You’ve done your homework, checked your available space, and you’re finally ready to start putting away your ultra-long term food storage bins. There’s just one thing that seems to come up over and over. Do you need regular oxygen absorbers, or is that a waste of money? What about chemical hand warmers? The two indeed have some significant similarities, so I’ll walk you through everything you need to know. Proper food storage is a vital skill for emergency preparedness and survival situations. Luckily I’m here to take the guesswork out of the debates. There are hard facts behind all those opinions and myths.
Can hand warmers be used as oxygen absorbers? Hand warmers should not be used as oxygen absorbers. Since hand warmers work best in high oxygen environments, their effectiveness decreases the more they remove. Sadly, while a handwarmer does remove some oxygen, it’s not enough to prevent mold as effectively as a standard O2 absorber.
Hand Warmers Vs. Oxygen Absorbers
To understand why hand warmers make poor oxygen absorbers, you need to understand the differences more than the similarities. Although both require oxygen and absorb it to create chemical bonds, only one does that efficiently and completely.
Resultantly, hand warmers do take oxygen out of the container they’re inside. However, they’re designed for O2 rich environments. Moreover, a typical oxygen absorber doesn’t have the exothermic (heat) issue or the added ingredients.
Oxygen Absorber Anatomy
A basic oxygen absorber is very simple. The outside is a food-safe package that allows air to get inside. Internally, there is an iron powder that can’t escape. As you know, eating iron powder would be dangerous to your intestines.
The iron takes in oxygen and bonds to it on a molecular level. It traps the oxygen. Hence your food isn’t exposed to air. This simple, brilliant solution is the best for storing things you plan to eat.
If you want standard oxygen absorbers for your long term supplies, I recommend ShieldPro 500cc Oxygen Absorbers from Amazon. You only need one per gallon of food, and they are the best in class option. Always choose a high-quality absorber like these since it doesn’t pay to go with the lowest bidder where survival is on the line. To learn more about ShieldPro, click here.
Hand Warmer Composition
The permeable cover on a hand warmer is very similar to an oxygen absorber. In short, it lets air in but doesn’t let anything out. Inside you’ll find salt, water, iron powder, activated carbon, and absorbent material. When oxygen hits the blend inside, it heats up and bonds to the oxygen.
The ‘absorbent material’ tends to be one of three things. Either it’s vermiculite, a silicon-based mineral, pulverized wood, or polyacrylate. If these leaked out into your food, it wouldn’t be a good thing. Although the same can be said of iron, the risk is less since O2 absorbers are designed to go into food packages.
The Downside to Hand Warmers
There are several good reasons not to use hand warmers as oxygen absorbers. Notably, in a desperate survival situation, I would say anything that works is better than nothing at all. Ultimately though, it’s like using a stick in a knife fight, not the best tool for the job.
If you absolutely have to choose a heating pack instead of standard O2 absorbers, I strongly suggest you look into boot warmers instead of hand warmers. The difference may seem small, but packages designed for shoes can do more with less oxygen.
Try out HeatMax Toasti Hot Hands Toe-Warmers instead of choosing the type intended for cupping between your palms. Hot Hands is a well known and trusted brand. More importantly, their products are environmentally safe, so you can dispose of them when you eventually eat the food you’ve stored. Check the Amazon reviews here.
Three Reasons to Use Oxygen Absorbers
Despite their similarities, oxygen absorbers and hand warmers are not the same. Whenever possible, you should choose the best tool for any job. In this case, that means using standard O2 absorbers that work for this purpose. Here are the top three reasons why you want a product specifically made for the task of removing air.
- Chemicals- Iron powder-based oxygen absorbers are designed and packaged to come in contact with food. The packaging should not leach chemicals or iron into your diet.
- Heat- A hand warmer reaches temperatures of up to a hundred thirty-five degrees. Food isn’t meant to be stored at such warm temperatures. At best, the heat will destroy vital nutrients and vitamins in some of your food as it removes some oxygen.
- Effectiveness- An excellent O2 absorber should remove the oxygen down to 0.1%. Unfortunately, a hand warmer cannot and does not promise the same.
It’s worth noting that there are two easily confused products that an incautious survivor might pick up by accident. First, there are non-chemical hand warmers, which are not even similar to the product that absorbs oxygen. Typically these plug into a wall and charge a battery. While they’re useful, sticking them in your food would be silly and ineffective.
