How long does dehydrated food last is a complex question?
The answer to this question is too involved to cover in one article, but we have outlined the basics to get you thinking.
Consider what food you want to dehydrate, and then consider how you want to dry the food.
After that, you can research more details on drying that food item before deciding on an ideal storage method to increase its shelf life.
What is dehydration
People have been drying food for centuries as an effective preservation method. Drying or dehydrating food simply means removing the moisture from the food to store it for longer periods.
How long does dehydrated food last, depends on various factors, which ancient and modern humanity have improved over time.
Modern manufacturing methods use a different method to dry food. Now, manufacturers add heat to the food, using hot air. The hot air essentially removes most of the moisture, increasing the product’s shelf life.
Contemporary food drying methods transfer heat and mass simultaneously within the food and whatever method manufacturers use in this process.
Other methods include using a specific gas to manipulate food moisture content through manipulation of heat and mass within the medium of transfer and the food. In other words, a medium injects energy into the food to dehydrate it.
Manufacturers and survivalists use various methods to dry food, such as:
- Electric dehydrators
- Sun drying (not suitable for humid climates)
- Air drying
- Oven drying
- Room drying
Other outcomes of food dehydration include:
- Food weight and volume decrease
- Food becomes easier to package and store
- Easily portable
- Easier to use as you just add water or milk to reconstitute dry goods (eggs, fruit, vegetable juice, milk, coffee extract). For example, adding water to powdered eggs or milk.
- Increases or adds various qualities such as flavors, texture, or crispness). Raisons undergo a transformation process from grapes, for example.
Why does dehydrated food last longer
How long does dehydrated food last, means effectively removing excess moisture. Once you remove the moisture, its shelf life is longer because organisms need moist environments to grow.
Various organisms need moisture to grow. Organisms such as yeasts, molds, and bacteria thrive in moist environments. When you dehydrate food, you positively impact the ability of these organisms to thrive.
Consequently, the absence of most of the moisture content in the food increases its shelf life because dry food is more resistant to attracting bacteria.
The downside of food dehydration is a loss of some nutrition. Despite most dehydration methods leaving 20% moisture content in the food, they will lose vitamins such as A and C.
The loss of these vitamins occurs when using heat or air to dehydrate the food. However, the shelf life of the product increases, allowing people to benefit from the remaining nutrition.
Manufacturers often use sulfite to limit the destruction of vitamins in foods, but this addition destroys thiamin.
Even when you blanch vegetables for preservation before you dry them, they will also lose their C and B-complex vitamins. Minerals are water soluble, so you can also expect vegetables, fruits, and other products to be deficient in vital minerals.
In contrast, blanching limits thiamin destruction and the loss of vitamins A and C when drying and storing these goods. Another factor to think about is that there are more calories in dried foods per weight since the nutrients are now in a concentrated form.
For example, if you dry 200 grams of fresh apricots, which have 102 calories, you’ll end up with 520 calories in the same weight of dried apricots. You can preserve your foods for longer if you dry them at low temperatures and store them at low humidity levels.
You can reconstitute dehydrated foods with water quite easily to make a meal from powdered eggs or eat dried meats such as beef jerky and others.
Dehydrating foods is an excellent means for preserving other foods such as fruits, which can see people through disaster periods such as hurricanes.
Dried foods are also excellent for taking on excursions into the outdoors because they are lightweight and take little space.
These foods are also quick and easy to prepare when you don’t have access to modern cooking equipment, making them ideal for surviving during periods of famine, drought, and other natural disasters.
Tips for storing dehydrated food
It depends on how effectively you dry it out and how well you store these foods.
Once the food is dry, you need to consider ideal storage methods that will preserve it safely for months or years.
Here are several elements to consider when storing food.
Ensure you store dried foods at 60°F as this will preserve it for twice as long as storing it at 80°F.
Keep the food away from moist environments as this will ruin all your efforts from dehydrating it, causing it to spoil.
