4 Factors That Affect Home Dehydrated Food Shelf Life
Temperature affects shelf life
Storage temperature has a significant affect on shelf-life. The cooler the better!
For every reduction in storage temperature of 10-degrees-C (18 F) the expected shelf life will double! That is pretty significant.
A storage environment of 54 F instead of 72 F will double a 1 yr shelf life expectancy to 2 yrs. This might be the difference between storing your food upstairs (where it’s usually warmer) or downstairs in the basement (assuming you have a basement). So keep that in mind…
A storage temperature of 90 F instead of 72 F will halve the expected shelf life.
For more information, the following article describes this in more detail:
Moisture affects shelf life
The process of dehydrating removes most of the moisture from foods while retaining much of the nutritional value and flavor. It is a great method to preserve your harvested fruits and vegetables for later consumption off-season.
Fruits will typically contain about 75 percent moisture when fresh, and should be dehydrated to an approximate 20 percent moisture level, the point at which they become leathery and pliable. Apparently it is okay for fruits to be dried to this ‘pliable’ level rather than a lower ‘brittle’ moisture level because the natural sugars and acids in fruit act as an added preservative.
Vegetables should be dehydrated to a moisture level of at least 10 percent (lower is better), or to the point at which they become crisp and brittle, and will break or snap if bent.
Oxygen affects shelf life
Oxygen will interact with, and break down fats and proteins resulting in poor flavor and eventual spoilage. Fruits and vegetables only have small amounts of fat and protein but will still oxidize over a period of time when stored in an environment containing oxygen. This may be a particular concern if you are storing your dehydrated foods for “long term” (years).
You might consider using a vacuum-sealer with vacuum seal bags, or glass jar storage (there’s also a Food-Saver attachment to remove the air).
Light affects shelf life
Photons from light will also eventually break down fats and proteins as well as vitamins in the food, resulting in poor flavor and possibly eventual spoilage.
Therefore it is preferable to store foods in dark places or in opaque containers.
Dehydrated Fruit and Vegetable Shelf Life
Shelf life and Best by dates are different things.
For more information on “Best by” or “Use by” dates that you see on grocery store foods, read the following article:
In short, “Best by” dates on food packaging labels is defined as the maximum date which food will still taste its best and retain most all of its nutritional value, and is usually a date long before actual spoilage.
The ‘Use-by’ and ‘Best-by’ dates are intended for consumer use.
It is the date the manufacturer deems the product reaches peak freshness.
It is NOT a date to indicate spoilage, nor does it necessarily signal that the food is no longer safe to eat.
Having said that, “shelf life” is subjective and variable, depending on storage factors listed above, and the food itself.
Very generally speaking, home dried fruits will have an approximate typical minimum shelf life of 6 months to 1 year. That said, the shelf life may be drastically lengthened upon ideal storage conditions as well as the dehydrated dryness level of the food itself (the drier it is, the longer it will store).
Note that professionally dried foods will typically store longer due to having achieved a very low moisture level with professional equipment.
The shelf life of home dried vegetables will vary depending on the vegetable itself and how dry it is (% moisture content), however a typical shelf life expectancy should be at least up to one year. That said, it is possible to achieve MANY years of shelf life with good storage practices.
Store-bought dehydrated vegetables processed specifically for long term storage will be prepared, dried, and packaged in processes that bring moisture content down to as low as 3 percent, and will store much, much longer (I’ve seen claims of 25 years in #10 cans if stored properly).
My experience with home-dehydrated food shelf life has been excellent of late. Early on when we first started out with our Excalibur dehydrator, we tried storing some of the vegetables in Zipolc bags in a cool closet environment. About 6 months to 1 year later we noticed that some of it didn’t seem quite ‘right’, so we tossed it. Since then we’ve learned (for long term storage) to store our dehydrated foods either in vacuum-sealed bags or in glass jars (Mason jars).
Lets hear your further comments on your own success stories (or lessons learned) regarding dehydrated food shelf life and storage. This article was originally published years ago (although I’ve recently updated it), so there are existing comments from that time-frame.