Oxygen Absorbers vs. Silica Gel Packets

Oxygen Absorbers vs. Silica Gel Packets

Table of Contents
Table of Contents

If you’re looking to store food long-term, you will likely need oxygen absorbers or silica gel packets. However, what are they, and how do you know which one to use? In this article, we will discuss oxygen absorbers vs. silica gel packets. These trinkets are used to keep all sorts of food fresh.

To learn how you can make the most of oxygen absorbers and silica gel when prepping your food for long-term storage, read on.

What are Silica Gel packets?

Silica gel packets belong to the desiccant family – the broad category of materials that absorb moisture. Bentonite clay, along with other chemical formulas such as calcium chloride, is also used in similar places as silica gel packets; they all keep water away from products that need to stay dry (source).

As you may know, humidity can shorten the shelf-life and many types of food and encourages mold growth. So, you may see silica gel packets in some of the food packaging you’ve bought from the grocery store.

Related Article: Long Term Food Storage in Hot Climate

Silica Gel Packet

How Does a Silica Gel Work?

As mentioned earlier, silica gel packets absorb moisture when there’s too much in the air. And if the air gets too dry, the packet can release some of the absorbed water. The gel is a mix of water and silica. These ingredients, when put together, have almost a sponge-like structure. The tiny gaps between these sponge-like molecules are what allow silica gel to absorb water so efficiently and effectively.

When to use Silica Gel Packets?

You may have seen silica gel packets in many places, such as in shoe boxes and gadget boxes. What’s more, you’ve likely read the “do not eat” warning on the packet; however, it’s important to note that silica gel is safe to put in food containers and does a fantastic job of keeping food fresh.

Silica gel is fantastic for keeping certain foods fresh. Here are a few examples of some foods you may wish to use silica gel on for long-term storage (source):

  • Spices
  • Herbs
  • Dried fruits
  • Brown sugar and other food items that tend to clump up
  • Onions, potatoes, and other vegetables that sprout quickly

Below is a table on the recommended amount of silica gel packets based on the size of your container:

Litersor Cubic Ftor Cubic InGrams of Silica Gel needed

What are Oxygen Absorbers?

If you’ve ever opened up a food box or a jar of gummy bears, you may have found tiny little packets inside of them. What you may have seen are oxygen absorbers. These absorbers are packed into hundreds of various commercial food products to help keep them fresh while in long-term storage.

Oxygen Absorbers

What are Oxygen Absorbers made of?

Oxygen absorbers sometimes referred to as oxygen scavengers, are made of small amounts of iron powder mixed with salt. But some oxygen absorber packs use activated carbon instead of iron.

With commercially manufactured oxygen absorbers, the packet is as important as the contents. Modern oxygen absorbers come in a porous sachet that lets the packet remove oxygen from the surrounding environment easily. But in some products – especially food products that are high in fat – these porous sachets may disintegrate. So, you may see several oxygen absorbers that come in plastic packaging for greater durability.

How do Oxygen Absorbers Work?

When you put an average oxygen absorber in a container of food, it removes the oxygen from within that micro-environment. While the oxygen and moisture touch the iron inside the oxygen absorber packet, the iron oxidizes (rusts) to form iron oxide.

Any salt that’s been added to the oxygen absorber acts as a catalyst and speeds up the process. This allows the iron to act more effectively in dry environments.

While the iron oxide forms, it concurrently draws oxygen out of the micro-environment inside your food storage and produces nitrogen.

In short, oxygen absorbers remove oxygen from food containers and add stable nitrogen. This process helps prevent food from spoiling and extends the shelf life of many types of food.

When to use Oxygen Absorbers?

We’ve discussed what oxygen absorbers are, what they’re made of, and how they work. Now, you may be wondering when you should use oxygen absorbers. It’s understandable to assume that oxygen absorbers are mandatory for all types of dry foods for long-term storage. But this simply isn’t the case.