Store dehydrated food away from oxygen as oxidization causes food to spoil and lose its flavor. Dehydrated foods that come into contact with oxygen will also have a shorter shelf life.
Like oxygen, light causes degradation of dehydrated foods, so store them in a dark space.
5. Sanitize your hands
Always sanitize your hands when dehydrating foods and placing these in storage. Germs can easily transfer from unclean hands to the dried foods, causing contamination.
6. Storage options
There are various storage methods for dried foods. Whichever options you choose, ensure you store your dried foods in a dark, cool area where there is plenty of ventilation.
Allow foods to cool properly before storage. Once the food is completely cool, you can transfer it to various containers, including:
- Airtight containers
- Resealable containers for refrigeration
- Vacuum seal bags
- Use ReZip or Ziploc bags
- Use vacuum sealing equipment for bags
- Vacuum seal jars
- Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers
- Desiccant packets to place in airtight jars or vacuum seal jars
Oxygen absorbers or desiccant packets add to safe storage methods of dried food as they absorb any left-over moisture in the container.
These methods ensure that excess moisture no longer encounters the dried food, which help extend its shelf life.
How long does dehydrated food last? The answer to this question relies on multiple dehydrating methods, sanitation, and the storage methods you use after drying the food.
Research will tell you how to dry specific foods like meats, fish, fowl, vegetables, fruits, grains, and dairy products.
Survivalists will need to conduct further research to find the best drying methods for each food type they wish to preserve. Following this process, certain storage methods are better for some dried foods than others.
But when you dry and store food, there are certain things that you should avoid ensuring it lasts for the optimum length of time.
Things to avoid
Dehydrating foods takes time. When you do a good job, the results are excellent.
Attempt to rush the food drying process and you shorten the shelf life, which partly answers how long does dehydrated food last. Also, if you focus on doing the job properly, you increase the shelf life of your dried foods, which is ideal for the survivalist.
Here are some of the things you should avoid when drying foods:
- Avoid handling foods with unclean hands and on unclean surfaces as germs rapidly transfer between surfaces. Always thoroughly sanitize surfaces, hands, drying equipment, and storage items when taking on this type of work.
- Avoid ignoring research for the appropriate preparation and drying times of the particular food you’re dealing with. Playing a hit and miss game is a huge mistake which can easily negate your efforts. It won’t be very pleasant to invest time and energy in the job, only to find that you have done half the work.
- Ensure you dry foods at the correct temperature for that specific food. Drying times will vary depending on the methods you use, the climate, and the environment, so always read further to find what works best before embarking on a food dehydration process. Obviously, if you have an electric drying machine, this will take a lot of guesswork out of the process as this equipment frequently comes with detailed instructions.
- Avoid trying to speed up the drying process by starting with one temperature and then changing this to quicken the dehydration. Constantly switching temperatures in drying equipment will result in the food producing an external seal to lock in the internal moisture. This effect is the opposite of what you need to achieve.
- Avoid shortening drying times as the ultimate moisture content of food should be about 20%. Home food drying equipment typically states that you should reduce moisture levels to 5% for the best results. Always check the food to see whether it is still sticky or spongy as this means the water content is still too high.
- Avoid the temptation to immediately store dried goods after you complete the drying process. Allow the items to dry naturally in a cool, ventilated area before packaging them.
- If you open containers with stored dried items, understand that they are immediately exposed to moisture-containing air and oxygen. Both moisture and oxygen will spoil the remaining dry food. Do not leave jars open for longer than necessary. Remove the amount of food you want and then add desiccant packets or oxygen absorbers to the jar before resealing.
Survivalism is an exciting and rewarding journey. How long does dehydrated food last will depend on how much effort you’re prepared to invest in your new hobby.
Read as much as you can about dehydrating specific food types before diving into this work, as you can quickly spoil large volumes of food unnecessarily.
Update yourself on additives such as sulfite and ascorbic acid in food preparation, and you improve your chances of success in preparing for the worst survivalist scenarios.