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Does Dehydrated Food Ever Go Bad? Expiration Dates and Spoilage

It’s always difficult to tell whether or not food is safe to eat. There’s just no easy way to figure out if food is safe to eat without a lab test. This gets even more challenging with dehydrated meals.

You can play it safe by following the recommended shelf life, but you’ll just end up wasting your money. By following a few basic safety precautions you can extend the shelf life of your dehydrated meals.

How to Tell if Dehydrated Foods Have Spoiled

Without a lab, figuring out whether or not dehydrated foods have spoiled is difficult. It all boils down to the type of food and how it was prepared and dried.

Cleanliness and attaining the optimum moisture content plays a large role in the safety of dehydrated food. Manufactured food will almost always last longer than DIY setups. In a home kitchen, you just can’t match the cleanliness and safety procedures of major manufacturers.

Even after the food is produced there’s a wide range of factors that will affect the expiration date. What type of food are you storing? What’s the sugar and fat content? Is it stored in a freezer or cool environment(this extends life)?

Signs Dehydrated Food is Spoiled

  • Visible Signs: Look for the obvious signs of spoilage. Keep an eye out for mold, unexpected discoloration, and moisture. Trust your gut when something doesn’t look quite right.
  • Smells: Bad smells are never a good sign. Think about how you remember the food smelling.
  • Taste: Have you ever tasted mold? I’m sure you have and didn’t even realize it. If something doesn’t taste right throw it out. Obviously, if you suspect your food has spoiled you should just throw it away. Is food poisoning worth a few dollars of wasted food?
  • Texture: Texture can be hard to judge with older foods. When is the last time you tried something? Does it taste chewier or crunchier than last time?

Sometimes You Can’t Trust The Visual Inspection

Figuring whether or not food is safe to eat is tricky. Many pathogens like botulism leave behind no visible signs. You can’t see it, taste it, or smell it. So how do you tell if dehydrated food is safe to eat?

You’ll need to use a little bit of common sense. Pre-manufactured meals have a much longer shelf life than DIY options. Be careful with food that you dehydrated at home. Make sure you follow proper cleaning, dehydrating, and storage procedures.

Don’t Follow The Package Expiration

I’ll start off by saying, this is probably an unpopular opinion. I never follow the expiration dates on my food. Look for visible signs of mold/discoloration, odor, texture, change of taste, etc.

Trust your senses and use a little bit of common sense. The expiration date on food packaging is just a way to protect the company from liability. Most premanufactured meals have a shelf life of 20+ years when properly stored.

If moisture doesn’t get into the package these meals will usually outlast the buyer.

Shelf Life of Dehydrated Foods

How long food lasts depends on the dehydration process, type of food, storage temperatures, humidity levels and wide range of other factors. It’s hard to say exactly how long your dehydrated food will actually last.

Remember that these recommendations are only for premanufactured foods. With a DIY Setup you’ll get a fraction of these times. These are assuming your storing the food at room temperature(70 degrees), in cold storage the shelf life will be extended considerably.

Manufactured Foods

  • Beans: 7-10 Years
  • Dairy: 10-15 Years
  • Grains: 8-12 Years
  • Vegetables: 8-10 Years
  • Flours and Similar Products: 4-6 Years
  • Fruit: 3-5 Years
  • Pasta: 10+ Years
  • Meat: 3-5 Years
  • Seeds: 3-4 Years
  • Honey, Sugar, Salt: Indefinitely

What About Foods Dehydrated at Home?

Foods that are dehydrated at home have a much shorter shelf life. Recommended storage times range from 4 months to a year on an open shelf. It all depends on the type of food, storage environment, and dehydration humidity.

In a chest freezer, dehydrated foods will probably outlast you. Dehydrated foods in a deep freezer can usually last almost indefinitely.

Watch Out For Fats and Oils

Generally speaking, foods with a high fat and oil content has a shorter shelf life. That’s why products like peanut butter and brown rice have relatively short shelf lives.

Dehydrated Food Quickly Expires After Opening

Once exposed to air the stable shelf life will drop considerably. How long it will last after opening depends on the food quality before it’s opened, how long it’s exposed to oxygen/moisture, and the temperature/light.

Older food will degrade much faster than freshly dehydrated products. It’s gone through a much wider range of temperatures(Time=Risk).

How long was the food exposed to oxygen and moisture? The moment you open up a container, moisture and bacteria enter. Higher ambient temperatures and humidity levels increase bacteria growth.

Use your best judgment when determining if something is safe to consume. Try not to open up more than you can eat over a short period of time. You can extend the life of dehydrated food by placing it in a freezer bag and tossing it in the freezer.

Tips to Extend The Life of Dehydrated Food

  • Containers: When dehydrating food at home make sure the container is cleaned thoroughly. There can’t be any moisture or bacteria in the mason jar, can or air-tight container.
  • Vacuum Packaging and Mylar: Vacuum seal and mylar bags are a great alternative to bulky containers. They keep out oxygen and humidity and you’re not forced into bulk storage.
  • Keep Quantities Down: Every time you open up a container you’re subjecting the food to moisture, oxygen and bacteria. Pack dehydrated foods in small amounts that you can use over the course of 1-2 recipes.
  • Proper Storage: Store dehydrated foods in a cool, dry, dark environments. Access to a chest freezer will significantly increase the shelf life.
  • Check For Moisture: Even foods that are completely dry at the time of storage will eventually spoil if moisture is introduced. Before consuming check your food to see if they are still dry.