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A Primer on Oxygen Absorbers for food storage

A Primer on Oxygen Absorbers…

Use oxygen absorbers, not handwarmers, for food storage

Made of iron powder, oxygen absorbers are harmless packets
used for long-term food storage to keep food fresh and free
from oxygen. They are encased in food safe, BPA-free pouches
and are non-toxic.

The active ingredient of oxygen absorbers is iron. When this
charcoal gray iron powder does its job, it rusts. This rusting
creates an iron-oxide compound, which is simply a combination
of iron and oxygen. The oxygen clings to the iron, leaving the
rest of the container with nitrogen, which doesn’t have an effect
on your food. (Air is a combination of 21% oxygen and the rest
is mostly nitrogen.)

A Primer on Oxygen Absorbers for food storage

There is no “dirty little secret” about oxygen absorbers.
Oxygen absorbers are not made the same as handwarmers! It’s
true that handwarmers, have an iron powder in them, along with
activated charcoal and sodium chloride, but handwarmers also
include an inedible substance: vermiculite, which may be

Not only do handwarmers have vermiculite, which shouldn’t be
around your food, but the packets themselves are not
considered food-safe.

Are handwarmers the same stuff as oxygen absorbers?
Now you know: they are made similarly, but they are not the
same. You should never use handwarmers in place of oxygen
absorbers, since they perform different functions. Because
vermiculite sometimes can become contaminated with asbestos,
it’s not suitable for food use.

Why risk your health and why risk your valuable food storage by
being cheap on your oxygen absorbers? Don’t skimp! Oxygen
absorbers are food-safe, vermiculite free, and ideal for food
storage. These hard working little oxygen absorber packets keep
oxygen in check to lock-in freshness and lock-out
microorganisms, insects and even moisture.

Oxygen absorbers safely:

  • Prevent mold and growth of aerobic pathogens on grains.
  • Keep Vitamin A, C, and E fresh.
  • Delay browning in fruits as of much needed oxygen
  • Inhibits oxidation of oleoresins present in spices for fresh
  • Deprive pests of oxygen (so the eggs, larva

Oxygen absorbers defend our food against three major
It’s the oxygen in the air that causes food to spoil. Oxygen
absorbers extend the life of your food storage in three ways.

  • Microorganisms. With oxygen absorbers in check, you
    won’t have to worry about microorganisms destroying your
    food. Without them, oxygen surrounds your food and
    microorganisms can flourish, including some kinds of
    bacteria, as well as mold and yeast, which can make you
    sick if ingested. Oxygen is life to these little destroyers of
    your food and they also enlist the help of enzymes.
    (Enzymes in food also react with oxygen to speed up the
    spoilage process). While some kinds of bacteria can thrive
    without oxygen, most can not. Thankfully, oxygen
    absorbers keep microorganisms and enzymes at bay, so
    your food can stay fresh.
  • Insects. When you use oxygen absorbers effectively, you’ll
    never notice a little bonus of protein buried with the grain.
    You see, your grain may look weevil free, but weevils in
    particular burrow eggs into the grain and sometimes
    survive the packaging process only to hatch and maybe
    even thrive in your food storage. Beetles, weevils and
    moths need oxygen just like humans. Without oxygen,
    these little critters thankfully won’t survive and they also
    won’t multiply. Insects love your flour and whole grains,
    beans, pasta, dried fruits and vegetables, nuts, bird seed
    and pet foods — and you can help protect these foodstuffs
    with oxygen absorbers to keep insects under control.
  • Moisture. A big secret of oxygen absorbers is that they
    also keep moisture under control! Moisture is present in all
    foods (even dried beans and rice). Oxygen absorbers
    oxidize, which means they cause the iron oxide to rust.
    This process absorbs the moisture. Along with the iron
    powder, oxygen absorbers include sodium and activated
    carbon (charcoal). Sodium is the activator, which causes
    iron particles to rust, and this helps the absorption
    process.  The bigger the oxygen absorber in terms of cubic
    centimeters, the more it can absorb moisture. The
    activated carbon adsorbs (not absorbs) gases and organic

Now that you know some benefits of oxygen absorbers, and you
know that handwarmers are not the same as oxygen absorbers,
you might want to start using oxygen absorbers right away in
your food storage. It’s tempting, but before you get started
with oxygen absorbers, get all your food storage ready and
follow the steps below.

How to use Oxygen Absorbers for food storage

Before you open the package of oxygen absorbers, get ready,
because there are three important steps to using them properly.

Three basic steps to using oxygen absorbers

Before you open the package of oxygen absorbers:

1. Set aside a canning jar for storage of absorbers.
Have a canning jar ready which will fit the entire package of
oxygen absorbers. The canning jar must have a tight, sealable
lid, so you can immediately place the absorbers you are not
using in it. Set aside this reserved jar, ensuring it is dry and
ready to go.

