The primary appeal of dehydrating food is to extend its lifespan in a healthy, affordable way. However, no food products last forever -- so how long does dehydrated food last, anyway?
When it comes to food safety, you can never be too careful. Food poisoning can range from unpleasant to inconvenient to life-threatening. That’s why I wanted to do some careful research to discover how long does dehydrated food last in the real world, and how to be as safe as possible.
What I found out was reassuring: dehydrated food lasts longer than you might think (up to a year!), and is easy to store safely. Still, there are some best practices that will keep you safe — here’s what you need to know.
How Dehydrating Food Works
How long does dehydrated food last? Well, first we need to understand why dehydrated food lasts as long as it does. And it’s also helpful to understand the basics of how dehydrating works.
When food spoils, the moisture content is typically what’s to blame. We all know the unpleasant sensation of picking up a piece of fruit or bread, only to find it peppered with spots of mold. But for mold, rot, and other signs of spoiling to happen, the food usually needs to have moisture in it.
Exposure to air can also cause food to spoil over time. But the microbes that cause most of the spoilage we’re familiar with need water to grow. That’s why factors like humidity make food spoil faster.
Certain things, like preservatives and refrigeration, can help slow down the spoiling process. However, all food goes bad given enough time. The only food that can last indefinitely is frozen food that you keep at a temperature too low for microbes to grow.
However, dehydration removes the moisture content that’s often responsible for spoiling food. That allows your food to last longer without resorting to using preservatives or freezing it.
Without water, mold, bacteria, and yeast can’t grow. Modern dehydrators use a combination of heat and moving air to speed up the dehydration process.
However, people have been preserving food through dehydration for thousands of years -- they simply used the sun or fire before mechanical dehydrators were invented.
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Of course, dehydration also has other perks besides preserving food. It makes food lighter and smaller, so it’s easier to store or carry with you in bulk.
Dehydration is a versatile preservation method that works well on many different kinds of food. You can dehydrate meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, and more for great results. If you need a great, versatile food dehydrator, check out this pick.
How Long Does Dehydrated Food Last?
Answering “How long does dehydrated food last?” depends on a number of factors. But when properly dehydrated and stored, dried food can last for between four months and one year, according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
The wide variation is due to all of the factors that can cause food to spoil, even once it’s dried.
Any moisture left in the food after dehydrating can cause it to spoil faster, as can conditions that allow it to reabsorb moisture. Exposure to contaminants and insects can also speed up the process of dried food going bad. Storage temperature, oxygen exposure, and more can also play a role.
Let’s take a closer look at the main factors that cause dehydrated foods to spoil.
The higher the moisture content, the shorter the food’s lifespan will be. The best food dehydrator will remove as much moisture as possible, so your dehydrated products last longer.
Of course, it’s not possible to remove moisture from food completely. However, a high-quality dehydrator will dry food out more, giving it a longer shelf life.
How long the food lasts also depends on the climate where it’s stored.
You can reduce this effect by packing your food in air-free containers, like vacuum-packed plastic bags. If your food is exposed to air, it will oxidize and spoil faster. The moisture content of the air can also affect its shelf life. Dry, dark locations are best for storing dehydrated foods.
Food spoils faster at warmer temperatures than colder ones. That’s why frozen and refrigerated food lasts longer. Of course, you don’t need to freeze your dehydrated food to make it last, but it will last longer at cooler temperatures. A cool, dry area like your basement is ideal for storing dehydrated items.
Finally, the container you package dried food in also has an effect on its shelf life.
Even if you don’t vacuum-seal it, look for containers with air-tight lids so that excess oxygen and moisture can’t get inside. You can also package your food with oxygen absorbers to soak up the excess oxygen that causes food to spoil. And the more tightly packed your food is, the harder it is for oxidization to damage it.
When you prepare it and store it properly, your dehydrated food will last longer. Still, you’ll need to use your senses to detect if it’s going bad.
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How to Tell When Dehydrated Food Goes Bad
Just like with any other foods, you’ll be able to tell when your dehydrated food spoils.
To play it safe, you can use or get rid of any dehydrated food once it’s one year old, even if it seems okay. However, there’s no hard and fast rule to answering “How long does dehydrated food last?” It may spoil faster than four months, or last longer than a year.
To stay on the safe side, look for these signs of spoiling:
First, the presence of moisture in your previously dried food doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s spoiled yet, but it means that it will soon. If your dried food gets rehydrated or exposed to moisture, use it as quickly as you can.
If you notice any changes in the smell, texture, or appearance of dehydrated foods, you should get rid of them. And, of course, if you see visible signs of decay like mold or insects, you’ll need to throw out that food, too.
Best Practices for Making Dehydrated Foods Last
So, how long does dehydrated food last? Although it can technically survive up to a year, the real answer depends on how well you make it and store it.
You can prep your dehydrated food for a longer shelf life from the moment you start making it. Just follow these best practices to get long-lasting results.
Wash and rinse first
Washing and rinsing foods before dehydrating them is an important first step to remove pesticides and other contaminants. Use a mix of vinegar and water to clean your produce. Always handle your foods with clean hands, too.
Slice foods evenly
Even-sized slices help your dehydrator remove moisture consistently. When every piece has a similar moisture content, they will all have a similar shelf life. If you dehydrate slices of varying sizes, the large ones will spoil faster because the dehydrator couldn’t remove as much moisture from them.
Also, always make sure to place your sliced foods in one layer on the tray in your dehydrator. Trying to dry multiple layers at once will give you uneven results as well.
Choose based on moisture content
If you want the longest-lasting results, dehydrate food that has low amounts of moisture to begin with. For example, a juicy apricot won’t last as long once it’s dehydrated as a potato will.
Use lemon juice
A spritz of lemon juice on sliced fruit and vegetable pieces helps limit oxidation during the dehydrating process. The acidic juice also kills bacteria on the surface, slowing down spoiling.
Set the temperature correctly
Make sure to dry your food at the right temperature. While you might be tempted to crank the heat to get the best results, this can actually have the opposite effect. Higher temps will dry the outside of each piece, but leave too much moisture inside, so everything goes bad faster.
Drying at a lower temperature also helps preserve nutrients in your food. Just like with cooking, dehydrating at high heat removes nutrients faster. Properly dehydrated food will have a leathery texture that bends but doesn’t break. Check for this texture to be sure your food is ready for packaging.
Package with care
Since high temperatures make food go bad faster, you should always cool dehydrated foods completely before packing them for storage.
It’s also a good idea to pack each container with only the amount that you’ll eat in one sitting. Each time you open a package, you let oxygen and moisture in, upping the rate of spoilage.
Staying Safe with Dehydrated Foods
Now that you know how to answer “How long does dehydrated food last?” you can enjoy your dried food without worrying about it going bad.
Just like with any food, the shelf life of dehydrated food is just a guideline. Your senses will tell you if it’s bad, so simply pay close attention each time you open a new package.
But with a high-quality dehydrator and these best practices, you’ll ensure your dehydrated food lasts as long as possible. Looking for more creative ways to use your fruits and veggies before they go bad? Check out our guide to blenders for smoothies!
How long do you keep dehydrated food? Do you have any tips for how to tell if it has gone bad? Share your thoughts in the comments below!