Many Americans are turning to freeze-dried products to enhance their long-term food storage. How long does freeze-dried food last?
If a worldwide pandemic taught us anything, it is a good idea to have a few basic staples in our pantry to use in an emergency. With the cost of basic staples going through the roof, families are considering stockpiling what they might need should something unforeseen happen. More and more people are buying in bulk, hoarding bare essentials like water, powdered milk, and mixes, and even turning to freeze-drying to prepare items for the long haul.
Freeze-dried foods have a shelf life of about 25 - 30 years. The process is an excellent way of preserving the integrity of foods while keeping most of the nutrients. Freeze-drying removes about 98% of the moisture content, eliminating one of the primary ingredients necessary for spoilage.
Even as more and more families are learning about the freeze-drying technique, there are still lots of questions. What foods are best for freeze-drying? What’s the difference between dehydration and freeze-drying? What is the shelf life of an item? The last thing you want to do is freeze-dry a bunch of strawberries, only to discover that they are tasteless when you go to use them. Why go through the hassle of building a pantry around freeze-dried foods if they won’t last or be useful when the time comes?
This article answers the fundamental questions surrounding freeze-drying. We will explore the subject to answer all your questions so that you can use this method to increase your pantry’s options and help you be better prepared when the next pandemic or worse comes your way.
What Is Freeze Drying?
Freeze drying removes the moisture from a completely frozen item by processing it through a vacuum and heat so that the water changes from sold into a gas without having to become a liquid first. (Think of it this way, a few frozen strawberries will have water crystals and melt as they are left into a bowl (become more liquid). But if you could remove the moisture by exposing the fruit to pressure and heat, skipping the melting phase, you would be left with the bare essence of the product minus any water content, The water having been turned into a gas).
Most products have a shelf life of 20 - 25 years when freeze-dried and packaged appropriately.
How Long Has Freeze Drying Been Around?
Freeze drying was first discovered in France in 1906, but it would not be until WWII that the technique was perfected and used for preserving blood serum, penicillin, and other medical supplies for transport. Scientists discovered that this process could help ensure that biologicals would not spoil before they got to the medical field hospitals desperately trying to save patients.
During the 1950s, industries began to use the freeze-drying process to increase the shelf life of specific foodstuffs. NASA picked up on the idea of freeze-drying to supply essential food for its astronauts during space flights, while the military used it to enhance their MREs.
Coffee was the first frozen food item, but today, almost anything from complete meals to emergency powders to deserts like ice cream can be preserved using this method.
What Kinds of Food Can Be Freeze-Dried?
Most families use freeze drying techniques to preserve essential items like fruits, vegetables, dairy, or meats. While foods freeze-dry better than others, it pays to know which items to use and which to avoid.
Foods that Freeze Dry Well
Below is a list of foods that respond to the freeze-drying process very well.
Fruits like strawberries, blackberries, apples, apricots, and even bananas generally have high water contents and are prime candidates for this method of preservation. The result is a piece of fruit that retains its basic shape and nutrients.
Vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, radishes, celery, squash, eggplant, and others can hold up to the rigors of a freeze-drying well. While most preppers tend to include canning their homemade vegetables, freeze-drying can be a more effective way of extending the life of an item. Since canning is not expected to last longer than a couple of years, most long-term pantry players can for basic needs yearly and leave the freeze-dried items for more prolonged, more severe shortages.
Meats like pork, chicken, and beef are high in moisture content and are easy to freeze-dry (raw or cooked). Once sealed in an airtight container, freeze-dried raw meat can be stored on the shelf at room temperature for up to 10-15 years. To use, simply submerge the meat under water, and then dry it with a paper towel, season it, and slap it on a grill as you would any piece of regular meat.
Dairy products like eggs, milk, and cream become usable powder after freeze-drying. The powder can then be stored and rehydrated with water when ready to be used.
Herbs and Spices
Many preppers grow their spices and herbs and freeze-drying them to add to their dishes as needed. Sauces can also be freeze-dried, which turns them into powders. Many long-term food storage advocates have packets of sauce or buttermilk (used in baking) stored in their pantries.
Coffee, Smoothies, Milk, and Juices that can be freeze-dried and turned into powders are prime candidates for freeze-drying. You want a powder that you simply have to add water to, so
Foods that Do NOT Freeze Dry Well
Any food with an oil base will not be suitable for freeze drying. These include peanut butter, butter or margarine, lard, jams, syrups, mayo, and some kinds of chocolate. These kinds of foods do not have enough moisture content to work in a process that relies on pulling water out of foods.
High sugar-based foods do not translate well to a freeze-drying process. For example, pineapple juice or fructose syrup will not do well inside a freeze-drying unit.
Many snacks made with oils and having high sugar contents will not change enough to make freeze-drying worth it - Oreos, pop-tarts, cakes, pies, cookies, jelly beans, Twizzlers, etc.
What is the Difference Between Dehydration and Freeze-Drying?
Many people believe that freeze-drying and dehydrating are precisely the same, but they are not.
The Dehydration Process
While both seek to remove moisture from foods, dehydration uses hot air to remove the moisture. The product is then sealed to prevent any further moisture from getting into the product. This process has been around for thousands of years since ancient civilizations realized that heating items in a stone structure could preserve the longevity of meats.
This process freezes the item and then, under pressure and heat, removes the water content almost wholly (98%) while retaining the essential integrity of the item.
As mentioned above, freeze drying became helpful as a means of preserving and transporting medical supplies to the battle-weary troops dying on the fronts in Europe during WWII. Later, commercial applications became popular, as NASA found ways of using the process to send food for astronauts as they sought to travel into space.
What are My Options for Starting to Freeze Dry items?
Food preppers have two basic options for stocking their pantries with freeze-drying items.
Purchase a Freeze Drying Unit to Use in the Home
Many food preppers buy a machine like a Harvest Right to create their freeze-drying process at home. For more information concerning Harvest Right, check out the manufacturer's website at harvestright.com.
Order from a Food Prep Company
Many powders and fruits, and even meals can be ordered already prepared for long-term storage. There are plenty of sites available that will ship directly to your home. For an example of a company that produces a quality product with GMOs or additives, check out valleyfoodstorage.com.
About THE AUTHOR
I have over a decade of experience in food and beverage management, including a ServSafe food safety qualification. As part of this qualification, I have been professionally trained in safe food storage.Read More About Mark Walker