If you are thinking about doing it yourself by buying a freeze dryer, you have come to the right article. We interviewed the folks at Harvest Right for the information in this article. Buying one of these units involves a large initial upfront cost, but over the long run, is cheaper than even buying freeze-dried foods on sale.
Freeze-dried foods, and home freeze dryers. Back in the day, those phrases might have brought a mental image of an astronaut squirting ice cream out of a toothpaste tube, or worse, pot-roast-paste. Today, however, the casual reader knows that the process of freeze-drying in reality produces meals that, once reconstituted with hot water, are remarkably similar to what you’d eat at the dinner table at home.
(You may check out our article, “A Prepper’s Guide to Freeze-Dried Foods,” to bring yourself up to speed.)
And now, with the advent of the proper technology and its miniaturization, buying a home freeze dryer can bring what was once restricted to industrial applications to your own kitchen.
Freeze-Dried Food and Shelf-Life
The main difference between fresh-cooked and freeze-dried foodstuffs is shelf life — the amount of time the food can be stored before going bad. Instead of a week or so’s worth of leftovers in the fridge, freeze-dried foods can be safely stored for reuse for months, years, even decades, depending on how conservative the estimate and on how correctly the process has been executed.
Freeze drying involves two main steps. First the freezing of the food product to very low temperatures, then the removal of water ice through the process of sublimation, which refers to water’s transforming from solid (ice) to gas (water vapor) without first passing through the liquid stage. The result, attainable with a home machine, is freeze-dried food that, when finally eaten, retains most of its flavor, texture, and nutrition.
In this article, we’ll take a close look at DIY freeze-drying using a home machine, including advantages, disadvantages, and overall importance in terms of an eventual SHTF situation. (To get more of the basics, check out this Utah State University PDF.)
Is a Freeze Dryer Worth the Cost?
Some parts of human psychology are easy to understand. One of them? Whoever you are and whatever you’re buying, a human being will automatically do a quick cost-benefit analysis before forking over the dough. Something as simple as a candy bar: “A dollar and change, and I get a sweet flavor and a sugar rush. Is it worth it?”
With big-ticket items, we do a similar analysis, but we want to see facts and figures just to make sure. There’s no doubt, a home freeze-drying machine is a major purchase, with the average unit going for well over two thousand dollars, plus the cost of supplies (Mylar storage bags, oxygen absorbers, machine oil) and electricity (estimated at up to $30 a month during peak usage times). You could also do what this woman did and make high-end freeze-dried products to sell locally. It could help offset the cost and turn a profit.
What you’re going to add up on the “benefit” side depends on your household and your goals: do you want to be able to handle a hunting season without waste, or do you want years’ worth of good food put in store in the case of an SHTF situation? As someone who wants to “hope for the best, prepare for the worst,” you may well think a home freeze dryer is a great investment.
Industrial Freeze Dried Foods
Until recently, if you wanted to add to your food store with a share of freeze-dried goods, you’d have to buy the end product from a company that was set up with industrial equipment and offered the goods on a retail basis. It hasn’t been unheard-of for preppers to stock up on #10 cans and five-gallon buckets filled with freeze-dried staples like beans, cheese, rice, even meat chunks, sealed for use years later.
And the shrewd shopper can still take advantage of offerings of industrial freeze-dried foods at a good price, depending, but right now we’re asking, why buy retail when you can get your own machine and cut out the middlemen?
What Does a Freeze Dryer Cost?
Our research has found that the Utah company Harvest Right has done the best at not only offering home machines (available at the Ready Store), but shaving down their prices as technology advances. The following chart specifies their three sizes of home freeze dryers, with specs.
|Harvest Right Home Freeze Dryer||Height||Width||Depth||Weight||Food / Batch||Price|
|Small||25″||16.5″||18.5″||61 lbs.||1 – 1.5 gallons||$2,195.00|
|Medium||28.5″||18″||21.25″||112 lbs.||1.5 – 2.5 gallons||$2,695.00|
|Large||30.75″||20.25″||23.75″||138 lbs.||3 – 3.5 gallons||$3,395.00|
Why Are Home Freeze Dryers So Expensive?
In layman’s terms, the process of sublimation requires temperatures of near negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as a complete vacuum environment. No air can enter or leave that subzero chamber. That, in turn, makes it necessary for the home freeze-drying machine to be built literally airtight, and that kind of engineering doesn’t come cheap.
How Long Does A Freeze Dryer Last?
Beyond the first few months, the period during which any defective part will most likely rear its ugly head but be covered by warrantee (and Harvest Right offers 3-year protection), the main thing to watch with regard to your machine’s longevity is the care you take for the vacuum pump. If it’s maintained well, it can last for years. The vacuum pump is the number one replacement part needed for Harvest Right’s machines, which are, in the words of Online Marketing Manager Casey Cummings, themselves “built to last.”
How Much Electricity Do Home Freeze Dryers Use?
First of all, a dedicated 20-amp circuit is recommended for small and medium machines, and required for large machines. You don’t want to trip the breakers for your whole house while you’re freeze-drying a batch of “Nana’s Secret Recipe” mac-and-cheese.
