I first saw the Tilia Food Saver model 550 on an infomercial years ago and bought it on a late-night whim but it has turned out to be the coolest thing I ever bought for the kitchen. It has changed my approach to food entirely. There are lots of attachments available but all you need are roll bags and a box of mason jars from the local hardware store (cheap). You then vacuum seal everything in the cabinet and fridge (jars) and freezer (jars or bags) — including veggies, milk, rice, etc. Everything lasts 4 to 5 times as long plus tastes better and retains the nutrition better. Food savings alone make up for any costs, but that nice “swoosh” sound of prying off the lid from a mason jar is very satisfying and reassuring.
I did an experiment leaving fresh parsley in the veggie drawer of the refrigerator, and putting some in a vacuum sealed mason jar. After 2 weeks the drawer stored parsley was still usable but smelled and tasted “off” like mold. Opening the mason jar the smell of fresh parsley came out and it tasted like it was just bought. I can only imagine the vitamin and mineral content was retained better too. One side effect is my refrigerator has more room and easy to manage as mason jars are uniform to stack and pack.
I store all my pantry dry goods in vacuumed mason jars. Beans, rice, coffee, hot chocolate, sugar, etc., and label everything with the date. Most dried goods pick up bacteria and molds that are not visible which is why you should not buy from bulk food bins that have no expiration date. The typical life is around 6 months to a year for most dry goods but with vacuum sealing it can last much longer and retain more nutritional value.
If I come into a large quantity of food and want to save it longer than a week I freeze. The best way is to first freeze it so it gets hard, then vacuum seal, this way the strong vacuum does not mush it. For liquids like soup, freeze it in the serving bowls, run under hot water to remove from the bowl and you have a chunk of soup in the shape of a bowl, vacuum seal and it is instant meal that can be re-heated in the original bowl. For example, turkey and ham from the holidays: Cut the meat off the carcass into small chunks, freeze it, vacuum seal it in small portions (I have 5 or 6 bags of Turkey from Thanksgiving) and you have cooked meat packets for recipes without having to dethaw the entire amount.
I was at first worried about recurring bag costs. But a case of 12 11″x18′ rolls can be bought from the manufactures website for $130 and so far it has lasted many years. That is a lot of bags at 18 feet per roll and it is possible to re-use bags. The pre-cut bags are nice but costly, the roll bags give you more control over bag size and thus usage. Do not get the Tilia canister or bulk storage items because they loose their seal and are flimsy materials; mason jars work better and are cheaper.
I recommend the model 550 as it does everything you need and is entirely manual operation. The more expensive models will automate some tasks like cutting the roll and have more capacity, but they take up more counter space. My 550 has lasted over 7 years of regular use and still going strong. The 550 comes with the wide mouth jar sealer attachment which fits wide-mouth pint, 1Q and 1/2 gallon mason jars. It uses normal mason lids sold in hardware stores so you don’t need to buy anything from Tilia other than the attachment.
What and how you vacuum seal is up to you and creativity is the name of the game. If your looking to buy on the cheap they often show up on the the police auction site and eBay.
[This model is no longer available. A number of models have come and gone. The latest seems to be the V2240, which has received mixed reviews on Amazon; if you have any experience and can report positively or negatively about the latest iteration, please let us know -- SL]