How to Make Dehydrated Food for Emergency Preparedness

Freeze dried ready to eat meal
When dehydrating food for emergency preparedness, dry the food at the recommended temperature in a food dehydrator or freeze-dryer. Condition the cooled, dried food, and store it in airtight containers at room temperature in a cool, dry, dark place.

How to Dehydrate Food in a Food Dehydrator

Dehydrating food in a dehydrator is an excellent way to preserve it and create a reliable emergency food supply kit for disruptive times.

Here’s how to dry survival food using an electric food dehydrator:

  1. Select high-quality food to dehydrate and choose only the freshest ingredients.
  2. Prepare your fresh food for dehydration. Different types of food require different preparation methods. The food should be washed, pitted, de-stemmed, marinated, skinned, deboned, or peeled.
  3. Do special preparation where necessary. For example, tough fruits and vegetables require blanching or pre-treatment. Meat requires pre-cooking.
  4. Cut the prepared food into thin and uniform slices, cubes, or strips to ensure even drying.
  5. Spread the cut pieces on clean dehydrator trays in single layers with no overlaps. You can dehydrate different foods of the same type together, provided they dry roughly at the same temperature and won’t cause odor cross-contamination.
  6. Load the dehydrator and set it to run at the recommended drying temperature and time. The drying time varies depending on the dehydrator, the type of food, the humidity level, and the food’s moisture content:
Type of FoodTemperatureTime Frame
Fish & Pre-Cooked Meat145°F-160°F6-12 hours
Fruits135°F-145°F6-48 hours
Herbs95°F-115°F2-4 hours
Poultry and Pork165°F4-7 hours
Vegetables125°F–145°F4-12 hours
  1. Monitor the drying process often, flipping the food or rotating the trays occasionally to promote even dehydration.
  2. Once the recommended drying time lapses, remove sample pieces from the dehydrator and cool them naturally to room temperature, and test for dryness. The level of doneness depends on the type of food. It may be leatheriness, crunchiness, or crispiness. Keep dehydrating if necessary.
  3. Remove dried food from the dehydrator and cool it naturally to room temperature for 30-60 minutes.
  4. Place dried food by type in airtight containers and condition it for 1-2 weeks. Shake each dried food container once daily as you monitor the food for stickiness, condensation, and molding.
  5. Re-dehydrate any food that shows evidence of partial dryness. Dispose of food that gets moldy.
  6. Store perfectly dehydrated food in airtight containers such as Mylar bags or Mason jars for short- and long-term storage.
Food dehydrator filled with different types of drying fruit
Drying food in a food dehydrator

What is the Best Dehydrating Method for Drying Food Long Term?

The best dehydrating method for long-term food storage is freeze-drying. Freeze-drying food removes up to 99.5% moisture for a 20-25-year shelf life. It also retains food color, shape, and nutritional value better.

The two main challenges with home freeze-drying are the price of a freeze-dryer and the long drying times. Most emergency food preppers do not have a freeze-dryer.

The second-best machine for drying food is a food dehydrator. Dehydrators remove 90-95% moisture content from most foods, resulting in a shelf life of 6 months to 15 years for dried fruits and 3-7 years for dried veggies. Both methods allow for drying multiple types of food with close drying temperatures and no risk of contaminating odors.

Freeze-dried meal in bag filled with vegetables
Freeze-dried meal

How to Rehydrate Dehydrated Foods

Rehydrating dehydrated food is easy, and most rehydration methods still apply in emergency situations. You can rehydrate dried food by soaking it in hot or cold water, fruit juice, or milk. The method you choose will depend on the type of food and the resources at hand.

While rehydrating dried food is easy, remember you must have enough clean water during an emergency. It’s risky to eat excess dehydrated food without drinking water or rehydrating the food first, and this can cause dehydration.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends securing a three-day supply of at least 1 gallon of clean multi-purpose water per person daily. Up to 3-6 months of water supply is ideal for extreme situations. Additionally, have a functional water filter because tap water may be unsafe for a long time following disasters like flooding, war, and earthquakes.

Woman pulling water bottles off of a shelf
Buying water bottles

1. Rehydrating Dried Food in Hot Water

Some dried foods require pre-soaking and cooking, including zucchini, and dried stem, seed, and root vegetables. Use the hot-soaking method for perishable items like freeze-dried fruits, dried meat, and freeze-dried vegetables:

  1. Pour boiling water into a heat-safe container. The water should be twice the amount of dried food.
  2. Pour the dried food into the water and cover the container until the food tenderizes.
  3. When rehydrating dried meat, do not soak it for more than 30 minutes. Boil the meat after soaking.

