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About dehydrated entrees -- bacteria and safety and stuff
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Ian Schumann
(freeradical) - M

Locale: Central TX
About dehydrated entrees -- bacteria and safety and stuff on 08/07/2012 14:06:54 MDT Print View

Hey team,
Just got my first dehydrator and am having a fantastic time. I've quickly gotten the hang of fruit leathers (as though that was hard) and am moving on to dehydrating whole meals or entrees, such as chili, or pasta dishes, etc.

Wanted to get some clarification on a couple of little items. I've spent some time researching these matters online, but can't quite find the answers I'm looking for.

Let's just take my simple chili, which I dehydrated yesterday, as our case study:
1) Temperature and/or spoilage control
I was following the recipe from BackpackingChef.com recommended dehydrating at 8-10 hours at 125* F. To my knowledge, that temperature is not sufficient to kill off bacteria or other baddies that might spoil the meat in the chili. Is this right or wrong?

More generally, I am concerned about the amount of time that these meaty entrees will be exposed to a fairly mild temperature. When I say "mild", I mean that 125* (or thereabouts) is neither cold enough to halt bacteria growth, nor hot enough to keeping "cooking" the food and prevent bacterial growth -- at least to my knowledge. But if I'm wrong, please somebody correct me! As it is, it seems odd that (as a general principle) cooked food left out at room temperature for 2-3 hours might be considered unfit to eat, yet I'm holding this food at 125* for 8-10 (or 12 or 14) hours, and hoping it's still fit to eat.

Is this right? Perhaps I'm over-estimating the minimum required temperature necessary to keep food from spoiling. I just want somebody to tell me that it's okay to dry chili (or another meaty entree) at 125* or 135* for half a day, and that I don't need to worry about spoilage.

2) Target consistency
I dried my chili for about 10 hours, and when it was done it was no longer sticky. Wasn't especially moist either. BUT it was still quite pliable, similar to fruit leather. Is this meal considered DONE drying? Just because it was my first time, I put the chili back in for ~5 more hours and it ended up fairly crispy, such that the dry pieces had a cracker-like sound to them. It rehydrated well enough for lunch today, though. But if I can assist in rehydration by not over-drying these foods, I'd like to hit that sweet spot.

For meaty meals, how dry is dry enough? Again I am concerned with spoilage / food safety. Being new to dehydrating, I still don't exactly "trust" my own dehydrated food yet. I don't have a grid for how easily these dehydrated entrees might spoil in the course of storage.

3) Storage and packing
Real briefly here. Just continuing the obvious trend. Instructions I've heard for storing dehydrated food says "in a cool dry place". Well ... the inside of my backpack while I'm hiking in the summer under a mountain sun is not a cool place. In fact since my food is packed next to my back, I'm sure it's quite warm. Does this matter?

Altogether, has anyone had any problems with food spoilage after dehydration? I'm headed out for a week-long trip on the 25th of this month, and my food will need to keep through my kitchen, my hot car, and my backpack, for a maximum of perhaps 10 or 12 days.

#######

Sorry for the long ramble on all that. I basically just need someone to make this stuff a bit clearer for me. Thanks a bunch!

Stephen P
(spavlock) - F

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: About dehydrated entrees -- bacteria and safety and stuff on 08/07/2012 14:20:06 MDT Print View

I did the same thing with several of my homemade dehydrated meals. I followed the recommended drying times and didn't think it was nearly enough. I dried my spaghetti and chili until it was crispy as well. I'm interested in seeing what others have to say on that topic.

As for the storage, you will be fine. If you wanted to keep the meals for a while, you can seal them in an airtight bag and throw them in the freezer. They should keep for a few years in there. I think the hawk vittles products say they are good for up to a year if kept in the refrigerator. I bet they are still good longer than that, but he's just being cautious.

Ian Schumann
(freeradical) - M

Locale: Central TX
Re: fridge storage on 08/07/2012 14:51:11 MDT Print View

Thanks Stephen! I have gathered that if these items are stored in the fridge or freezer, they're basically good for something close to eternity. My question about storage is more about after-the-fridge, e.g. in the car or inside my pack. What's your experience with dehydrated food keeping well (or not) in those environments?

