Using a food dehydrator is an excellent way to preserve food for storage that otherwise would have a short shelf life. Whether you want to take advantage of a grocery store sale, create some healthy snack for your family, or make your own dog treats with locally sourced ingredients, this guide will cover what you need to know to store your tasty creations.
What Foods Can Be Dehydrated
All kinds fruit, vegetables, and meat can be dehydrated if prepared properly. The key is in the preparation and controlling the dehydration process for best results.
Apricots, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, peaches, and figs are all good fruits to dry in a dehydrator. They make for a healthy snack on the go without added sugar. Banana and apple chips are also excellent fruits to dry. I love dried apple chips on a salad or making my own banana chips to avoid the commercially processed ones.
Most vegetables can be dehydrated. Take advantage of the summer harvest and dehydrate some Carrots, beans, corn, broccoli, tomatoes for winter. Make your own kale chips for a nice addition to a salad.
Making jerky (dehydrated meat, often with seasoning) is one of the oldest forms of meat preservation. Lean cuts are best. Use your imagination: beef, pork chicken, turkey, and even wild game like deer are excellent choices. For beef, eye of round is usually the best choice. You can also make jerky from ground meat as well. Make sure you follow sound preparation practices to make sure the meat is thoroughly cooked and preserved. Follow your recipe or manufacturers directions carefully.
Dehydrating herbs is a great way to preserve them for use year round. There are several ways to dry herbs including air drying, solar drying, oven, refrigerator, microwave, or using a food dehydrator. The method you choose depends on which type of herbs you want to dehydrate.
Some examples of herbs and seeds that can be dehydrated are: anise, bay, celery, caraway, celery, chervil, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, geranium, lemon balm, lemon verbena, lovage, marjoram, mustard oregano, rosemary, sage, summer savory, tarragon, thyme.
How long does dehydrated food keep
Shelf life of dehydrated fruit – 6 to 12 months
Dehydrated fruit should be stored in an air-tight container such as freezer bags or mason jars. Stored in a cool, dry place such as the pantry fruit will last 6-12 months. If stored in the refrigerator, they should last 12-18 months. The exceptions are fruit like dried apple or banana chips, or dried figs which should be used within 3 months.
Shelf life of dehydrated vegetables – 6 to 12 months
Guidelines for storing vegetables are similar to fruit. Again, use airtight containers and store in a cool, dark place for 6-12 months of shelf life. To extend the storage time to the 12 to 18-month range, store refrigerated.
Shelf life of meat jerky – airtight storage for 1 to 2 months
Homemade beef and other types of jerky have a shorter shelf life that other dehydrated foods. Proper preparation is also essential. Make sure the meat is cooked thoroughly to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees F during the dehydrating process (165 °F for poultry). When stored in airtight containers, jerky will last for 1 to 2 months. Once the packaging is opened, use within one week.
Factors that affect shelf life of dehydrated food
For fruits and vegetables, thoroughly wash to remove any surface contamination or pesticides. Make sure the slices are as uniform as possible to promote even drying.
Firm vegetables such as potatoes, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, corn, carrots, celery should be blanched in boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes to preserve the color and shorten dehydration time.
Fruits that are prone to discoloration when exposed to air like apple or banana slices should be dipped in ascorbic acid (otherwise known as vitamin C) or a lemon juice mixture if desired. This will help prevent the fruit slices from browning from exposure to air.
Correctly set the drying temperature and time for the food you are dehydrating. As a general rule most fruit and vegetables are best dehydrated around 130 °F. Meat must be dehydrated at a higher temperature of at least 160 °F, or be heated thoroughly to the proper internal temperature if it does not reach that temperature during dehydration.
As a general rule, storage at lower temperature extends the shelf life. Store in a cool, temperature stable place such as the pantry for good results. For longer storage life, refrigerate or freeze the dehydrated food. More information on food shelf life is available from the USDA.
Moisture promotes the growth of bacteria and other unhealthy organisms. In general, the less moisture, the longer the shelf life. Some foods do not taste good or are hard to eat if excessively dried, so follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for drying time in the dehydrator for best results.
Look for airtight containers such as mason jars or vacuum sealed packages. Freezer type zipper storage bags are convenient, but the food will not last quite as long stored in these.
Residual oxygen in the container promotes oxidation which spoils food quicker. Purge the oxygen from the container (or use a vacuum sealer) to extend the shelf life. Oxygen absorber packets can be used to help with the storage shelf life, especially for items like jerky.
Dehydrating meat, vegetables, and fruit is a great way to keep convenient snacks on hand and preserve food for longer storage. Using the tips in this in this article, you can enjoy your dehydrated food for several months. Just follow good practices when preparing the food and periodically check on your dried food in storage for any signs of mold or spoilage.