Bacteria, yeast and mold are types of microorganisms that consume nutrients and water in foods, leading to spoilage. The process of dehydration removes moisture so these microorganisms cannot survive. Unlike other methods of food preservation, such as freeze-drying or canning, dehydration does not require you to add high levels of sodium to food or significantly deplete the nutrients fruits and vegetables naturally contain.
Dehydrated fruits and vegetables may last for many years. When meat is preserved as jerky, it should be kept no more than six months. You may also want to consider keeping jerky in the refrigerator after one month to keep it fresh.
Many people use dehydrators to preserve herbs for year around cooking. These spices can last for many years without losing their potency. Choosing a dehydrator that dries food thoroughly and storing the food properly are the two key factors that will make the food last long-term.
Choosing a Dehydrator
Dehydrators come in a wide range of sizes, designs, brands, and prices. Many people trying out dehydration for the first time will invest in a less expensive model. Keep in mind that your primary goal is to get all of the moisture out of the food.
Different types of foods require different drying times and temperatures to achieve optimal results. A dehydrator should have an adjustable thermostat so you can set it to the appropriate temperature for each food you dry.
One significant difference between dehydrators is that of vertical or horizontal air flow. Most of the lower priced round dehydrators on the market use vertical air flow. These units are sometimes less effective at getting the food evenly dried on every tray.
Horizontal air flow dehydrators are more consistent and often do a better job of removing all the moisture from all types of food. These dehydrators tend to be more expensive than the vertical air flow models. Often, consumers who enjoy dehydrating food will invest in a horizontal air flow dehydrator to get better results.
How to Store Dehydrated Foods
A dimly lit pantry is the ideal place to store dehydrated food. Pantries are typically cool and dry, protecting dehydrated food from heat or light. When choosing containers, bags that zip closed are a better choice than plastic bowls with snap-on lids since bags are flexible and allow you to press the air out of them before sealing. You should use only heavy-duty bags that are food-grade to ensure the food is tightly and safely sealed. Better yet is a vacuum sealer.
The type of dehydrator you use, the way food is stored, and the sterility of the process you use will determine how long dehydrated food will last. Oxygen absorbers and Mylar bags are tools that can be used to increase shelf life if the dehydration process is performed properly. In spite of your best efforts, there is the possibility that bugs or mold may get into the food. Any time that there are obvious signs of spoilage or mold on the food, it should be discarded for safety. Otherwise, you should be able to enjoy most of the food you preserve for years to come.