers are porous, not airtight and not recommended for food preservation.  

A jar of raspberries getting vacuum sealed.

How to Use Oxygen Absorbers

The great thing about using oxygen absorbers is that it’s a quick and easy step. The critical thing to remember is that an opened package of oxygen absorbers will start to absorb oxygen immediately.

When it comes to effectiveness, preparing ahead of time with all systems in place can make all the difference.

Are you ready for a speed round? Ready, Set, Go! 

  1. Have all your food storage containers clean, dry and ready to fill. 
  2. Set up your vacuum sealer. Have it plugged in and ready to operate. 
  3. Fill all your containers with food.
  4. Open the container holding the absorbers, place the appropriate size per container (quickly!), and seal it up so it can get to work inside the container.
  5. Reseal any remaining oxygen absorbers so they do not absorb any more oxygen than necessary.

Homesteading Hack: I find it more efficient to have a few helpers, making the process go quickly. The number of oxygen absorbers you use won’t affect the food if you use too many, but it will if you don’t use enough.

How to Store Oxygen Absorbers

Store unused oxygen absorbers in a small airtight container. If you have a vacuum sealer, use it!

When getting into the container, reseal it as quickly as possible.

Oxygen absorbers in a jar with a dot showing if they're still good.

How to Tell if Your Oxygen Absorber Is Still Good?

Most oxygen absorbers come with a dot that you can place on the inside of your packet. If that dot changes color, you know your oxygen absorbers have expired (or gone bad).

Harvest Right Freeze-Dryer

Freeze-drying food is a fantastic food preservation process that I have fully embraced. If freeze-drying for food preservation sounds appealing, we recommend the Harvest Right Freeze Dryer. 

You will be amazed at how delicious freeze-dried food tastes! Oh, and don’t forget your oxygen absorbers! 

A woman holding up a jar of freeze dried food with filled pantry shelves of home canned food behind her.
A man and wife smiling.

Welcome to Homesteading Family!

Josh and Carolyn bring you practical knowledge on how to Grow, Cook, Preserve and Thrive on your homestead, whether you are in a city apartment or on 40 acres in the country. If you want to increase your self-sufficiency and health be sure to subscribe for helpful videos on gardening, preserving, herbal medicine, traditional cooking and more.

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