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  1. #1
    Registered User FarmerChef's Avatar
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    Default Retort Bags (such as those in bagged tuna)

    Went to find bagged chicken in the grocery store and when I saw the price I thought to myself, "I wonder if I can do this at home myself." I mean, essentially you are pressure canning, just doing it in bags - specifically, retort bags. A quick search of the net revealed it's not so easy to find legit retort bags let alone the question of whether or not my snorkel vac can handle 4 layers of bag instead of the usual 1 for a standard PE bag.

    Anyone have any experience using these bags to bag your own chicken, tuna, etc.? If so, how did you seal them and where did you get your bags? Any tips greatly appreciated.
    2,000 miler. Still keepin' on keepin' on.

  2. #2

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    This would be really difficult to accomplish without the correct sealer. I think the air is also replaced in this type of cryo-vac with Nitrogen.

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    This might be difficult to do safely, like canning without adequate sterilization methods.
    A better approach might be to dehydrate cooked chicken, which could then be stored safely for some time.

  4. #4
    Registered User FarmerChef's Avatar
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    Agreed on the difficulty. I do dehydrate chicken, beef, etc. for cooked meals but for lunches it would be nice to have it ready to eat. What I do know is that the process is almost exactly like canning in that you place your food in the bag, evacuate the air and seal the bag. Then you sterilize the bag (not pasteurize) in a pressure canner for the required time. The challenge is getting the multiple layers of laminate to seal fully.

    It's very possible that I need a vacuum chamber to do it (which would be prohibitively expensive for my application). But I wondered if anyone had been successful with a snorkel style vac or similar. Right now, I'm leaning toward biting the bullet and paying the five bucks a bag I have to buy 5 to feed all five of us. $25 for 2 pounds of chicken seems awfully steep.
    2,000 miler. Still keepin' on keepin' on.

  5. #5

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    I really think your stuck with commercial products. After you seal the bag a pressure cooker won't finalize the seal like a can or mason jar top. The food poisoning risk is huge especially because your planning to not cook the chicken again after opening. The type of cryovac machines restaurants use still require refrigeration afterwards.

  6. #6

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    Farmerchef -

    I looked at retort packing again. The regular sealing bar on most cryo-vac machines can't seal the bags. Here is an interesting article.

    http://vacuumpacker.blogspot.com/201...um-sealer.html

  7. #7
    Registered User Wise Old Owl's Avatar
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    Nice find Rasty.. FarmerChef - my thought is after buying the bags machine and time.... it will work out at being the same price... Retort is fine but will increase the weight.

    I have been stunned by the prices of food at REI and have been looking at saving money on FD and you know I have a food dryer.

    Found this this morning...

    http://www.walmart.com/ip/21064304?a...l5=pla&veh=sem
    Dogs are excellent judges of character, this fact goes a long way toward explaining why some people don't like being around them.

    Woo

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by Wise Old Owl View Post
    Nice find Rasty.. FarmerChef - my thought is after buying the bags machine and time.... it will work out at being the same price... Retort is fine but will increase the weight.

    I have been stunned by the prices of food at REI and have been looking at saving money on FD and you know I have a food dryer.

    Found this this morning...

    http://www.walmart.com/ip/21064304?a...l5=pla&veh=sem
    $26.86? For how many pouches?

  9. #9
    Registered User FarmerChef's Avatar
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    Wow (rubbing glasses). Does that really say $26 for one (count 'em, o-n-e) pouch. Eek!

    Woo - I think you're right with regard to price for vacuum chamber + bags. It would almost certainly be more expensive. It just kills me that tuna is reasonably priced but chicken is way out there. I guess we'll have tuna and bagel thins instead of chicken and bagel thins. My rehydrated chicken is great in dirty rice but probably not for chicken salad
    2,000 miler. Still keepin' on keepin' on.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by FarmerChef:1357466
    Wow (rubbing glasses). Does that really say $26 for one (count 'em, o-n-e) pouch. Eek!