Now, in terms of hourly energy use, your home freeze dryer should draw about 16 amps, but on average between 9 and 11 amps per hour. As mentioned above, anecdotal evidence puts the increase in your electric bill at up to $30 a month during peak times, but of course that depends on the provider and your locality’s exact circumstances.
How Long Before Earning Your Money Back?
There are user-made videos out there that claim an individual home freeze dryer has paid for itself inside of a month. But on average, according to Ms. Cummings, within six months to a year you will likely have stored away food via this method that, when calculations are done, indicate your machine has outlived its own cost and is now residing in the realm of pure gravy.
If you want to up the ante, another good option is to split the cost of a home freeze dryer with nearby friends or relatives. The more you defray the expense, the happier all parties will be at the payback rate of their investment.
Can You Earn Money Freeze Drying Food?
As time goes on, and as our own personal Doomsday Clock ticks closer to midnight, people in the Western hemisphere are coming together more and more to become a peer-to-peer sharing economy, and that means that if you were to put the word out that your home freeze dryer is up for rent, either in exchange for money, goods, or services, you could even end up turning a profit. We do, however, recommend close supervision.
Can You Just Freeze Dry Food at Home Without a Machine?
Technically, the answer is yes. Some bloggers, even some experts, suggest ways to freeze dry food with just your fridge’s freezer or a bucket with dry ice. But in these cases, the sublimation (drying) part of the process takes a long time, up to weeks for a single batch of food.
There’s a lot of room for error, and these methods to me seem like more of a novelty than a serious way to build up your long-term food store. Too lengthy a procedure with very little guarantee of a successful return. It’s sort of like doing your own plumbing, or your own medical procedure: you’ll save money, but you’ll pay in other ways. Experiment away, but keep your expectations low if you go this route.
Isn’t Freeze Drying Just Like Dehydrating?
To answer this, let’s once more refer to the words of Harvest Right’s Casey Cummings:
Many [people] confuse freeze dryers with dehydrators. They … are both ways to preserve food, but in almost all other ways they are very different. Freeze drying is able to preserve the nutrition of food because it removes the water from food at -40° to -50°, whereas dehydrating uses heat to remove the water from food, which destroys about half of the food’s nutrition.
Plus, freeze drying allows you to preserve full meals, all of your own recipes of casseroles, soups, [plus] raw and cooked meat that can be rehydrated to be like they were fresh. You can do all of your dairy products like cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and even cheesecake. And, all of it will last up to 25 years (10-15 for meat, 25 for everything else).Casey cummings, Harvest Right Online Marketing Manager
Freeze Drying at Home
At this point, I’ll presume that you’re sold on the idea of a home freeze dryer, and from here forward, we’ll talk about what you can expect. What are the hows, whys, and wherefores?
What the Process is Like with a Home Freeze Dryer
All in all, it’s sort of like the old Ronco machines from the TV commercials: “Set it, and forget it.” The Harvest Right machines are surprisingly simple to use. Lay your food out on the machine’s trays, punch a few buttons on the LCD screen, and you’re good to go. I’d say that the most important parts to pay attention to are following the manufacturer’s guidelines and staying within the machine’s safe operating parameters. Don’t try to do too much at once. Stay conservative, and your efforts will be rewarded.
What Kind of Foods are Best to Freeze Dry?
As described in other articles on this site, it’s small fruits and vegetables that are the easiest food items to freeze-dry. Some examples are olives, corn, beans, peas, berries, and pineapple chunks. If you’re more interested in the “good stuff,” small chunks of crab, lobster, beef, shrimp, and chicken can also be freeze-dried successfully. The only true limit is your imagination, and the extent of your need to feed your family during and after a SHTF eventuality.
What Foods Cannot be Freeze Dried?
Remember, freeze drying works by removing water from foodstuffs; the oil is left in them. That makes oil-rich foods a bad bet for freeze drying. Foods you don’t want to freeze dry include chocolate, peanut butter, honey, syrup, and jam. We don’t know about frosting, for those of you who like to sneak a finger-full out of the fridge from time to time, but we wouldn’t bet on it. Stick to the tried and true, which in most cases is better food anyway.
This is where your true “do-it-yourself” spirit comes in. If you’ve already spent thousands of dollars on freeze-dried foods from suppliers and see yourself spending even more, why not bite the bullet and get yourself the means to freeze-dry your own meat, dairy, and produce?
The learning curve isn’t too steep when first teaching yourself the machinery, the quality you’re going to get will be the difference between restaurant food and home cooking, the long and the short of it is, if you can afford it, we don’t see too many ways you could be disappointed.
In this article, we’ve seen a little about how home freeze-drying works, we’ve talked about the undeniable benefits, discussed some of the possible drawbacks, and walked through what it would be like to go ahead and make your own meals, years and years in advance.
And it’s not just a DIY dream, it also makes sense in the case of an SHTF situation: who’s going to be better off, your neighbor down the road with regular store-bought boxes and cans of “non-perishables” that will indeed go bad, despite their name, or you, with literally a 20-year food supply?
And don’t forget to comment if you have something to add. We love to hear from our readers!