Whoever else can weigh in, it will be appreciated! Thanks.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Re: fridge storage on 08/07/2012 15:37:30 MDT Print View

IMO any "drying time" is a suggested drying time. Humidity can play in on how long it takes. 125* does seem low. I always went by 155* for meat - but that is me.
Long term storage is best in freezer. A week in your pack if properly dried isn't an issue.

Although the long term is why I don't dry meals with meat/dairy/heavy fat. When we ate meat I dried it separately and added it in at meal time.

For non-meat items, I like 135*.

Ian Schumann
(freeradical) - M

Locale: Central TX
re: on 08/07/2012 15:49:00 MDT Print View

Thanks for weighing in, Sarah!

Do you have any feedback on the consistency question? Is chili "leather" good enough, or would you dry to the triscuit-like consistency that I ended up with?

Granted, based on your post it sounds like you don't bother drying whole chili at all, as you'll do the meat separately, is that right? I'm investigating that option as well. Seems like it would be pretty easy to just dry some ground beef separately, etc.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: re: on 08/07/2012 16:04:49 MDT Print View

Yeah...I usually dry individual ingredients over meals. I'll bet Laurie has a lot to say - as she likes doing meals.

I probably go over board on drying time - I like my stuff DRY. So I tend to cracker like versus flexible.

Stephen P
(spavlock) - F

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: Re: fridge storage on 08/07/2012 16:19:34 MDT Print View

My stuff has kept well in the pack, car, out on the hot counter for weeks, etc. I store meals in ziploc brand freezer bags. I also dry at 155 if there is meat in the meal. I think it's 155...is that the highest temp on the excalibur dehydrators?? I prefer cooking the whole meal and then drying. For future trips I'm going to try to get away from using meat and try to use other sources of protein like beans.

Peter Scherpelz
(kpscherpelz) - MLife

Locale: The Mountainless Midwest...
Dehydration texture on 08/07/2012 16:57:53 MDT Print View

Most of my dehydration has been fruit and fruit leather and vegetables, which end up more on cracker side of pliable. I have dried tomato paste to reconstitute into sauce-- for this, it works to dry it well (cracker stage, I guess) and freeze it. Then the pieces are broken up by hand or by food processor. This makes small pieces (ideally dust) which rehydrates readily without odd chunks. So my guess would be that if you want your chili to rehydrate quickly, you want smaller dry chunks, which are easiest to obtain from a very dry state.

When you dehydrate chili, are you starting with something at room temperature or something you just boiled? Essentially, something you just boiled should be quite bug-free (apart from microbes which blow into it from the air, spoons ...) so adding a still-hot chili to a 125 F dehydrator would keep it hot and bugs wouldn't have much chance to grow. By contrast, adding refrigerator or room-temperature chili to the dehydrator would take the chili through the food 'danger zone' of 40-140 F and bacteria which are present would have a chance to grow. I like the idea of drying the meat separately at a higher temperature, especially if it hasn't just been well cooked.

Generally, bacteria and fungi need moisture to grow, so the dryer your food, the less risk of spoilage, even at higher temperatures. At low temperatures (fridge, freezer) their growth is slowed/inhibited, so all my long-term storage occurs in the freezer. Squeezing all the air you can out of your plastic storage bags is a good idea, too, to help decrease bugs and general oxidation. I haven't had any issues with dehydrated food going bad on a 10-day hike, albeit not a very hot one.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: About dehydrated entrees -- bacteria and safety and stuff on 08/07/2012 17:01:17 MDT Print View

1) Temperature and/or spoilage control

If you are cutting strips of meat the meat is sterile inside. This is why cutting strips is preferred to using ground beef. If you dry ground beef, you should dry it cooked. Cooking kills the bacteria.

For other foods it should ideally be clean before you cut it up or cooked so that it's not full of bacteria. Don't dry fruit that was cut up in a commercial kitchen and then sat around on a buffet table, for example. Avoid using food that is bruised or otherwise compromised for dehydrated foods. Use the best quality you can.

2) Target consistency

Some foods just aren't going to end up crispy. Your chili probably isn't crispy due to the sugar content of the tomato base. Remember, sugar is a preservative, too. Just drive out as much water as possible and relax about the rest.

