Sunday, November 4, 2007

Wrapping up a Good Deal

Reynolds' new Handi-Vac plans to take the burn out of your freezer.

Product Review: Reynolds Handi-Vac

You would think that by now, in the age of sleek stainless steel appliances brimming with modern technology, freezer burn would be a thing of the past. Fact of the matter is newer automatic defrost freezers actually have a greater chance of causing freezer burn to your frozen food due to this feature which works by automatic temperature variations. While food that suffers from freezer burn is still safe to eat, it can be shriveled dry, appear wrinkled or have lost most of its flavour. In any case, freezer burn seriously limits the amount of time you can effectively store your food in the freezer without losing its quality.

So what can be done? To prevent freezer burn, it is important to understand it first. Freezer burn is when frost or ice crystals form on your food and dry it out (this dryness is what makes us call it a “burn”). It is created by moisture being absorbed out of your food due to sublimation (a cold form of evaporation caused by contact with icy air) and then freezing on the surface. The more air near your frozen food, the more moisture will be sucked out to form frost on the surface. The solution: get rid of the air in contact with your frozen goods and you get rid of the chance for freezer burn.

There are many ways to accomplish this; the most common being using standard freezer bags and squeezing as much air out as possible before zipping them up. This also limits air circulation on the surface of the food slowing the whole process down. However, while this is the right idea, it is not completely effective as some air will always remain. A more efficient method is accomplished by certain countertop vacuum sealing models that literally suck the air out of the entire packaging materials and seal the food inside. While vacuum suction is the most effective way of eliminating freezer burn, however most of the products that do this to date are quite large, expensive and can take up valuable counter / storage space… until now.

Reynolds (the same people famous for bringing you aluminium foil and other household packaging material) are out to break the ice (no pun intended) with their handheld vacuum sealer system called the Handi-Vac.

The Reynolds Handi-Vac: giving freezer bags everywhere an inferiority complex.

Product Overview:

The Reynolds handheld Handi-Vac is part of a vacuum sealing system that works in conjunction with Reynolds brand Handi-Vac bags. The vacuum itself is very portable as it is battery powered and weighs in at only 340g (equivalent to 12 ounces, including the batteries).

The power to stop freezer burn – right in the palm of your hand.

The system works by placing your food inside a Reynolds Handi-Vac bag as your would with any freezer bag. The difference is that these special bags contain a small self-sealing suction port (bag air valve), and once the bag is closed, simply press the nozzle on the Handi-Vac against the bag air valve on and suck all that unwanted air right out. The valve will only open by suction which means air should not leak back in when you pull the vacuum away. No need to fumble and bumble in trying to squeeze every last bit of air out.

Bullseye! This suction port is what sets these bags apart from conventional freezer bags.

Overall, I found this to be a good product. There are many positive features and also some limitations to this product as we will discuss in more detail below.

Product Line:

Currently, there is only one type of handheld Handi-Vac available. The product line begins with a starter kit that includes the Handi-Vac, the necessary batteries, three medium-sized bags and an instruction sheet.

You’ll be off to a quick start with the extra goodies included in the Handi-Vac starter kit.

Additional bags are available as packages of large (gallon) and smaller (quart) sizes. There is no indication that these bags are interchangeable with other brand vacuum systems, however they can be used as regular freezer bags if you don’t need to suck them flat.

The product line is still quite young so I haven’t seen much in the accessories department such as nozzle attachments or different packaging options besides bags. Besides the batteries, there also seems to be no user-serviceable parts, so I haven’t come across any official retail plans for replacement parts at this time.


While the exact figure may vary, the starter kit mentioned above retails for about $9.99 in the United States. There is no firm figure yet in Canadian dollars, but this price should end up being the same given the recent parity between the two dollars.

The refill bags come in packs of 14 medium size bags or 9 large sized bags for $3.29 each. This is a bit more than standard freezer bags, probably due to the extra complexity in their design (bag air valve, etc).

Batteries are included in the starter kit, which is a good thing since six “AA” cells are required. Depending on how and what you decide to buy, replacing these batteries can come with a hefty price tag due to the large quantity.

Appearance and Design:

While it may sound silly, the first time I held the Handi-Vac in my hand I could only think about how much it reminded me of the handheld Phaser from Star Trek: The Next Generation (yes Average Joe loves his Sci-Fi). In this case, the overall shape is smooth, with clean edges and fits well in your hand.

Was the Handi-Vac inspired by Star Trek’s Phaser? One zaps freezer burn, the other takes care of Klingons.

The white plastic body is smooth, nicely fitted, feels sturdy and even the clear plastic nose at the front is of similar quality. The nozzle is attached to the nose vacuum chamber with a slightly flexible neck, which feels quite stiff and resilient when moved around. No flimsiness here.

This product really sucks … the air out of your freezer bags, that is.

The device is turned on and off by the large blue momentary button on the body. The button is a good size and located in the right place. One-handed operation is not a problem.

One button operation. Can’t really complain that it’s hard to use now, can we?

Battery storage is at the base of the handle and the arrangement is quite neat and orderly, which is a good thing considering there are six back there. The cover is sturdy and held on by tabs and secured with a screw. This is an excellent design as there is really no way to accidentally open it during use or to lose the batteries during storage.

The Handi-Vac (surprisingly) packs a lot of power. I could almost boost my car with this many batteries.

While there are no hooks or grappling points to hang it up, the size of the Handi-Vac makes it perfect to store in any standard-sized kitchen drawer.

