Eating dinner at a friend's house almost 20 years ago, I mentioned how good fresh fish tastes compared to fish that was frozen. He told me with a grin that the fish we were eating had been cooling in his freezer for two years.

At first I didn't believe him. I knew the trick about freezing fish in water to minimize freezer burn, but they still only last a few months. He introduced me to the first vacuum-packing/heat-sealing unit I'd ever seen, and I have had a happy relationship with one ever since.

Wasting edible meat from fish and game is illegal in most states. That is one crime that will never get me arrested, thanks to my appreciation for the all-natural, low-fat, completely organic food value of wild fish and game. Vacuum sealing before freezing your fish fillets or meal-sized cuts of game is a great way to ensure they don't go to waste.

The maker of FoodSaver and GameSaver vacuum sealing systems reports that venison lasts three to four months in traditional freezer storage but stays fresh when vacuum sealed for two and a half years. I've enjoyed vacuum-sealed venison and fish that waited in the freezer for three years!

These systems also enhance buying certain groceries cheaper in bulk; simply vacuum seal meal-sized portions and freeze them. They also simplify putting meals together before hunting and fishing trips.

Everything from homemade MREs to full meals can be sealed, frozen and then allowed to slowly thaw in the cooler at camp.

Food isn't the only thing that can benefit. Vacuum seal a few fire-starter squares, along with a small lighter or some strike-anywhere matches, and you're ready to get a fire going in an emergency.

You can put together a compact first-aid kit (including prescriptions) the same way, and vacuum-sealing a first-aid manual or survival guide protects them until they're needed.

There is hardly a better way to store backup batteries for your flashlights, handheld GPS or portable two-way radios. I reload ammunition for several rifles and handguns, and I store my cleaned and polished brass in pre-counted quantities in vacuum-sealed bags.

I once lost an outboard motor's prop along, with all the hardware I needed to install the spare. Just lay out an extra thrust washer, prop nut and any other components your engine's prop shaft calls for, vacuum seal them and you have a homemade blister pack that keeps everything together, clean and shiny until you need it.

Vacuum-sealing systems have traditionally been kitchen-use items. FoodSaver has changed that with its new dual-power GameSaver G500 Silver model. It runs on 110 volts, AC, in the kitchen, but it can also run in the field on 12 volts, DC. A special 15-foot cord plugs into any standard power outlet in your vehicle or boat that is protected by a 10-amp or larger fuse.

Many fishing camps will freeze your catch for you, but few are equipped to vacuum-seal them in meal-sized portions first. Now you can do that at the dock, and then have the marina or camp freeze them for you. Keep in mind that the unit is not weather proof and must be protected from the elements.

You can use FoodSaver's pre-formed pint, quart or gallon sized heat-sealed bags or quart or gallon sized zipper-sealed bags. You can even make your own custom bags from rolls of bag material.

You can also vacuum seal contents in deli-, meal-, and bulk-sized FoodSaver containers, standard canning jars and even bottles. FoodSaver's standard bag material comes in rolls 8 inches wide by 20 feet long or 11 inches wide by 16 feet long. The bag material is made with a cross-hatch pattern of channels molded into the multi-layer plastic so air can be removed from the whole bag at once. The bags are BPA and phthalate free.

FoodSaver recently announced new heavy-duty heat-seal rolls of bag-making material that is 30 percent stronger, blocks air 40 percent better and has twice the puncture resistance compared to its standard bags. The 11-inch wide rolls are 12 feet long and safe for use in microwave ovens.

Another new DAM gallon-size bag has a special liquid-blocking strip that prevents moisture from escaping the bag mouth and compromising the seal when vacuum-sealing juicy meat and fish.

For extra-large items FoodSaver offers expandable, heat-seal rolls with pleats on the sides, giving you room to package extra-large game pieces like roasts and thick steaks. These rolls are 11 inches wide by 18 feet long.

There are also dual-portion heat-seal rolls that let you seal two items in separate side-by-side compartments in each bag. This would be handy for putting fire-starter squares in one side and strike-anywhere matches in the other.

One roll of bag material stores under the G500's lid in a special compartment. To make your own bags, just unroll enough material to reach the heat sealing strip. With the part of the bag you want to seal against the sealing strip, close and latch the lid. Press the "Seal" button to seal it. When the red progress light turns off, unlatch the lid. Unroll about 3 more inches of material than you need for the current storage job, and then close the lid. Slide the lid's built-in cutter across the material to cut it cleanly. Don't make the bag too short: you need at least 3 inches of space between the top of the contents and the seal.

Put your fish, game or other contents in the bag, and then lay the bag in front of the machine with the bag's open mouth in the unit's drip tray. Close and latch the lid and then press the "Vac/Seal" button. The vacuum pump will stop pumping automatically, but if you are vacuum sealing something delicate you can press the "Seal" button at any time to start the seal process — the vacuum pump will quickly shut off when the bag seals. Otherwise, just wait until the pump stops and the red light goes out, and you can unlatch the lid and remove the sealed bag.

Any liquid that gets sucked out of the bag should be caught in the drip tray, but even the G500's oversized tray can overflow. It's a good idea to drain as much liquid from the contents as possible before starting the vacuum process and empty the tray after sealing each bag.

Cleanup is simple: Gaskets and surfaces can be cleaned with a warm, soapy rag and rinsed with a wet but soap-free cloth (do not immerse the unit in water). The drip tray can be placed in the top rack of a dishwasher.

The GameSaver Silver G500 retails for $199. For more information, visit www.foodsaver.com or call 877-777-8042.