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!
51 thoughts on “10 Common Freeze-Drying Mistakes Everybody Does When They Get a Harvest Right”
I bought a HR Medium FD unit in Sept 2022. Have not yet successfully had a batch of Granny Smith apple slices, stay crispy beyond a week to 10 days. I’ve followed all the directions from the HR site, customer forums, and recommended high temperature and extended dry times from HR support. Dry Time = Fast; Temp – 135-140 degrees; total process time now 38-40 hours; quick packaging & fresh O2 absorbers plus dessicant. Any advice on what I’m missing to keep the apple slices crisp, and not turn spongy? Thank you.
Congrats on the HR purchase! Wow, I’m kinda stumped. I’ve never put a desiccant in my bags. It could be bad mylar bags. Or possibly not a good seal? I double-seal my bags just because I’m so paranoid, maybe give that a try? I have noticed a lot of people use a moisture detector, I personally don’t but that also may help. I hope these suggestions help you find a solution. 🙂
We just bought a medium harvest right freeze dryer, and are currently running our first batch.
You mentioned selecting prefrozen, or liquids when you start a new batch. How do we do that? When I press start, it starts the prefreezing process. When it’s cold enough, it prompts me to load the trays, and close the valve. Never once have I seen an option to. select my preferences. Thanks in advance! 👍
My freeze-dryer is an older model so that option may not be in the new software. It is likely it’s automated now. 🙂
you have the newer model, and you will notice that there are several differences. You will see people with a drum cover, the newer model does not come with that and unless you go into the custom setting (like for candy) everything is automated.
Bill my freeze dryer doesn’t have the options either and I bought mine from Harvest Right 1month ago. It’s probably all automated.
I am new to the freeze dryer game and got one for Christmas from my wife. I have ran 3 batches of different things though it with all the same results. The outside of the items are perfectly freeze dryer but the center of them are still wet. I feel like it’s a setting thing or run time thing. The last batch were bananas and it ran for 22 hours. Nice on the outside but wet in the center. Any information would help. Thank you!
Sometimes that happens. I always feel the food, if it feels cold in spots that means it’s not done. Many people get a moisture meter for this reason. If I feel cold spots I just add more dry time. Hope this helps. Freeze drying isn’t an exact thing, after a while you’ll start to know what foods will need additional time. I also pre-freeze most of my foods, but that’s a personal preference. 🙂
Overloading can cause that and also where there is a custom setting for “extended heating time” I put that up to twelve hours so if I am asleep it just keeps drying through the night. (Do not make the mistake of doing “extended FREEZING time”. After my machine went back to a factory reset after an outage I accidentally chose extra freezing time ‘yes 12 hours’. Woke up to a machine that looked like it had drifted through space). LOL From what I have seen a MINIMUM of an extra two hours past when the machine says it’s finished drying is when I will take them out. I only had a problem ONCE with the food on one tray not being finished so I threw that in mason jars for short storage instead of long-term storage and made sure we used them up quickly. I didn’t bother starting the machine up again. So, better to do at least a couple extra hours drying time each time.
My son bought me a set of the green silicone moulds.
What are they used for?
If they are the rectangular ones I’m thinking of they can be used to make cereal bars, yogurt bars, or even individual meal portions. Hope that helps. 🙂
To my understanding they are used for liquids, so it isn’t as messy in the stainless steal trays.
Very helpful information, thank you for sharing your tips and tricks. I purchased a plethora of raspberries with the intent to freeze dry them whole. Unfortunately, after I gave them all a pre-wash they were so heavy and full of moisture that I decided to drain and purée them instead (I’ve also strained the seeds out.) I’ve added a bit of water and some stevia and they are in my regular freezer as we speak. I was thinking of slicing the frozen bricks to FD. I know your pineapple juice exploded and it seems like it may be more sugary than raspberry purée, but I thought I’d get your thoughts first. Thank you in advance!
Thank you so much! I would imagine stevia doesn’t have as high a sugar content as the pineapple juice (it was a commercial package of pineapple in lots of syrup), so I think it should be ok. Hope this helps. FD raspberry is amazing and great for so many purposes!
We are considering buying a freeze dryer and have a question about where to put it. We live in Northeast Washington State. The winters get to -20 and summers in excess of 106F. I thought to put the freeze dryer in the garage by our deep freezer, but read the temp shouldn’t be below 40F. I’m stymied. I don’t think I want it in our small 3 bedroom house that’s all one level? What to do?
Maybe insulating the garage, but that would negate the cost of the freeze dryer.
We had ours in our dining room when we first got it. It was loud but that was when they shipped them with the older pumps. We got the new pump that they currently ship with and it is much quieter. I wouldn’t put it in the garage because the temperature fluctuations would really mess with the processing times not to mention cause undo harm to the machine. And I know what the weather can be like in Eastern Washington, we lived in Pullman for a while ;). You really have to weigh the benefits against the inconvenience of having it in your small home. Hope that helps you. The freeze dryer for us paid for itself within six months, so maybe having it indoors until you can insulate your garage wouldn’t be to much of a sacrifice? We thought about the cost of buying a 25year emergency food supply vs. making our own and that helped us with our decision. 🙂
I live in PNW high desert, and I keep my medium machine in a shop. While I do get temp warnings, I don’t seem to have any issues when the shop is as low as 25F. If it gets above 90 in the shop. I don’t run it.
I am a brand new user and wanted to let everyone know when evaluating where to put your freeze dryer to NOT put it in a small room. I put mine initially in my sewing room next to an open window along with having a fan running towards the machine, but the room still got too warm for the unit to function properly (there was a warning on the LED that said it was too warm, so lesson learned). I have since put the unit on a new mobile cart and have it in a much larger room that has more than adequate air circulation.