Second, and also easy to mistake are silicon packets. You’ll find these in boxes with new shoes and many other non-food products. While they do absorb, it’s not oxygen they’re after, but rather moisture. Please do not put the “Do Not Eat” packets from your shoes into your rice and beans.
How to Use Handwarmers & Oxygen Absorbers
There’s nothing wrong with DIY; however, using hand warmers as oxygen absorbers isn’t the best idea. Although it’s rare, hand warmers can leak a small amount of the iron and other internal materials. Additionally, hand warmers intentionally put out a burst of heat. Meanwhile, O2 absorbers disburse any heat they produce.
If you cannot find any O2 absorbers in an emergency, a few hand or foot warmers might help reduce oxygen. However, it’s a much better plan to use FDA approved oxygen removers. This is one time when I suggest skipping the do-it-yourself solutions.
More Reasons You Need Oxygen Absorbers
In addition to the other reasons you need oxygen absorbers, removing the oxygen prevents the growth of microorganisms. You don’t want moldy or rotten food, so you need to control the environment. Nothing that damages your supplies thrives in the absence of breathable air.
In addition to feeding mold and bacteria, there are three other problems with oxygen inside your food storage. First, oxidation will destroy your food even if it causes no other issues. Secondly, plastic containers are permeable, and over about five years, a sealed bucket will exchange air with the outside. Third, fungal spores can thrive in a dark environment like your storage bins.
Naturally, you don’t want fungus to grow inside your food storage. Even if you plan to store mushrooms, they should be dried out to preserve any food value over time. You’ll need ongoing oxygen removal to keep any dry goods safe from fungi and other hidden growths.
Oxidized food can cause health issues if you consume too much at a time. The process of oxidation can change the texture, smell, and flavor of your meals. Moreover, certain foods, like those with cholesterol, can become a much more serious issue. Oxidized cholesterol can lead to serious heart issues.
Your body identifies oxidized cholesterol as bacteria. Resultantly it tries to fight that cholesterol and can cause inflammation. This swelling in your arteries is also known as heart disease or atherosclerosis.
Hand warmers are easy to use. Typically you open the package and shake them to start the chemical reaction. It only takes a few seconds for the heat to begin warming your skin. However, you need to be careful not to put hand warmers directly on your flesh.
Since your warmers can reach a hundred thirty-five degrees, you want to avoid burns. The same applies to your food, which is why you want to use the right kind of oxygen absorber. Keep the hand warmers for wintertime weather.
Long Term Food Storage With Oxygen Absorbers
Storing your long term emergency food supplies is the most common use for oxygen absorbers. As you can see, keeping the air inside a container oxygenated is a bad plan if you want to preserve the nutrients and avoid spoilage.
The process of storing your food with O2 absorbers is straightforward. You need plastic bins that seal well, mylar bags, oxygen absorbers, and dried foods. Freeze-dried vegetables, rice, beans, flour, and even cocoa powder all excellent long term goods when appropriately packaged.
Whether this is your first time or you’re rotating out products you’ve had for years, I suggest picking up a PackFreshUSA Kit with mylar bags and oxygen absorbers. The easy to seal bags hold a gallon apiece so you can open up some of your food without having to expose a full five gallons to the air. Order from Amazon by clicking here.
Simply place your meals and an O2 remover in a mylar bag. Press out excess air, then seal the end with a hot iron. You’ll want to place some baking paper under and over the mylar as you heat seal it.
Add your bags to a five-gallon bucket and seal it all up when it’s full. For added ‘insurance,’ you can pack some additional oxygen removers into the bucket, but outside the bags. However, that step isn’t necessary if you’ve done an excellent job packing up your food.
Unfortunately, your chemical hand warmers aren’t great oxygen absorbers. Whenever possible, choose multifunctional emergency supplies. Although you could probably keep a cup of tea or soup warm for longer using heat packs, they aren’t the right solution for food storage.
In an actual disaster, when there’s nothing left in stores, you could use a bag of hand or boot warmers for a while. However, they might damage or contaminate your food. More importantly, they just won’t take the same amount of oxygen out. Plus, it’s hit and miss guessing how much you need.
Save your hand warmers for keeping your fingers from freezing in winter. Choose an oxygen absorber designed for your long term food storage.