It happens to all of us… a freeze-drying fail. Mine was pineapple juice all over the inside of my Harvest Right. It took over an hour to get the sticky mess out of my machine. It was almost enough to make me quit and sell my freeze dryer. After all, buying a Harvest Right is daunting enough without trying to figure out what not to do! That’s why I decided to help you avoid some of the most common mistakes I have seen people do when freeze-drying food. And hopefully, help you to absolutely love freeze-drying.
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Freeze-Drying Food: The Do’s and Don’ts
After the pineapple juice fiasco, we learned real quick that there are some foods that just shouldn’t be freeze-dried in the Harvest Right. (And that we should be diluting sugary liquid with water).
Reading the manuals that come with your freeze dryer is an absolute must! After all, you invested some serious money into this appliance you should really know how to keep it working properly. I have learned some really great tips and tricks that will help you be successful on your freeze-drying adventure.
Don’t Overload Your Freeze-Dryer
- Putting too much food on your trays can cause uneven processing of your food. Try to keep the food under the top edge of your trays.
- Keep the weight of the food you’re processing at the appropriate amount for your Harvest Right. Small: 4-7lbs. Medium: 7-10lbs. and Large: 12-16lbs. per batch. This will keep your machine working properly and ensure your batch freeze-dries thoroughly. It also prevents ice build up around the inside of the drum, which can extend your freeze-dry times.
- Distribute the weight of your batch evenly across multiple trays.
Try Not to Freeze-Dry Strong Smelling/Tasting Foods in the Same Batch
Unless you like your strawberries tasting like curry, it’s a good idea to try and keep similar smelling/tasting foods together in the same batch. Check out my video below to learn more about why it’s a good idea to try and keep certain foods apart.
Freeze Dry Smaller Uniform Pieces of Food
- Always make sure your food is in small, uniform pieces for more consistant results. Too big of chunks take longer to freeze dry and if your pieces aren’t uniform you will have some food that is not fully processed.
- Cut meats into thin slices, cubes, or shredded.
- Pierce or slice veggies and fruit that have a skin. This ensures your freeze-dryer will be able to pull all of the water out.
Foods That Do Not Freeze Dry
Fatty foods do not freeze-dry well. If you are freeze-drying meats with a high-fat content like sausage; always cook first, drain the extra fat off, and then pat with a paper towel before processing. Below is a list of high-fat foods that do not freeze-dry.
- Peanut Butter/ nut butters
High sugar foods also do not freeze-dry well. Anything syrupy or concentrated sugary liquid is going to be a mess. This is why my pineapple juice exploded all over the inside of the Harvest Right. I could have watered it down and would have had better success. Candy seems to do fine (certain candy). I’m thinking it’s because it actually has less sugar content than some juices and it’s in solid form. Below are some definite don’ts when it comes to sugary food.
- Juice concentrates
Freeze Drying Raw Foods Warning
Something you should always remember when using your Harvest Right is that it should be used like any other appliance you own. You should be using the same cooking and kitchen safety practices that you would in any other situation. A big one to remember is that raw meats and eggs should not be mixed with other foods. Here are some great tips to follow when freeze-drying raw animal products.
- Freeze-drying does not kill bacteria. So what goes in, comes out.
- Keep your trays sanitary. Clean after each use. But take extra care with trays that have had raw eggs or meat on them.
- Always label your bags or jars that the item is uncooked.
- When rehydrating raw products DO NOT use hot water! It is best to rehydrate with cold water in the refrigerator and then cook as you normally would following normal safe cooking procedures and temperatures.
Clean Your Freeze Dryer Regularly
- Clean the interior of your freeze-dryer with a damp cloth and mild soap. Remove the shelving unit and do the same. Dry with a soft cloth. Make sure the parts are dry and re-assemble.
- DO NOT use a brush, brillo pad, or abrasive cleaner. This could damage your Harvest Right.
- Clean the exterior the same way you do the interior.