Great tips!!! So true, need a room with great ventilation! Thank you for helping others so they don’t make mistakes with their expensive machine. 🙂
if I freeze dry home cooked chicken vegetable soup and it does not get “totally done,” (I wanted it out of FD for other reasons)… can I store it in my freezer for use later?
I believe you can, but you should probably use it as soon as possible or I imagine the quality will suffer. Hope that helps. 🙂
Will the food be ruined if the drying process ends in the middle of the night or if
I’m not home?
I always add extra dry time if I know I’m going to be asleep or gone when the process finishes. Yes, the food has a chance to rehydrate if left in the chamber too long.
I set the extra dry time to 12 hrs in the event it finishes while I’m at work or asleep. I’ve noticed the finished cycle that’s not acknowledged ends up with the trays and food going cold. I don’t want to pull out cold food that will absorb moisture like a magnet.
I am running my first batch with my new harvest machine.
Sweet potato diced up and spread evenly, 5 trays.
It has been running for 15 hours now and only at -12F So it will not go to the next stage.
I did the test run and I did the bread run and all worked well.
I have not changed any factory settings/
Do you have any suggestions?
Auckland NZ Humidity today is 89% Temp 14 deg C
There are a lot of factors involved with freeze drying. My drying times have varied greatly depending on a many number of things. There are suggested weight limits for each machine, that can add to dry times. I always just let the machine run and have had some batches take up to 24 hours. In a forum I belong to someone said this, “Usually when the mT is below 200 and tray temperature is 125ish is a good indicator the food is very likely dry. I have heard that the vacuum mT can depend on your elevation.” This will help you know when your machine is about done. But like I said there are many variabilites. Trust your machine. I wouldn’t be concerned unless a batch goes past around the 25 hour mark. Hope that helps. 🙂
Hi Barb. You said you’re part of a forum, could you please share which forum? We are new to freeze drying, and any extra help is greatly appreciated. Thanks.
Yes, this is the group https://www.facebook.com/groups/retiredat40livelifesimple
Is there a distributor/reseller in NZ, or did you buy it from HR in the US? If the latter, would you mind sharing what the wait time was to get it?
We live in the US and bought ours straight from HR, it took 9 weeks to get to our home but we purchased it in 2020 when shipping was an issue. I am unsure about NZ, you could ask customer service on their website. I know here in the US Home Depot and Tractor Supply sell them in the store. If you have Home Depot there I would try that. Sorry, I can’t be of further help.
Goliath, try zeropak in Northland if you haven’t already found them.
If you can freeze any before putting it in FD, the finished will be better.
I totally agree. I tend to freeze before putting my foods in the Harvest Right. You don’t have to, but I feel like it shortens the whole process. 🙂
I would like to know if the unit will automatically restart from where it left off if it wasn’t dry enough when you took it out? My apples are still a little chewy like potato chips when it’s humid. I live in the desert so I think either they moistened back up after I took them out in the middle of the night, or even with two hours extra dry time they weren’t done, or it’s the apples themselves, too ripe?
If you interrupted the cycle I believe there is an option to continue where you left off, it will prompt you. But you can always add more dry time. I tend to do that when a cycle might end in the middle of the night. Always check your manual or the Harvest Right website, there is some great info and tips. Also are you putting them in bags or jars with an oxygen absorber? Some people also purchase a moisture detector to help gauge whether a load needs more dry time. Hope that helps. 🙂
Each time I needed more dry time the pump would need to cool which added an hour before restarting.
Also most of my dry times was around 30 hours. I will be watching my weight from now on.
we are fostering 2 dogs so I’ve had to stop using it due to the noise. I sure miss it!!
A good tip is to make sure you have good air circulation around the pump and if necessary set up a fan next to it, that might help. Yeah, definitely make sure you’re not going over the weight recommended for your trays for your specific freeze-dryer. 🙂
I want to freeze dry spearmint. The leaves are so ‘fluffy’ they are filling the entire space and touching top and bottom.
Is it ok to run?
I would try and make sure to push them down a little and don’t overfill the trays. I did some oregano and basil and just kept it level with the tray and it did fine. 🙂
What mylar bags and oxygen absorbers do you use?
7 mil 2qt gusseted bags and 300cc oxygen absorbers from topmylar.com
I just ran first batch of scrambled frozen eggs. They are currently drying, but have exploded everywhere. What did I do wrong?
I have seen this happen to others. What setting did you start it on? Whenever I run my batches I start as pre-frozen, no-liquid.
My long term storage is bolsterd by my freeze dryer. I can freeze dry fruits for snacks the grandchildren can carry on long car trips.
My first try with meat was a pork loin, but I didnt process it long enough and the slices were a little too thick, so the entire batch was wasted. Lesson learned. Still love it!
That is awesome! It’s always good to have multiple forms of food preservation. Yes, we all have fails and they are definitely learning experiences. lol
When running freeze dryer, if not filling all trays. Do you just leave the tray out or do you need to always have something in each tray?
I would leave the tray out. That said, I always try to find something to fill all the trays with because it’s more cost-efficient. I want to get the most payoff for the time and electricity usage. 🙂
If I have an empty tray I always have on hand marshmallows to load on it! Kids love them! Great filler!
I’m interested in getting a freeze dryer but can’t figure out where to put it. In the winter we use a coal stove and not sure if the coal dust will make a mess or ruin it. Any thoughts?
My guess is it would cause issues because the machine is vented with holes on both sides. This is to allow air in to cool the machine. If possible you could put it in the garage or if you have a basement or spare bedroom. I’m not sure how a coal heating system works though, so I’m not sure if there is enough particulates in the air to be a concern. I would give their customer service line a call if possible. Good luck! 🙂