Not all dry foods need oxygen absorbers. Let’s run through when you should and shouldn’t use oxygen absorbers when storing food long-term (source):

  • Glass or Mason Jars: You may use oxygen absorbers to help with storing food in glass or mason jars. But it’s important to note that glass or mason jars allow light to enter the container; thus, food oxidizes. So, you may wish to use glass or mason jars along with oxygen absorbers for shorter-term storage.
  • Flour: If you wish to store flour, you may use oxygen absorbers. Adding oxygen absorbers will lengthen the shelf life of your flour by at least five years. It’s important not to use oxygen absorbers with whole wheat flour, however, as this type of flour will only last a year regardless of whether you add an oxygen absorber.
  • Sugar: You don’t need an oxygen absorber in sugar. You can directly store granulated sugar in a food-grade bucket. The same is true for brown sugar.
  • Plastic Containers: You may assume that plastic containers are airtight and create effective oxygen barriers on their own. This, however, is not the case. While it’s true that plastic containers may reduce the entry of oxygen, it doesn’t completely stop airflow. So, this situation warrants the use of oxygen absorbers.
  • Beef Jerky: Don’t use oxygen absorbers with beef jerky. Using oxygen absorbers with jerky increases the risk of botulism and rancidity. This is because beef jerky has a high moisture and fat content. So, oxygen absorbers may create a favorable environment for botulism.
  • Rice: Most packs of store-bought white rice have shelf lives of five years. Dropping in oxygen absorbers in a food-grade bucket lined with mylar bags can lengthen this shelf life by a couple of years. If you prefer eating brown rice, it’s best not to use oxygen absorbers, as doing so may increase the risk of rancidity in your brown rice.

Below is a table on the recommended number of oxygen absorbers to use depending on the size of your container:

CCs NeededSize of Container
100 cc32 oz Mason Jar
300 cc1 Gallon Container
1500 cc5 gallon Bucket

Silica Gel

Advantages and Disadvantages of Silica Gel?

Silica gel packets do come with their own advantage and disadvantages, so it is important to know them before using them.

What are the Advantages of Silica Gel?

Similar to oxygen absorbers, silica gel packets are non-toxic. What’s more, you may also use them with dry food packaging to absorb humidity that may cause the food to go bad. Unlike oxygen absorbers, you may safely reuse silica gel; however, you’ll need to heat the silica gel packet before reusing it to stave off any prior humidity absorption.

What are the Disadvantages of Silica Gel Packets?

Although silica gel is non-toxic, it would be best to stay cautious since the dust from silica gel beads may cause redness and irritation when in contact with your skin or eyes; also, inhaling silica gel may cause lung irritation. Finally, silica gel beads may become choking hazards for your kids if they accidentally eat them.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Oxygen Absorbers

Using oxygen absorbers comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Below we will go into detail on the items you should know about them.

What are the Advantages of Oxygen Absorbers?

Oxygen absorbers are non-toxic and safe to use in food packages to prevent infestation and color change. What’s more, they help maintain the quality of oils and polyunsaturated fats to stop them from going rancid. Oxygen absorbers can reduce the aerobic environment to a measly 0.01 percent oxygen. The reduction of oxygen in the environment inhibits the growth of any fungi or microorganisms in various food products.

What are the Disadvantages of Oxygen Absorbers?

You can only use oxygen absorbers effectively with dry food and food low in oil content. Note that you can only use oxygen absorbers for food products that have ten percent moisture or less; otherwise, botulism poisoning may occur. Finally, oxygen absorbers are for single use only, and you can’t reuse them.Can you use both Silica Gel and Oxygen Absorbers?

It’s not recommended to use silica gel and oxygen absorber at the same time for the same food packaging. This is due to the conflict in how both items work. Oxygen absorbers need moisture to activate and work properly. On the other hand, silica gel’s purpose is to absorb moisture – including the moisture needed by oxygen absorbers. So, using both together will cause the oxygen absorber to be useless.

What are the Similarities and Differences between Oxygen Absorbers and Silica Gel?

The main contrasting feature between an oxygen absorber and a silica gel packet is that oxygen absorbers take in oxygen but not moisture, while silica gel can absorb moisture. What’s more, oxygen absorbers are made of salt and iron powder (in most cases). Silica gel, on the other hand, is made of a porous and amorphous type of silicon dioxide.

Final Thoughts

Silica gel and oxygen absorbers are often thought to be the same thing. Although they serve similar purposes, there are nuanced differences between the two. Now that you know the key differences between silica gel and oxygen absorbers, you’ll be able to use each to aid your long-term food storage efforts.

To learn more about the many ways preppers can store all kinds of food for long-term storage, check out the other guides on our website.

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