Vacuum packing is a method of packaging that removes air from the package prior to sealing. This method involves (manually or automatically) placing items in a plastic film package, removing air from inside, and sealing the package. Shrink film is sometimes used to have a tight fit to the contents. The intent of vacuum packing is usually to remove oxygen from the container to extend the shelf life of foods and, with flexible package forms, to reduce the volume of the contents and package.
Vacuum packing reduces atmospheric oxygen, limiting the growth of aerobic bacteria or fungi, and preventing the evaporation of volatile components. It is also commonly used to store dry foods over a long period of time, such as cereals, nuts, cured meats, cheese, smoked fish, coffee, and potato chips (crisps). On a more short term basis, vacuum packing can also be used to store fresh foods, such as vegetables, meats, and liquids, because it inhibits bacterial growth.
Vacuum packing greatly reduces the bulk of non-food items. For example, clothing and bedding can be stored in bags evacuated with a domestic vacuum cleaner or a dedicated vacuum sealer. This technique is sometimes used to compact household waste, for example where a charge is made for each full bag collected.
For delicate food items which might be crushed by the vacuum packing process (such as potato chips), an alternative is to replace the interior gas with nitrogen. This has the same effect of inhibiting deterioration due to the removal of oxygen.