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Using a food dehydrator

Make the ultimate convenience food

If you want to preserve meat, fruits and vegetables but don’t want the hassle of canning, try a food dehydrator. The food sits on trays as warm air circulates around it. The moisture is removed, which then prevents the growth of mold and bacteria. It also makes the food smaller and lighter, and it can be stored at room temperature.

Karen Blakeslee is a food scientist at Kansas State University. She says it’s important that you follow the instructions in your food dehydrator manual. The optimum drying temperature for most food is 140-degrees.
 
"If you get it too hot, it’ll start cooking the outside of the food and the inside may never get dry," says Blakeslee. "That’s going to reduce your shelf life, it could cause it to mold, so you want to be careful with your temperatures."

As you prepare the food, make sure all the pieces are a uniform thickness so they dry evenly. Put them in a single layer on the tray and don’t overlap them so the air completely circulates around each piece of food.

The process takes anywhere from 4-to-24-hours, depending on the food. Blakeslee says when it’s done, there should be no signs of moisture, and the food should develop specific characteristics.

"Fruits like apples and peaches and things like that, you want those to be a little bit pliable. You don’t want them to be hard as a rock or crunchy," says Blakeslee. "Vegetables are usually dried till they’re rock-hard. If you put them in like a canning jar, they should rattle. Jerky should bend but not break."

Put your food in an airtight container and watch it for a few days for signs of moisture. If it looks wet, put it back in the dehydrator. Over time, check the food in storage for mold growth.

Find more tips for using a food dehydrator

Which dehydrator is best for you? Better Homes and Gardens lists many of the options

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