    Woo - I think you're right with regard to price for vacuum chamber + bags. It would almost certainly be more expensive. It just kills me that tuna is reasonably priced but chicken is way out there. I guess we'll have tuna and bagel thins instead of chicken and bagel thins. My rehydrated chicken is great in dirty rice but probably not for chicken salad
    Agree. Just to get started in a home use only your at $3k+. A USDA inspected commercial setup is going to be $80k+

  11. #11
    Registered User Raymond James's Avatar
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    There is no economical way to make foil paks of meats at home. As you know you can cook then dehydrate meats to carry. Rehydrating them without heating has never worked for me but I do enjoy them if rehydrated nd heated. I try and find other sources of protein other than meat when possible as I do not like the choices. When passing thru a town stop and get a steak or chicken breast that can be grilled over a small open fire.

    One of the best steaks I ever had was grilled on the AT.

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by FarmerChef View Post
    Went to find bagged chicken in the grocery store and when I saw the price I thought to myself, "I wonder if I can do this at home myself." I mean, essentially you are pressure canning, just doing it in bags - specifically, retort bags. A quick search of the net revealed it's not so easy to find legit retort bags let alone the question of whether or not my snorkel vac can handle 4 layers of bag instead of the usual 1 for a standard PE bag.

    Anyone have any experience using these bags to bag your own chicken, tuna, etc.? If so, how did you seal them and where did you get your bags? Any tips greatly appreciated.
    Don't let the initial price of retort canning scare you away. For the past 3 years I have been retort canning every summer and fall. Done no less than 300 bags a year. I will NEVER go back to glass or cans. Yes the price of the unit was $1,500.00 I bought a very small unit the MiniPack MVS-20 and had it upgraded. This unit is used everyday in our kitchen not just for retort bags. And yes, you must have a good chamber unit that can seal the bags they are a metalized bag nothing like your typical vacuum sealer bag. And no my sealer does not have Nitrogen options to it that is not needed.

    The process is not only easy but equally as safe as canning in glass jars. The people who taught me and I think have the most up to date information is Vacupack.com I look at their blog for new info every few months. www.vacuumpacker.blogspot.com I talked to Holly when I call she is really into canning and has helped me tons.

    I can honoestly say that what my family has saved by not wasting food, canning our own, and buying in bulk, thus not eating out, has more than paid for the initial out of pocket cost several times over. The other thing is foods canned in retort bags tastes great. The meats are tender and moist and you know exactly what type or quality of chicken is used. I like to use organic from a local famer. Since we live near the coast we went to the dock this past summer and bought fresh tuna right off the boat. There is absolutely nothing like it when canned in a retort pouch. My family ate it up, about 25 packs in less than one month. Never could I get them to eat that much Tuna from a can bought from the store.

    This year from the new garden we made tomato sauces, canned beets, soups, and premade meals all in retort canning bags. We also did butter, bacon, emergency water for camping the list is endless. It turns out the bags are about the same cost as a lid for a glass jar and the storage space is less than 1/4 the area. Really I can not say enough good about the process and finished product once you are educated on how to do it.

    A word before you buy a chamber unit. My neighbor loved what we were doing so much he went out and bought a chamber unit. He was so proud he got one new from Amazon for quite a bit less than my unit and it is much bigger. It was a VacMaster built in China, from a company called Quality matters. At first I was really jealous as the price was so much less for what looked like at first glance a better quality unit.

    Then the other shoe dropped so to speak. He struggles everytime he does any retort canning as he has almost 50% failure rate. He called the company where he bought it with no luck, I have tried to help him and called PMG Vacupack with him they could not help either. Basically the VacMaster brand units do not have the proper heat bar and can not be upgraded like my unit was. Becareful when you buy because the vacuum sealer unit is the most important part.

    Hope this info helped I am a huge fan and find the cost now 3 years later a positive in my budget. It really did change our lives when money was and still is a huge issue.