2. Rehydrating Dried Food in Cooking Liquid

Dehydrate dried vegetables and fruits for stews and soups by cooking them directly in the dish. Ensure the food is cooked thoroughly to ensure it is rehydrated and cooked sufficiently.

3. Using Cold Water to Rehydrate Dried Food

It takes longer to rehydrate dehydrated food with cold or room-temperature water. The upside is that this may be the only available option if you have no access to electricity or heat sources in a crisis.

Just add water to submerge the food and soak it until tender. Avoid this method for freeze-dried foods that weren’t cooked before drying.

Bowl filled with dried peas and water
Soaking peas in cold water

What are the Advantages of Dehydrated Food?

Emergency preparedness is a crucial skill for survival, and having a stash of dehydrated food offers many benefits:

  • Dehydrated food is easy and safe to preserve in bulk in tight or smaller emergency food storage spaces.
  • Dehydration makes shelf-stable food that can keep for years to ensure your peace of mind even in extreme situations.
  • Dried food is easy to transport during an emergency situation.
  • Dried food is highly nutritious because drying concentrates nutrients in a smaller package.
  • Most dried foods are easy to rehydrate with cold water, which is a relief when you can’t access heat or power during a crisis.
  • You save time you would have spent desperately looking for food in an emergency.

What Dehydrated Foods Should Be Stockpiled for Survival?

Most dehydrated foods can be stockpiled to make a handy survival food kit. Some critical selection criteria include picking energy-dense food, high-protein foods, foods your family likes, long shelf-life foods, and foods that don’t require refrigeration.

Here are some foods to consider for your survival meal kit:

  • Dried cooked foods like tomato sauce, pasta, soups, stews, and fruit leather.
  • Dried fruits like blueberries and mangoes
  • Dried staples like pepper, herbs and spices, sugar, tea, rice, coffee, and instant potatoes.
  • Dried veggies like butternut squash and peas
  • Dry milk and powdered dried fruits or vegetables.
  • Freeze-dried fruits like blueberries and strawberries.
  • Freeze-dried meat and dehydrated meats like ground beef, pork, and fish.
  • High-energy foods like crackers, jelly, granola bars, peanut butter, and trail mix.
  • Meals-Ready-to-Eat (MREs) are also great when added to short-term or long-term emergency food kits.
Emergency food storage bags of dried pasta, coffee, sugar, and crackers
Emergency food storage

Do You Need to Rotate Dehydrated Food?

Rotating dehydrated food is necessary for avoiding food waste caused by spoilage. Although dried food keeps for a long time, it starts deteriorating with time, losing its flavor, color, and nutritional value.

All dried food should be stored in containers labeled by the contents, dehydration date, batch number if you dried in batches on the same day and the expected expiry date. Keep the oldest dried food at the front and the newest at the back to make it easy to follow the “First-In-First-Out” consumption system.

Your dried food may get close to its due date long before a manmade or natural disaster occurs. When this happens, eat it immediately and replace it with freshly dehydrated food.

Where to Buy Freeze-Dried Foods

While it’s totally possible to make your own freeze-dried foods at home using a freeze-dryer, you might want to save time by buying the foods. Some great sources of freeze-dried food include Mountain House and Augason Farms. Choose from options such as backpacking meals, fruits, baking mixes, full entrees, and breakfast meals.

If you have a freeze-dryer, consider making your own freeze-dried foods, including freeze-dried strawberries or freeze-dried blueberries.

freeze-dried strawberry up close
Freeze-dried strawberries

How Do You Store Dehydrated Food Long Term?

The best way to store dehydrated food long-term is to keep it in labeled vacuum-sealed containers at room temperature in a cool, dry, dark place.

  1. Ideal emergency food prepper storage places include the pantry, kitchen cupboard, and climate-controlled cellars or basements.
  2. Store dehydrated foods at least six inches off of the floor.
  3. Use food-safe storage containers like Mylar pouches, canning jars, vacuum seal bags, glass jars, and freezer bags. Pack these loaded containers into plastic buckets for easy stacking and better pest and flood damage resistance.
  4. To minimize waste, store dried foods in one-meal or single servings to avoid having leftovers because refrigeration may be unavailable in dire situations.
  5. You can prolong the shelf life of certain dried foods by adding a desiccant packet or oxygen absorber inside the container. Use a desiccant if you are in a highly humid area and an oxygen absorber or scavenger if the food has less than 10 percent moisture.

Alex Maina

Preserving food has become a meeting point for Alex's passions—gardening, cooking, and writing. Having grown up on a farm with cows, goats, chickens, and fresh fruits and vegetables, Alex knows the importance of preserving food for leaner times. He spends his time drying and canning foods, trying new recipes, and writing for Dehydrated Cookbook.

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