One of the biggest benefits of freeze-dried food is its shelf life. All methods of food preservation have their pros and cons, but freeze-drying is particularly effective in creating food that retains its nutrition for the long term. Whether you’re looking for preserved ingredients to add to your product or you’re stocking up on emergency supplies, shelf life is something to consider.
Shelf Life terminology
When products tout a “long shelf life,” it can mean one of two things. First, the “best if used by shelf life” indicates the length of time food retains most of its original taste and nutrition. This is the date listed on most products in the grocery store. It’ll typically be between a few weeks and a few years, depending on the product.
There’s also the “life sustaining shelf life,” which indicates the length of time the product will sustain life without decaying or becoming inedible. This can be anywhere from a few years to a few decades. It all comes down to the preservation process and its storage conditions.
Several key storage conditions have huge impacts on the shelf life of freeze-dried food.
- Oxygen: Oxygen in the air can have negative effects on the nutrients, vitamins, flavor, and color in food. It can also increase the growth of microorganisms like bacteria. Having an airtight seal on food in storage is a must for preserving shelf life.
- Moisture: Moisture also creates a beneficial environment for microorganisms, resulting in spoilage and deterioration of freeze-dried food. Shelf life is significantly shortened when food is stored in a damp area.
- Light: When food is exposed to light, it can deteriorate the proteins, vitamins, and nutrients in it. This can quickly result in discoloration and off-flavors, so be sure to store your products in a dark area.
- Temperature: High temperatures cause proteins to break down and vitamins to be destroyed, affecting the color, flavor, and odor of preserved food. Storing food in a warm environment will quickly deteriorate its shelf life.
Dehydrated vs. freeze-dried
Many people think freeze-dried products and dehydrated products are the same thing. While they’re both good for long-term storage and emergency kits, their “life sustaining shelf life” is different, as is their preservation process.
- Moisture: Freeze-drying removes about 98 percent of the moisture in food, while dehydration removes about 90 percent.
- Shelf life: The moisture content has an effect on shelf life, with freeze-dried foods lasting between 25 and 30 years, and dehydrated products lasting about 15 to 20 years.
- Nutrition: Freeze-dried food retains most of the original vitamins and minerals of fresh produce, while the dehydration process can easily break down those nutrients.