3) Storage and packing

Air-sealed containers in a cool dry pantry is sufficient for a few months to years, depending on how prone your pantry is to bugs and how good your containers are and what you've dehydrated. Frozen is obviously going to last longer. But don't worry about in your pack. If you drove out the water it's good in your pack for as long as any hike is going to be. The worst case, other than accidentally getting it wet, is that it could go stale.

I backpack with shelf-unstable foods all the time and most foods are good for at minimum a day or two. You can protect some foods by packing them insulated by your sleeping bag or jacket. I do this with US Wellness Pemmican which is not shelf-stable and melts under fairly low temperatures.

John Peterson
(skik2000) - F

Locale: Boulder, CO
Drying on 08/08/2012 14:22:23 MDT Print View

I do meals w/meat @ 160. The chili I've made doesn't have a ton of liquid so it usually dries into crunch little bits as opposed to a leather. Drying whole meals is probably more work but you get the flavors to develop while cooking instead of just dumping separately dried ingredients into hot water for 20 minutes.

Ian Schumann
(freeradical) - M

Locale: Central TX
Re: drying etc on 08/08/2012 14:26:22 MDT Print View

Thanks everyone! This stuff is all super helpful and has made a lot more confident in what I'm doing here. Much appreciated, everybody.

PS,
John, you're in Austin? We should take a hill country trip this winter when the weather here gets pleasant again. ... If it ever does, again ..

Edited by freeradical on 08/08/2012 14:26:59 MDT.

Harald Hope
(hhope) - M

Locale: East Bay
more on 08/09/2012 12:11:03 MDT Print View

If you dry at I think it's over 140, the meat is cooked, I don't like how it tastes then. And around 125 or so it dries. Some say key nutrients are lost when cooking it, I don't know, all I know is that the meat tastes way better dried than cooked.

Depending on the cuts, I do it in a few ways:

for fatty, great tasting stuff, like skirt steak, I soak it in brine for a while to get it a bit salted, that's to inhibit bacterial growth and help preserve it. Salting meat, you may recall, was one of a few ways we preserved meat in the old days. Then I dry it until it's as dry as it's going to get with fat in it. If I'm not going to use it soon, I stick it in freezer bags, and when I take it out, pre trip, I dry it a bit more to get any moisture off it. I don't use that much salt, nor do I soak it that long, just long enough to get the salt in the outer layers. But since the strips are thin, that's a decent amount of the meat.

For lean meat, I dry it until it cracks. There's no timers involved, it's done when it's done. One advantage of using lower temps is that it doesn't over cook, it just gets a bit drier as it gets done. I use lean meat to make pemmican, ie, a 50% by weight combo of dried then ground to powder/filaments lean meat, and low temp (below 240 F) rendered beef fat.

Thin slices in all cases are best, as mentioned. Ideally grass fed beef, not coming through industrial slaughterhouses, which I think is where a lot of serious bacteria issues are created. Might be wiser to use higher temps on any corporate style meat, coming from chains. That's all industrial meat, very dirty.

I prefer drying ingredients to meals, that way I can just toss stuff into the pot and rehydrate it. This also, I find, is a great indicator of what I actually like to eat on the trail, since what I come back with, or ate last, pretty much shows me what I liked least each time.

Hint: for spices, drying ginger and grinding it up is incredibly good, as is drying habeneros and serranos. You have never had anything like home made ginger powder, the flavor difference is stunning.

Also remember the other options, cured meats like jamon serrano, lomo, prosciutto will make you think you've died and gone to heaven every single food stop you make, and that food was developed to stay good without refrigeration.

For vegetables, using lower temperatures results in a far better taste and quality experience as well from what I am finding, it's the cooking vs drying thing again. You won't get that totally crackling dryness at 125, it's a softer kind. Except for things like rice and potatoes.

I stopped buying commercial dried meals after realizing that trip after trip, my emergency last meal for extra day out never got eaten, that was the store bought freeze dried 'food'. Now the food that never gets eaten is a dried bean thing I bring just in case I want one more day, heh.

Ian Schumann
(freeradical) - M

Locale: Central TX
Re: drying etc on 08/09/2012 12:44:47 MDT Print View

Harald,
Thanks! Those are great tips!

