How Long Does Dehydrated Food Last and What to do for Long Term Storage?

Do you end up throwing away many of the extra fruits and vegetables you bought from the grocery store? Or perhaps you just want to get rid of some other food items you have laying around your kitchen? Well, instead of doing that, you can save some of it with a good food dehydrator, and it's easy to learn the right steps.

Storing and dehydrating food can stretch the family budget and make mealtimes easier too. But then, if you're new to food dehydration and preservation, you may be wondering to yourself, how long does dehydrated food last?

Surprisingly, according to several sources, dehydrated fruit can last up to five years if properly prepared and stored. Dried vegetables will last even longer, up to ten years or more. Compared with canned food, which only lasts up to five years, dried foods are a good bet for long-term storage. These are the four main factors that can make a difference in how long they last:

  • Preparation
  • Drying Temperature
  • Moisture Content
  • Packaging and Storage

Prepare Food Before Dehydrating

This is one of the most important parts when it comes to preparing dried food that will last for a long time.

  • The first thing to do before dehydrating is to wash fruits and vegetables. You can prepare a bath using Fit Organic Produce Wash or a 50/50 solution of vinegar and water.
  • Fruits with a lot of juice in them can be partially frozen to make cutting them easier. Latex or vinyl gloves should be worn when handling all clean produce to protect it from germs and bacteria on the hands. If you don't have gloves available, be sure to was your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before handling any food items.
  • Remove cores, seeds and stems, and peel the produce if desired. Slice it 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick, and cut it into one-inch pieces. Then spread the pieces in a single layer on the food dehydrator tray. Once sliced, some fruits darken and change color quickly, especially apples, bananas and strawberries. This is called oxidization, and the fruit loses some of its vitamins and nutrients when this happens.

You can counteract oxidization by spraying lemon juice on the cut pieces, and this will also kill any bacteria remaining on the skin. Even better, rinse fruit in an ascorbic acid bath and remove the pieces with a slotted spoon. Ascorbic acid is a natural ingredient that can be found at online, at health food stores and in most grocery store canning aisles. You can simply use the Ball Fruit Fresh Produce Protector to make your asorbic acid bath.

How to Determine The Right Dehydrator Temperature

Most vegetables and fruits dehydrate well at between 125-135 degrees Fahrenheit. Don't be tempted to turn up the temperature to make the process go faster because this will create a tough outer skin with an inside that hasn't completely dried.

In addition to this, raising the heat to high in your food dehydrator will kill off any enzymes in the food, and will cause it to lose its nutritional value. So it's important to know the proper temperatures to dehydrate your foods.

The instructions for your dehydrator will give the optimal time and temperature for a variety of fruits and vegetables. Some will even provide you with a quick and handy drying guide found right on the food dehydrator, like the one seen below on an  Excalibur 3926TB Food Dehydrator

Overall, you'll find man resources online that recommend temperatures and drying times depending on the fruit or vegetable. 

Control The Moisture Content

Dehydrated foods that last longest are those with a low moisture content. Some fruits, like plums and apricots, will remain slightly sticky and retain more moisture. They won't last as long as vegetables like potatoes and beans, which dry out completely.

You can tell that the produce is dried enough and ready to bag when it feels kind of leathery and you can bend it, but not break it into pieces. The next step is to condition the dehydrated produce by storing it in plastic zipper bags on the counter overnight. This will distribute the moisture evenly and eliminate any damp spots.

Proper Packaging and Storage

Besides making cut fruit turn brown, oxidization will cause produce to deteriorate in flavor and nutritional content. Vacuum sealing will reduce the oxidation rate and retain the vitamins and nutrients in the food longer. But even if you get all of the air out, there's a chance that some moisture will get into the packaging, causing oxidization of the contents.

Oxygen absorbers are food-safe permeable packets with iron filings and activated charcoal that you can add to the packages of dried food. They will absorb the free oxygen, making the food last longer. Foods with a higher moisture content should also be stored in sealed glass jars because plastic can absorb moisture and odors over time.

Check out the following video learn some basic tips for long term food storage.

It's important to buy storage containers that are specifically made for dried food, like mylar bags and some other recommended food storage containers, because they are less permeable and sometimes have "oxygen scavengers" built into the packaging material. Store your packages of dehydrated food in a cool, dry area that doesn't have extremes of temperature for the best results.

Benefits of using a Dehydrator for Long Term Food Storage

My first consideration when buying a food dehydrator was saving money. I really didn't mind giving away some of the fresh produce from our garden, but I also wanted to put a bit away for the winter months. We do some canning, but it's always a big production, and I wanted an easier way to extend the season. I also needed some cheap dried snacks for hiking and wanted to stock up on easy ingredients for winter soups and stews.

Storing fruits and veggies by dehydrating them beats buying fruit from Chile and other far-flung places out-of-season. It costs less and saves some of the carbon expended in shipping fruits and vegetables across countries. Another consideration is storage. Food that weighs pounds will only weigh ounces when dehydrated and will take up a lot less room. I also buy and dehydrate fresh produce from local stands, especially the varieties we don't grow ourselves.

How Do I Choose A Dehydrator?

You can get a dehydrator for as low $40, and there are also models that sell for three times that much or more. The best criteria for your dehydrator purchase is how much you're going to use it and what types of dried foods you want to make.

A basic food dehydrator will have a fan to eliminate moisture and different types of stackable trays for drying a variety of foods. Advanced dehydrators have features like digital timers, auto shut-off and horizontal fans. Usually, they also have a greater amount of surface for drying the food, and some of them substitute sliding trays for the stacking kind.

Tips For Successful Food Dehydration and Preservation

  • Pick produce at its peak ripeness to get the most flavor, vitamins and nutrients.
  • Buy the right dehydrator for your needs.
  • Dehydrate fruits and vegetables that are in-season to save on costs.
  • Use the right drying temperature for the food.
  • Take steps to control the moisture content.
  • Pack and store your dehydrated food according to these guidelines.

Dehydrated food will last for years if you follow the right steps when it comes to picking, preparing and drying it. A dehydrator is a good investment that will help you store food more compactly, and it's always a good idea to keep provisions on hand in case of emergencies. Not only that, drying food is an easy way to save money!