The bags look no different from other freezer bags except for the blue “target zone” air valve near the top zipper and a second airflow mesh woven on the inside. The purpose of this mesh appears to be to encourage a uniform airflow during the suction by making sure air is removed from all parts of the bag. Besides this, the bags open and close easily and securely, and are of a good thickness meaning they won’t tear or puncture any easier than your standard bag.


Now for the fun part: can this product deliver as promised? Let’s see.

One of the reasons I was interested in this product is that it address a real every-day need. Freezer burn is here, whether you’re storing some meat you bought in bulk for months later or taking last week’s leftovers out for dinner. In particular, I’ve seen freezer burn first hand whenever I make my World Famous Average Joe Spicy Chicken Veggie Stir-Fry.

The frozen vegetables I use for the stir-fry come in this nifty re-sealable bag which normally would be a good thing, right? Wrong! Open the veggies the first time, and they’re fantastic. Put the leftovers back, and good luck getting the air out of that bag. The plastic bag is so think, the vegetables so different in shape, it’s impossible to fold the bag into a good, snug fit. Open that bag a week later and the result is a clump of vegetables that looks like they were recovered from a geological dig at the nearest glacier. Could Handi-Vac be the solution? Only one way to find out.

No this isn’t some health nut’s idea of a veggie ice cream, this is freezer burn gone wild.

After chipping the icicles off my baby corn, I followed the directions and added the veggie mix to a medium size Handi-Vac bag. It’s important that you put the right amount in (don’t overstuff) and ensure that at least part of the food touches that funny air valve strip I mentioned previously. The latter is quite important: if your food is located only below this zone, the suction will be strong enough to suck in the sides of the bag and pinch off the airflow before it has a chance to fully grab the air surrounding your food, causing ineffective vacuum sealing.

Next, I sealed it up at the top without the slightest effort to squeeze out air first. I then laid the bag flat on the counter top, which is also very important as it ensures the nozzle will be properly seated without side leakage on the bag air valve. I got the Handi-Vac ready by pressing it against the target zone, the alignment was quite easy, and everything was ready to start the suction.

The first thing I noticed once I pressed the switch was how loud the Handi-Vac was. Now, would I consider this as too loud? Well, it’s hard to say and people have different definitions of “too loud”, but I’ll go on the record as saying it was just louder than I expected. Think of a blender on low speed, but with a jackhammer rhythm. The good news is that the noise wasn’t really a major issue because the vacuum worked perfectly and fast from the get-go, meaning it didn’t have to stay on for very long. Within seconds, I could see the bag shrinking around the veggies and it sealed them in perfectly.

Going… going … gone! The air was sucked out of this bag in less than ten seconds.

The next part of the test was leaving the bag for several nights in the freezer to see if there would be any leakage of the vacuum seal over time. After a few days of testing, I was pleased to find that the bag looked just as tight as it did the night I sealed it, and there was no (if very little) frost to be found. The bag also opened easily from the zipper, meaning I was not required to cut the bag open as with other types of vacuum sealing equipment that create a permanent seal. Mission accomplished by the Handi-Vac.

Well preserved … like a fine Egyptian mummy (except with freshness).

Other Features and Fun Stuff:

While it is officially discouraged to suck up liquids or small particles, I can easily see a few drops of juice or crumbs getting eventually sucked up during normal operation. The good news is that the vacuum chamber is also removable, which (should it be required) makes cleaning fairly easy. It should be noted however that I found the nose difficult to remove and replace, which scared me a little since I didn’t want to break anything, but may not necessarily be a bad thing as this is supposed to be an air-tight connection.

While this technically is a handheld vacuum, you shouldn’t mistake it for a Shop-Vac.

I’m curious as to what the life expectancy of the black O-ring seals may be over time, especially the one on the tip of nozzle as it has the greatest chance of drying out or getting dirty. While this may not be a major concern, I was unable to find any information on this in the supplied instruction manual, but wonder what will happen as they dry out over time. Hopefully buying a new unit won’t be the only option.

The short instruction sheet provided is understandable, concise and to the point, which is exactly the way it should be. The illustrations are clear, important points that affect performance (such as “use only on a flat surface”) are raised and explained, and the tips and troubleshooting sections covers most of the imaginable areas where difficulty or confusion could arise. While I find the website a little too “marketing-friendly”, it is still a good resource and an adequate supplement to the starter kit instruction sheet.

Final Verdict:

Overall, I liked this product. It is useful and not just another gadget that you’ll only use once a year. The quality of the product is reasonable for the price and accomplishes what it was intended to do very well, without being complicated to use.

The main drawback I could see is that the vacuum is fairly noisy, but considering it works in seconds this may not be an issue to most people. It’s also unfortunate that the bags are not recommended for re-use, but from what I can assume this is probably more of a food health concern than a functional issue, as it’s not like the air valve breaks once used. Perhaps swapping meat into the same bag may not be a good idea, especially if the bag was also used to defrost, but there may be certain situations where the bag may be washed and re-used with reasonable user’s discretion.


• Starter package comes with everything that you need
• Reasonably priced
• Works fast and as promised
• Easy to operate and store
• Good quality construction


• Somewhat noisy
• Requires a fairly large number of batteries (six)
• Bags not recommended for re-use
• Relatively new product so lifecycle issues unknown

In summary, this product is a great little kitchen gadget that will definitely find good use in your home. This is certainly something to keep in mind as a nice stocking stuffer when Christmas rolls around.

Average Joe’s Product Rating: 8.5 / 10

Additional information on this product is available at:

Reynolds Kitchen: Handi-Vac