Harald Hope
(hhope) - M

Locale: East Bay
three more on 08/09/2012 13:09:45 MDT Print View

I should admit, I spend a lot more time and effort on preparing my food than I do on any other part of my trips, although the gear is fun too.

Dried bread: make whole wheat loaf, with fresh flour (whole wheat flour, like brown rice, has oils, and goes rancid), slice into slices, cut slices in half (assuming it's a standard loaf size), dry until reasonably dry, but doesn't have to be all the way, just enough so the slices feel dry. You can do those in the oven at low temp too if you are in a hurry. Good bakeries that sell real bread are fine too if you don't want to make it, the trick is that the loaf should feel very heavy in the hand, ie, dense.

Dried brown rice: no reason to use white, brown has all the nutrition left in it. Brown rice goes rancid, so it's best bought fresh, from bulk bins at health food stores ideally. Cook, then dry, I put it on screens on the trays, screens come from aluminum screens I cut to disks. Takes forever to dry rice, 2 days maybe.

Dried yukon gold potatoes, it doesn't get better than this, at least not that I've found. Boil whole potatoes, steam actually, to preserve all the nutrients, or as many as you can. Cut into thin disks, then cube the disk. You have to cube them, small, 3/8" give or take chunks, thin, or you cannot break the stuff apart once it's dried. I learned that the first time, even with a hammer I couldn't really break it up. The smaller the squares and the thinner, the better they rehydrate. My last trip I got it almost perfect, they rehydrated and actually looked more or less like real potato. Takes a long time to cut up the little chunks after it's cooled and boiled, but it's worth it. Dry on the same screens as the rice uses. You can buy that stuff at Ace hardware by the foot.

That's for the carbs more or less for the day.

Edited by hhope on 08/09/2012 13:17:03 MDT.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife

Locale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
More tips on 08/09/2012 16:19:02 MDT Print View

I cook my rice or quinoa in broth (usually vegetable broth) before dehydrating it. It really jazzes up the taste! Of course if rice is cooked in chicken broth, you have risotto!

IF you have a number of long trips planned and you need a lot of meat, I found that dehydrating it myself (using high quality meat, of course) costs the same as the freeze-dried meat from Packit Gourmet. That's of course for their largest package. And that didn't include the electricity to run the dehydrator, which I didn't try to price.

A few veggies do not rehydrate well. My only trial with peas resulted in their remaining the consistency of buckshot even after 15 minutes of boiling! (Since then I've bought freeze-dried peas and added them to the dinner when packaging.) That same occasion taught me that it's a good idea to test each meal at home before the trip rather than out in the field!

Stephen P
(spavlock) - F

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
beans on 08/09/2012 17:02:51 MDT Print View

What about beans? It took me forever to dehydrate beans. Maybe I left them in longer than necessary, but I pretty much dried them until they split open and the inside was the consistency of sand. They rehydrated and tasted fine, but am I overdoing it?

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: beans on 08/12/2012 17:56:03 MDT Print View

I find that canned red kidney beans dehydrate very nicely. First, I rinse them off thoroughly, then pour them into the dehydrator and let them go overnight. When they dry out, they split open, and that helps them to dry out completely. The dark dried skins have more fiber, and the light dried bean flesh has more protein. I carry the dried crumbs to mix into my rice and soup things at camp.

--B.G.--

Bobby McDonald
(Fibropacker)

Locale: West Sussex
How much water is needed to revive those red kidney beans and how long are they left to do so? on 08/15/2012 15:57:00 MDT Print View

I too am a novice dehydrator - nothing ever resumes its taste and mass - in fact it become an ungodly mess. I now stick to fruit chips and leathers, but would like to have the chicken curry at least once come back to look and taste like it had done before the dehydrator accepted it.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: How much water is needed to revive those red kidney beans and how long are they left to do so? on 08/15/2012 16:14:22 MDT Print View

It doesn't take much.

I use the crumbled bean grit in with rice, couscous, and quinoa and simply pour boiling water over it. If you simmer it, it will dissolve even better.

You do not get beans out of it. You get a good source of protein.

--B.G.--