Dehydrating is one of the easiest ways to preserve foods, and you can surprisingly dehydrate a lot of different types of foods – even entire meals. If your goal with dehydrating is to make foods last a very long time, though, you must store them correctly.
In this article, we will look at:
- Whether dehydrated foods go bad
- The shelf lives of dried fruits, veggies, jerky, and mushrooms
- How to store dehydrated foods long-term
- Expert-Level Food Dehydrating: Tips and Hacks for Drying All Types of Food
- Best Food Dehydrators, Reviewed
Do Dehydrated Foods Go Bad?
Yes, dehydrated foods absolutely can go bad. While it doesn’t happen as quickly as with fresh foods, dehydrated foods can spoil from bacteria, mold, or other microbe contamination. Dehydrated foods also can get infested by insects, experience nutrient loss, or absorb bad smells.
Below are the main causes of dehydrated foods going bad and what you can do to stop them.
Moisture levels always try to balance themselves out. If the air around your dehydrated foods is moist, some of that moisture will get back into the food. Over time, the dehydrated foods can become wet again.
Wet foods support microbial growth, so the foods can start to grow mold or bacteria. It’s not very common, but there are cases where people have gotten Salmonella, E. Coli, and other food poisonings from dehydrated foods.
For long-term storage, your dehydrated foods must be very dry before storage. They should snap when bent.
You also need to keep them in airtight packaging, so the dried foods don’t absorb moisture from the air around them. Desiccants can also help but aren’t as reliable as airtight packaging.
High temperatures will cause the nutrients in dehydrated foods to break down faster. It also speeds up the rate of bacteria growth. Heat is particularly bad for fatty foods like jerky because it will quickly make the fats go rancid. Rancid foods are generally still safe to eat but get a disgusting sour taste.
Some sources claim that stated shelf life is cut in half for each 18°F (10°C) increase in temperature. It’s not clear if this rule applies to dehydrated foods, but the heat will make them go bad faster.
Pantry pests like Indianmeal moths love dehydrated fruits. If you don’t keep the dehydrated foods in a completely airtight container, pests can get into the food and lay eggs. You’ll soon notice insect larvae, silk, and even live insects in the containers.
Also, note that dehydrating won’t kill insect eggs already on the fruits. So, even if stored in an airtight jar, you might still end up with an insect infestation in the container.
The best way to prevent insect infestations on your dehydrated food is to store them in airtight containers with oxygen absorbers. The insects and their eggs cannot survive without oxygen. Read: How to Prevent Moths and Weevils in Your Food Supply for more on this.
Certain nutrients are very sensitive and degrade when exposed to oxygen, heat, or light. For example, vitamin C starts to degrade at temperatures of 86°F. Vitamin A, B vitamins, and antioxidants are also particularly sensitive.
Storing dehydrated foods in airtight packaging without oxygen and away from light and heat will slow down nutrient loss but won’t prevent it completely. So, even if your dehydrated foods are still safe to eat after a long time, it is likely that they’ve already lost a lot of their nutrients.
Absorb Bad Smells
Dehydrated foods are like a sponge: they will absorb the air around them – including any odors in the air. For this reason, you must never store dehydrated foods next to chemicals or anything with strong smells. And, unless you want banana-flavored jerky, you’ll also want to keep your dehydrated fruit away from your dehydrated meats, veggies, etc.
Shelf Life of Dehydrated Foods
Stored in the pantry, dehydrated foods will last approximately 6 to 12 months. When stored in airtight packaging with oxygen absorbers and kept in a cool place, some dehydrated foods can last 10 to 15 years. Dried fruits usually last longer than dried vegetables. Dehydrated meat goes bad the fastest.
Below are some guidelines on the shelf life of dehydrated foods, as well as things you can do to make them last longer.
Dehydrated fruits contain a lot of natural sugars, acids, and antioxidants. These slow down enzyme reactions and help the fruits last longer.
Dried fruits should last approximately 12 months, even without special storage methods. When stored with oxygen absorbers in airtight containers and kept cool, dehydrated fruits can last over 15 years.
The Fruits Must Be Very Dry
For long-term storage, the dehydrated fruits must be very dry. They should snap when bent. Some store-bought dry foods are actually very moist. For example, raisins should NOT be stored with oxygen absorbers because they are very moist, and botulism could grow. (See how to store raisins long-term.)