2. Prepare your food.
Have your dry canning ingredients and their containers clean
and ready before opening the package of absorbers. This means
you must fill all your canning jars or mylar bags with food and
have the lids ready or the sealing equipment at your side. This
ensures you’re prepared to plop in the oxygen absorber packets
immediately after opening the package and seal the food
immediately to take on the full power of the absorbers.

Foods that benefit most from oxygen absorbers include:

  • Coffee, tea and spices
  • Dried fruits
  • Dried vegetables (beans, peas, and legumes)
  • Dry dog and cat food, bird seeds
  • Grain (wheat, corn, barley rye, rice)
  • Flour and pastas

3. Know exactly how many absorbers you’ll need.
Make sure you know how many oxygen absorber packets you’ll
need for the task at hand.

This will give you a general idea for your food storage project:

  • Use at least one 100-cc oxygen absorber for a mason jar
  • Use three 100cc oxygen absorbers per #10 can
  • Use 500 cc’s of oxygen absorbers for a five-gallon bucket

Seven Tips for working with oxygen absorbers:

  • Tip #1: Buy only what you plan to use immediately.
    Estimate how many oxygen absorbers you need, then
    purchase oxygen absorbers in the smallest lot possible for
    the food storage prepping you’ve planned. Plan to use
    them immediately as oxygen absorbers start loosing
    effectiveness within three months of purchase. That’s
    because they are intended for long term storage in mason
    jars, Mylar bags, #10 cans, and food grade buckets.
  • Tip #2: Discern whether the oxygen absorbers are
    fresh. Look for the pink pill on the bag, which provides a
    good indication of effectiveness in the packet. It doesn’t
    guarantee the oxygen packets are good; however, it does
    show the effectiveness of the absorbers in the packaging.
    Instead: pinch the bag and you will know it is almost
    certainly good. The goal of oxygen absorbers is to lowers
    oxygen levels to less than 0.01%. The pink pill indicates
    this. If it’s blue, you have an old bag.
  • Tip #3: Transfer oxygen absorbers to an interim mason
    jar.  When you’re ready to begin working and after
    determining that they are worthy of use, open the package
    of oxygen absorbers and store them immediately in a glass
    mason jar (and not a zip lock plastic bag).  The oxygen
    absorbers should be air tight. The minute you open the
    manufacturer’s enclosure, or the minute there’s a puncture
    in the bag, your oxygen absorbers loose effectiveness,
    which is why you need to act quickly.
  • Tip #4: Inspect the oxygen absorbers. As you transfer
    the oxygen absorbers into the mason jar, make sure each
    oxygen absorber is soft and powdery inside, not hard or

  • Is it too hard? If you find an oxygen absorber that’s
    hard, then it’s old and useless and you should toss it.
    Your oxygen absorbers should feel as though they are
    powdery inside.
  • Is it too hot? If you find an oxygen absorber thats too
    hot, it’s a good one! When exposed to oxygen, the
    absorbers can get uncomfortably hot to the touch, but
    if this happens know that it’s working (provided the
    contents are still powdery). Pinch the bag to see if it’s
    still good: if it’s HARD, then dump it.

 Now you’re ready to begin using your oxygen absorbers.

 Tip #5: Don’t use oxygen absorbers for some foods. 

  • Do NOT use oxygen absorbers with leavening
    agents! Do not place absorbers with pancake mixes or
    other products with the leavening as the absorber
    reacts with the leavening rendering the product
    useless. Leavening agents to avoid include yeast,
    bakign soda, and baking powder.
  • Do NOT use oxygen absorbers with salt or sugar
    either! You need to keep salt and sugar dry and pest
    free, but salt simply doesn’t need an absorber, and
    oxygen absorbers will harden the sugar (think sugar
    cubes). Don’t waste your money and time.
  • Tip #6: Use oxygen absorbers with food safe, airtight
    containers. Select a long-term food storage container
    that’s a barrier to both oxygen and moisture. Use mason
    jars with metal lids that have gaskets, Mylar bags that you
    can heat seal, metal cans withe seamed lids (available for
    use at Mormon canneries), and Pete Plastic food buckets
    with air tight lids, such as gamma seal lids.
  • Tip #7: Get the most use of the oxygen absorber. Go
    ahead and use a Foodsaver with your oxygen absorber.
    Your Foodsaver will get out the air, and the oxygen
    absorber will have to work less to get the remaining
    oxygen. Also, be sure to put the oxygen absorber on top,
    where oxygen collects, so it can do the job of getting to
    most of the oxygen.