- If your freeze-dryer has a lingering odor from one of your batches use a vinegar, lemon, water solution and spray down the interior and shelving unit. Wipe with a soft cloth right away. You can also run a bread batch through your freeze-dryer like when you first bought it to help absorb any extra odor.
Make Sure Your Harvest Right is in a Good Location
Having your freeze-dryer set up in a good location is really important to make sure you get the best freeze-dry times and keep your machine working properly. I’m sure you don’t like working too much in really hot weather, neither does your Harvest Right. It’s best to follow these tips to ensure you’re getting the most out of your appliance.
- Set up your Harvest Right in a cool location with low humidity. If tempuratures fluctuate too much your freeze-dryer will have to work harder and your batches will take longer to process.
- It’s best to have your freeze-dryer in a location away from the main living area if possible. This thing is LOUD, trust me, we had to have ours in our dining room and it wasn’t fun. We now have ours in our basement and it is a lot easier to live with.
- Make sure there is plenty of air flow around your freeze-dryer, especially the vaccum pump. We actually had a fan setup next to our vaccum pump to keep it cool.
Vacuum Pump Maintenance for Your Harvest Right
It is so important that you keep your vacuum pump in good working condition and that means changing the oil. It’s actually not that difficult. I am the one who maintains our Harvest Right and I would say I change my pump oil more than I do the oil on our car. (I take my car in to have the oil changed).
- Make sure that your oil is at the right level on the indicator window before you start a new batch.
- Check to see if it is cloudy or has particles of food in it. If it does, it is definitely time to change that oil.
- Only use approved oil in your vaccum pump. This is the oil I use with great success, Harvest Right used to send this brand with their freeze-dryers.
- I always filter my oil and pour in a separate container so I know what oil to use first.
Always Use the Right Settings for Freeze-Drying Your Food
It is so important that you use the right settings when your processing a batch of food in your freeze-dryer. Using the correct settings ensures that your food will be fully freeze-dried and that your machine won’t be working harder than it should.
- If you pre-freeze your food make sure you press the pre-frozen button so your freeze-dryer can reach the appropriate tempurature. Once the pre-freeze process has been completed your Harvest Right will prompt you to add your food. Keep your food in your freezer until it’s time to add your food to the freeze-dryer. This is important so that your food doesn’t get too warm.
- If you are doing a liquid batch make sure to press the liquid button when prompted. You can mix batches. And I always choose the liquid button if I have liquids mixed with solids because it takes longer for liquids to process.
- Pre-freezing is the way to go in my opinion because it shortens your processing times. If you have the room in your freezer I highly recommend pre-freezing your batches.
Should You Blanch Your Produce Before Freeze-Drying?
I always recommend blanching certain foods before freeze-drying. Think of it the same way you would about home canning. Blanching helps the food to be the right texture and color when you cook foods later. It works the same with freeze-drying. Here are some of the foods I recommend blanching before putting them in your Harvest Right.
Bonus Tip for Freeze Drying Food
When you are freeze-drying certain fruits they can turn brown before or during the process. Apples, peaches, nectarines, etc… have a tendency to oxidize. You can prevent this by spritzing them with a little lemon water. This will keep these fruits looking freshly cut when they are done freeze-drying.
Preventing a Freeze-Drying Food Failure
I hope you enjoyed learning about how you can prevent a freeze-drying failure in your Harvest Right. If you follow my tips you should be able to avoid the same fate as me with the pineapple juice mess that had me cleaning my freeze-dryer into the wee hours of the morning. The only way I can describe it is that it was like pineapple boogers exploded all over the inside of my Harvest Right.
If you’re still undecided on whether a Harvest Right is the right option for long-term food storage for your family, check out my other post: 9 Reasons Why You Should Consider Getting a Freeze Dryer
I would love it if you leave a comment below on what you wished you had known before you bought a Harvest Right or what your worst freeze-dryer fail was. Happy freeze-drying!