Stocking up on non-perishable foods is key for a well-stocked pantry or even an emergency preparedness kit. But how long does dehydrated food last?
When stored in a cool and dry pantry, dehydrated foods can last up to five years. If food is vacuum sealed in mylar bags with oxygen absorbers, food can last from 10 to 25 years or more. The type of food, storage temperature, oxygen and moisture levels, and the packaging all impact this timeframe.
As a home cook who keeps a decent amount of food on hand, I understand how important it is to keep food edible for a long time. You never know when you might need an herb or a fruit that isn’t in season. Below I discuss how long many common foods will last after dehydration, what impacts to shelf-life of these foods, and the best ways to store dehydrated food to ensure freshness.
Timeframes for Common Dehydrated Foods
Not all foods have the same expiration date or sell-by date. This is also true with dehydrated foods.
Dehydrated meats are a common staple in most pantries, with beef jerky being the most popular. This protein-packed snack will last for one year if store-bought and up to two months if you dry it yourself.
Dries fish is a popular ingredient in many Asian cuisines. From shrimp and cod to anchovies and herring, you can find almost any dried fish available to buy. These sea-based proteins can last for six to 12 months under the correct conditions. However, if you choose to dehydrate your own, choose a lean fish like halibut, grouper, or sea bass. These are leaner fish and will last much longer in storage.
One of the best foods to dehydrate is vegetables. Packed with vitamins and minerals, they are perfect for a hiking snack or adding to soups and pasta. Under ideal conditions, dried vegetables can last up to one year; however, each variety will differ. For example, there are claims that mushrooms can last for 20 years when dried and stored properly!
Another popular dehydrated food is fruit. They are commonly found in trail mix or packaged individually. According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, dried fruits can last longer than vegetables by nearly twice the time due to the sugars and acids in their makeup. But, again, this depends on the level of dehydration and storage method.
Herbs and Spices
Dried herbs and spices are used almost daily in many households. They add flavor and texture to nearly any dish. If dried correctly, herbs can last one to three years in storage. Ground spices, on the other hand, tend to last longer, averaging two to three years. Whole spices are the way to go if you want the longest shelf life. Peppercorns, cumin seeds, cloves, and chili peppers can last up to four years when stored correctly.
What Impacts the Shelf-Life of Dehydrated Foods?
Simply dehydrating your food is not enough to keep it good for years. Here is s breakdown of what can ruin your dehydrated foods.
Keeping dehydrated food stored at the correct temperature can make it last longer. They need to be kept below room temperature and frozen if possible. The lower the temperature, the longer you can expect the food to last before turning rancid. It is also vital for fattier dehydrated foods like meat to be kept cold as it will deter bacteria growth in these highly susceptible foods.
Any dehydrated food must be kept from moisture as it will naturally absorb the moisture in the air when exposed. This decreases the shelf life and allows bacteria and mold the grow. Instead, keep the food in an airtight container and add a desiccant for extra peace of mind.
Also, make sure you dehydrate the food enough before packaging it. If the food retains too much water, it will defeat the purpose of dehydration as the food will become rancid much faster.
Another factor you might not think about is pests. Many insects love to live off fruits, and dehydrated ones are no exception. Therefore, the food must be completely sealed to prevent bugs from accessing it to lay eggs on.
Also, wash your fruits thoroughly before dehydrating them to remove these pests. They are pretty resilient and will survive the dehydration process. Soaking fruit in a bath of ascorbic acid and water can easily remove these pests.
As you probably know by now. Dehydrated foods must be kept in a cool and dry location. However, light plays a role in long-term food storage too. Exposing foods to light breaks down vitamins and nutrients. It can also cause the fats and proteins to break down quicker, destroying the food’s quality and speeding up spoilage. Always store food in mylar bags or opaque containers to ensure the light cannot reach them.
Preparing Food for Dehydration
One of the critical factors in keeping dehydrated food safe to eat is how it is prepared before the drying process. It is not enough to wash the food and pop it in the dehydration machine.
To clean the fruit and vegetables, they need to be soaked in ascorbic acid or fruit juice for about five minutes. This bath also allows the food to absorb some of the acids, keeping the food stable longer. Other natural preservation methods include blanching the vegetables or soaking fruits in a honey and water mixture.
Also, all foods must be as dry as the desert before sealing them for long-term storage. However, if you plan to eat the food within a few weeks, you can allow the food to retain some moisture.
However, if the moisture level is too high when packing, the food will break down and become rancid much faster. A good way to tell when the food is dry enough is if they snap like a tree branch when bent. The snap means the moisture has left the fibers of the food with no flexibility.
How to Store Dehydrated Foods
Once you have dehydrated your food, they need to be stored correctly to keep them edible for the upcoming years.
One method is vacuum sealing the food in bags. This process draws out oxygen which can break down the food. However, this process is best for shorter-term storage as these bags are often not fully sealed, but they will get the job done well enough for freezer storage, moist foods, and dry foods like pasta.
Along the same lines as the vacuum sealing bags, mason jars can be sealed, and the oxygen drawn out with a special vacuum attachment. However, it is a more airtight seal than vacuum bags and is ideal for long-term storage.
Many companies who specialize in MREs and other long-term food storage solutions swear by mylar bags. These bags are made from a polyester film that can block oxygen, moisture, and light from entering the food. An oxygen absorber will remove air in the bag and keep the food edible much longer.
About THE AUTHOR
My name is Virginia Just, and I have a passion for food and consider myself to be a great home cook. I love watching Hell’s Kitchen and Masterchef with my husband to learn new techniques. I am currently working on getting my first of many nutrition certifications to become a Nutrition Coach and advise people struggling to stay healthy.Read More About Virginia Just