Additives to Increase Shelf Life
Most commercial dehydrated fruits contain additives or have been processed to help them last longer. For example, it is common to find sulfur dioxide, sodium benzoate, and potassium sorbate in dehydrated fruits. These additives inhibit bacteria growth and extend shelf life by at least 6 months.
If you don’t want to add preservatives to homemade dried fruits, there are some natural ways you can increase shelf life.
- Ascorbic acid: Mix 1tsp (300mg) ascorbic acid into 1 cup of water. Put cut slices of fruit into the mixture before
- Fruit juice: Dip the fruit slices into fruit juice with high vitamin C, such as cranberry juice, before dehydrating.
- Honey: Dissolve ½ cup of honey into 1 ½ cups of warm water. Dip the cut fruits slices into the mixture before dehydrating.
- Blanching: Blanch fruit slices for 3-5 minutes before dehydrating. This kills bacteria, microbes, and insect eggs on the fruit.
Note: Fruit that has been sulfured should not touch metal. Place the fruit in a plastic bag before storing it in #10 metal cans. Sulfur fumes will react with the metal and cause color changes in the fruit.
Vegetables don’t have as many natural sugars or acids, so they will start to go bad two times faster than dried fruits. Expect dried vegetables to last 3-6 months in the pantry.
When stored with oxygen absorbers in airtight packaging and kept in a cool, dark place, dried vegetables may last 2-7 years. However, you can expect nutrient loss and color changes.
For long-term storage, vegetables need to be very dry. They should snap when bent. Or, for round vegetables, they should shatter when pressed with a spoon.
Blanching vegetables before dehydrating can help them last longer. The boiling water will destroy enzymes which cause the vegetables to go bad faster. Most vegetables need to be cooked before dehydrating anyway. For more on this, read my guide to dehydrating vegetables.
Jerky (Dehydrated Meat)
Commercial jerky made with preservatives usually lasts a year or more without special storage. Homemade jerky may only last a week in the pantry.
For homemade jerky to last longer, it must be very dry, low-fat, and kept in a cool place. The best way to store it is in an airtight container with oxygen absorbers or the freezer.
Read more about how long beef jerky lasts here.
Dried mushrooms will usually last a year in the pantry without any special storage. However, many of the nutrients in dried mushrooms are sensitive and will likely degrade.
When put in airtight packaging with oxygen absorbers and kept cool, dehydrated mushrooms can last years in storage. Dried mushrooms can also be kept in the freezer indefinitely.
How to Store Dehydrated Foods Long-Term
The best way to store dehydrated foods is to put them in airtight packaging with oxygen absorbers and keep them somewhere cool. Mylar bags are the best option. Mason jars with proper lids are also airtight but must be kept away from light.
Do I Need to Use a Desiccant When Storing Dehydrated Foods?
You generally do not need to use desiccants when storing dehydrated foods. However, it is important that the foods are adequately dry and that you condition them after dehydrating to equalize the moisture.
If you live somewhere humid and won’t be storing the foods in airtight containers, you may want to play it safe and include some desiccants.
Note: If the dehydrated foods are still very moist, it is often best to store them in a breathable container. If moist foods are put in Mylar bags or another airtight container, moisture pockets can form in the food and cause spoilage. Leather sacks are great because they will wick excess moisture away from the dried foods. Paper bags also work. Note that this is only for short-term storage as dehydrated foods must be very dry for long-term storage.
Can I Vaccum Seal Dehydrated Foods?
Vacuum sealing will help dehydrated foods last longer than stored in their original packaging or plastic containers. However, vacuum sealing isn’t a good option for long-term storage. Vacuum sealer bags aren’t completely airtight and will eventually allow some oxygen through. For more on this, read Vacuum sealing vs. Mylar bags.
Should I Refrigerate Dehydrated Foods?
Keeping dehydrated foods in the fridge will help them last longer. It’s usually not necessary with dried fruits and veggies but is a good way to store jerky or fatty dehydrated foods. However, you need to be careful because humidity levels can be quite high in the fridge.
Ensure the dried foods are kept in airtight containers, so they don’t absorb moisture from the fridge. It will also keep them from absorbing bad smells from the fridge.
Should I Store Dehydrated Foods in the Freezer?
Dehydrated foods will last indefinitely in the freezer. You must put them in an airtight container, though, or they will absorb bad smells from the freezer. You should eat the dehydrated foods immediately after taking them out of the freezer. Freezing can cause ice crystals to form in the food. When thawed, you may end up with moisture pockets where bacteria could grow.