  13. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rasty View Post
    Agree. Just to get started in a home use only your at $3k+. A USDA inspected commercial setup is going to be $80k+
    My vacuum sealer cost $1,500.00 and came with a variety of bags and upgraded to do retort pouches. It is really small it only holds one 8x12 bag at a time but it works perfect, is made in Italy with a little German Busch pump the best of the best. The retort pouches are 125 of them for about $20.00 or so depending on the size. My unit can only do 2oz, 4oz and 8oz the 16oz are way to big. When I bought lids for all my glass jars they were 12 for about $3.00 so the retorts are really not more expensive.
    Anyway don't mean to rant I just really am a fan of this home processing and think everyone could benefit from it.

  14. #14
    Registered User FarmerChef's Avatar
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    Boy that was just what I was looking for. As a heavy glass jar user it really is tempting to convert over to the pouches instead for storage space issues like you described.

    By the way, I see your first two posts were in this very thread so let me be the first to say Welcome to Whiteblaze!

    The initial cost seems steep compared to what I've already invested in glassware, pressure canner, etc. Can you tell me more about how you found the economics of converting over and the money saved from purchasing in the store?
    2,000 miler. Still keepin' on keepin' on.

  15. #15

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    Thanks for the welcome FarmerChef.

    Yes the initial cost made me gulp. It took a couple of months to justify the expense. What convinced me was the other things we could and do vacuum pack, that also saved money. We used to have little blocks of cheese go bad all the time. We would have left overs in tupperware all dried out and moldy. I always bought the 5 lb bag of flour or sugar and the smallest sizes of prepackaged foods. To be honest we were eating way to much convience foods in prepackaged boxes verses making meals from scratch, from bulk packages, that is quite a bit less money. Also buying meat one week at a time, dealing with freezer burn and the high expense verses bulk from a local producer. These are things a good vacuum packer allow you to do that other wise is usually a waste.

    Convience, I reclaimed 2 full shelves in my storage shed that had held empty glass jars. I buy the bags just before I need them to can no storage. And the finished product takes up about 1/4 the space. We still use our same pressure canner it is about 40 years old. I used to buy canned meats, tuna, chicken, salmon, and beef for all types of meals. A can ran between $2.00 and $5.00 dollars. A retort pouch is about .25 cents and the meat in it is about .75 cents. For about $1.00 maximum, $2.00 depending on the meat we have a homemade retort can.

    In the last 3 years we have sealed up over 1300 retorts just for meat. I figure we saved at least 1/2 the cost of cans from the store. Just the bare minimum that is $1,300.00 saved but it is more like $3,900.00. This is not including electricty. We have a family of 5 and lots of kids friends so we go through a fair amount of food.

    It also saved us this past summer when we went camping. The retorts dropped in a pot of boiling water heat up in just a few minutes. So I canned soups, and a stew, a few different types of meals. It was really easy meal prep and the empty bags went into the fire.
    We used to go to the store and buy food just for camping. The weekend ended up costing us several hundred dollars more than we needed. But with retorts our own food from bulk buys and sales our camping weekend are a pleasure rather than an extra expense.

    One I really like was bacon. We bought a huge box from discount store. It was thick cut, we wrapped it in parchment paper and vacuum sealed in an 8 oz bag. We pressure canned it at 75 minutes 10 lbs pressure. When we went camping open the retort, put the bacon in the pan and in just a few minutes of reheat and crisping the bacon was ready and great tasting. We did it for about $2.50 and a can of Yoders bacon is over $15.00.

    Now we are working on emergency water and other foods. The emergency waters are $2.00 each for 4 oz retail. We make them for the cost of the 8oz retort and put 14 to 16 oz water in them. When our canner is not full we make up water packets super cheap. It is hard to take glass with you in a back pack or evacuation pack. Just like storm Sandy those who had to leave needed to be able to take care of themselves. The retorts are much easier to take and use. We also are thinking of making small packs in each car for the just in case situations. The regular bags for a chamber unit are really cheap like $6.00 to $12.00 for 125 count. You find your vacuum packing all types of things.