Combine oxygen absorbers with mylar bags and food grade

Food will last upwards of 20-30 years in mylar bags, when
combined with oxygen absorbers and food grade buckets. Mylar
bags filter out the sunlight and provide an additional barrier for
oxygen and moisture. To seal mylar bags, just iron the opening
shut. It’s that simple to begin bagging your Costco and Sam’s
Club bulk purchases.

Tips for mylar bags

A Primer on Oxygen Absorbers for food storage

  • Thicker is better. Long grain rice may easily poke through
    thin mylar. A good thickness is .05.

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Tips for emergency food buckets

  • Don’t run to Home Depot and get yourself a white bucket
    as it might not be food gradeOrdinary buckets will leach
    toxic chemicals during storage.
  • Never store foods in a used bucket as it may have
    contained toxic substances as well. How can you be sure
    that bucket you got at the bakery wasn’t also used to mop
    the floors. Don’t risk it.
  • Remember a gamma seal lid and a bucket opener (pictured
    at the bottom of the page).

Oxygen absorbers, silica gel packets, deoxidizers

Do you know the difference between a desiccant, and an
oxygen absorber?
A desiccant removes the moisture and an oxygen absorbs
removes the oxygen! Use a desiccant for your firearms storage
(e.g. in a gun safe); and use an oxygen absorber for your food
storage. It’s that simple. Now you know.

What’s the difference between deoxidizers, oxygen absorbers,
silica gel packets and deoxidizers?

  • Deoxidizers: The purpose of deoxidizers is to remove
    oxygen during manufacturing, but preppers often
    mistakenly believe they are for stabilization during
    storage. They are useless by the time you get them. Do
    not re-use.
  • Oxygen absorbers: Non-toxic powdered iron in food-safe
  • Oxy-Sorb 100-Pack Oxygen Absorber (ideal for nuts,
    coffees and spices). Oxy-Sorb helps retain fresh-roasted
    flavor of coffee and nuts, as well as prevents oxidation of
    spice oleoresins present in spices themselves and in
    seasoned foods. Ideal for nuts because it prevents
    oxidation of vitamins a, c and e and significantly improves
    keeping qualities of polyunsaturated fats and oils. Use
    with gas flushing/vacuum packaging to absorb virtually all
    oxygen and absorb any oxygen that may permeate the
    package. When used with proper packaging and sealing,
    Oxy-Sorb reduces oxygen in the packaging to extend shelf
    life by preventing growth of aerobic pathogens and
    spoilage organisms, including molds.
  • Silica gel packets: Silica gel has many prepper uses. Silica
    gel, clay, molecular sieve and activated carbon desiccants
    remove moisture of various products at manufacturing.
    They are useless by the time you get them. Do not re-use
    them unless you reheat them. (We suggest you just get
    new ones.) Yes, you can use silica gel packets for certain
    meats; however never re-use oxygen absorbers or silica gel
    packets for food. Oxygen absorbers have a limited shelf
    life, and silica gel packets are not free from contamination
    if they have been used previously. While it’s true you can
    re-use silica gel packets, please do not re-use them for
    food. Some silica gel packets are toxic, including the ones
    that start of blue and end up pinkish.

Is it okay to re-use Silica Gels?

No! Do not re-use Silica Gels because they break easily. Beware
of microscopic leaks or infusion as silica gels are toxic and
carcinogenic. Silica gels are not intended for food. Silica gel is
irritating to the respiratory tract and may cause irritation of the
digestive tract. Also, dust from the beads may cause irritation
to the skin and eyes. T

Finally, do not confuse oxygen absorber packets with silica gel
packets, though sometimes they may be used similarly.

No doubt oxygen absorbers are a prepper favorite; however, too
many prepper articles advise re-using the silica gel packets
enclosed with new merchandise. The first reason is they are
vastly different. Oxygen absorbers reduce oxygen and silica gel
packets remove moisture. Also, silica gel packets included with
shoes and other products were not created for  stabilization
during storage, but rather for moisture removal during
manufacture. By the time you get the merchandise, the silica
packet has long lost its effectiveness.

Why risk your valuable food storage by being cheap on your
oxygen absorbers? Don’t skimp!

Also remember, before you open the package of oxygen

  1. Set aside a canning jar for storage of absorbers.
  2. Prepare your food.
  3. Know exactly how many absorbers you’ll need.

Happy endings…
Oxygen absorbers are incredibly important for preppers. While
they are not easy to find in your local stores, they are available
online. Now that you know how to use oxygen absorbers for
food storage, start using them! Be sure also to learn about
silica gel packs.

Related articles…


Another way to seal mylar food storage bags:

A Primer on Oxygen Absorbers for food storage

Five gallon food grade bucket with GAMMA seal:

A Primer on Oxygen Absorbers for food storage


Photos and pictured products from

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