    If I had it to do over I might think about a bit bigger unit so I could get a whole chicken in. But that is pretty minor and I really could not be happier with my little unit we own knives.
    Hope that helps.

  16. #16
    Registered User Wise Old Owl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FarmerChef View Post
    Wow (rubbing glasses). Does that really say $26 for one (count 'em, o-n-e) pouch. Eek!

    ....
    Yea misprinted! but the rest is all good.
    Dogs are excellent judges of character, this fact goes a long way toward explaining why some people don't like being around them.

    Woo

  17. #17

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    Really cool find. $1500 cheaper then the model from the blog.

  18. #18
    Registered User FarmerChef's Avatar
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    Thanks for the extra info Atlee. That price is still tough to swallow being that I've already got a snorkel type vacuum sealer ($150) that uses commercial (cheaper) vacuum bags and my trusty cans for shelf-stable but perishable foods (fruits and veggies mainly, we freeze the meat and have lots of it being that we have a farm). Still, I could see replacing the jar canning for the perishables. An argument could be made to offset the electricity use of the freezers in which we store the bulk of our farm produce. Frozen veggies lose less nutrients since they're only blanched but require energy to keep them cold and edible.

    One idea I might try is to plunk out $80-$100 and use an impulse hand sealer like one of these to seal the bags while the snorkel vac holds the vacuum. Assuming I used a long enough bag, I would have the free space between the food and the edge of the (unused) sealing bar. If it works, it would take a lot of bags to eventually negate the $1400 savings between the impulse sealer and the cheapest of the chamber vacs. If I do, I'll post back and let everyone know it can be done.
    2,000 miler. Still keepin' on keepin' on.

  19. #19

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    If you froze your goods right after bagging them, I assume that would help quite a bit with safety for a few days on the trail.

    If you are considering retort bagging for a thruhike using mail drops it would be a different situation altogether.

    Fwiw, I find the commercial retort bags more difficult to deal with than cans (once empty). Cans can be burned out to minimize animal attracting odors and crushed for compact carrying. Retort bags may melt or burn, but that isn't a good option, pollution-wise, even if you pack out the remaining plastic, and carrying empty packaging may stink up your entire pack.

    Has anyone weighed an empty retort pack vs. an empty can of equal volume?

    Just curious if there is much of a weight saving.
    As I live, declares the Lord God, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn back from his way and live. Ezekiel 33:11

  20. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tinker View Post
    If you froze your goods right after bagging them, I assume that would help quite a bit with safety for a few days on the trail.

    If you are considering retort bagging for a thruhike using mail drops it would be a different situation altogether.

    Fwiw, I find the commercial retort bags more difficult to deal with than cans (once empty). Cans can be burned out to minimize animal attracting odors and crushed for compact carrying. Retort bags may melt or burn, but that isn't a good option, pollution-wise, even if you pack out the remaining plastic, and carrying empty packaging may stink up your entire pack.

    Has anyone weighed an empty retort pack vs. an empty can of equal volume?

    Just curious if there is much of a weight saving.
    Hi What a good thought. I just took a 6oz can of shrimp from my cupboard and weight it on my food scale. It came out at 7.4oz. Deduct the 6oz of shrimp that leaves 1.4 oz just for the can. Then I weight an empty 4oz retort pouch that would hold 6oz of food. The empty retort pouch weight .3 oz. A difference of 1.1 oz per package not to mention it is far easier to pack retorts in a smaller space due to the flexibility of the packet.

    Retorts are becoming very popular within the food distribution all over the world. A common packet would be the Star Kist Tuna, they have if I remember right, 4 packets in a box have you seen them?
    As far burning them they burn easily in a hot camp fire. They don't stink or leave any plastic behind or you could rinse them out as easily as a can. Did you know retorts were developed for the Military? In a green version they are used for all MRE meals for the soldiers. They were developed for easy disposability with a very small carbon foot print as well as safety for the soldiers. Food packets could not be left behind in a Military or war zone.


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