Buying a Home Freeze Dryer, What You Need to Know First!


Freeze Dryer Image

A few years ago I purchased a Harvest Right home freeze dryer. Since then I have really been putting it through the ringer, working it hard. So I feel confident this article is the ultimate guide on everything you should know before you buy a home freeze dryer. 

Home freeze dryers hit the market just under ten years ago, and are an amazing way to store food. They turn almost any type of food, including entire meals, into lightweight, tasty survival rations or backpacking meals. Freeze-dried food retains its nutrition, and can be stored for up to 25 years!

That said, a Harvest Right home freeze dryer may not be right for everyone. Below I’ll cover everything you need to know about home freeze dryers including: 

  • How the freeze-drying process works
  • Whether freeze-dried food is safe
  • Benefits of freeze-dried food
  • The best brand of freeze-dryer
  • Freeze-dryer size options
  • How much food each freeze dryer can make
  • Maintenance costs for freeze dryers
  • Pump options for freeze dryers
  • How to store freeze-dried food
  • Disadvantages of home freeze dryers

Click through this article and by the end, you’ll know for sure whether a home freeze dryer is right for you! 

What Is Freeze Drying?

Freeze drying is exactly what it sounds like. First, an item is frozen, and then it is dried! Ok, let me break it down a little more. Items in a freeze dryer are frozen down to extremely cold temperatures, between -30 and -50 degrees Fahrenheit on my model. 

After the food is frozen it is “warmed” back up very slowly to around 0 degrees Fahrenheit. As the food is warmed the moisture in the food goes from solid ice directly to a gaseous state. This process is called sublimation and is the reason freeze-dried foods retain their original taste, texture, and nutrition level once rehydrated. 

The moisture, now in the form of a gas, is sucked out under the pressure of a strong vacuum. The end product is a dehydrated form of the food that didn’t have to undergo any type of heating to dry it out.  

Freeze Drying Raw Eggs

In this video below I walk you step by step through the process of freeze drying raw eggs! Also you can check out my article and video on How to Freeze Dry Eggs to see how the process works in even more detail. 

How Does a Freeze Dryer Work? 

There are a few models of at-home freeze dryers on the market, such as the Harvest Right, but they all work essentially the same way. A freeze dryer looks kind of like a small oven, with a front-facing door and racks to place trays onto. Connected to the main body of the freeze dryer is a flexible tube that is connected to a vacuum pump. 

After you place your desired food into the trays, close the door, and press start, the freeze dryer automatically cycles through the rest of the steps. 

  1. Food is frozen. As I mentioned, my model takes the food down to between -30 and -50 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  2. Once the inner chamber reaches this temperature, the vacuum pump turns on and begins pulling air out of the freeze-drying chamber. 
  3. As the food warms back up to 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the moisture is pulled off by the vacuum pump and is deposited into a drip bucket below. 

Sometimes I find that one cycle of freeze-drying isn’t enough to completely dehydrate my food. In that case, I just pop it back in for another hour or two. 

Is Freeze Dried Food Safe to Eat?

According to food safety specialists, yes, freeze-dried food is safe to eat, provided the freezing and drying processes were carried out properly. 

In their words, “The freezing process must be quick and the vacuum process should leave only residual moisture.”

By “quick freezing” they suggest the food needs to be chilled down to at least 41 degrees Fahrenheit within 1-4 hours. To ensure this happens (and to cut down on the total freeze-drying process) you can pre-freeze your food and put it already frozen onto the trays. 

To determine whether your food has a “safe residual moisture” level, it should be crispy or breakable, not squishy or bendable. Some high sugar foods like fruit may retain some flexibility, but they shouldn’t be sticky. 

The freeze-drying process should remove about 98% of the moisture in food. For comparison, regular dehydrating using heat only removes about 90%. 

Does Freeze Drying Kill Bacteria? 

Nope! It sure doesn’t. It freeze-dries the bacteria as is, meaning that proper food handling should be a priority as you prepare the food as well. When you re-constitute the food, the bacteria will break out of their dormancy and become active again. 

Foods like meat, eggs, or seafood must therefore always be cooked after re-constitution. 

Benefits of Freeze-Dried Food

There are lots of benefits to freeze-drying your own food! And Harvest Right makes it easy!

Freeze Dried Food Lasts a Long Time

First, one of the most obvious reasons to freeze-dry food; it lasts a very long time! With freeze-dried food, you have a shelf life of 25-30 years, provided you store them in airtight packaging to keep water out. 

Many preservation methods I’ve covered like canning, salting, dehydrating, or freezing, only keep food for a few years at most (and I recommend rotating them out more frequently if you can). 

You Can Freeze Dry a Wide Variety of Food

You can freeze-dry darn near anything. Food items that would be challenging to preserve in any other fashion, like entire meals, get the green light with freeze-drying. Other foods that are A-OK to freeze-dry:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Meat
  • Seafood
  • Dog food
  • Candy
  • Whole meals
  • Desserts (astronaut ice cream, anyone??)

Freeze Dried Food Retains Its Nutrients

Heating food can denature proteins and change the mineral content of some items, but when you freeze-dry food you keep a very high percentage of the vitamins and nutrients in the food. 

That’s not to say there isn’t anything lost in translation: there is. But when you consider you may be eating this food in an emergency, a piece of fruit with 70% of its vitamins is a whole lot better than no fruit at all. 

Freeze-Dried Food is Lightweight

The lightweight aspect of freeze-dried food is appealing to me for several reasons. First, it makes for great backpacking or bug-out-bag food. If you’re not familiar with the idea of a bug-out-bag, check out my article here. Essentially, a bug-out bag is a backpacking bag that is packed and prepared if you need to leave your home on foot. 

Regardless of whether you’re backpacking for pleasure or in duress, having lightweight (and tasty) food is truly lifesaving. 

Another reason it’s nice to have lightweight food stores is that moving them around my basement isn’t a two-person job the way it is for boxes of canned goods. 

Freeze Dried Food Tastes Good

This is perhaps an overlooked benefit of freeze-dried food. Because the freeze-drying process preserves the food’s taste and texture better than other preservation methods, you get a very similar product once reconstituted than you do with other preservation methods. 

Freeze Drying Food is Easy

That old commercials where you “set it and forget it,” is essentially true of freeze-drying. As long as your machine is in good working order you pretty much just press a button and let it do its thing. 

Can’t get much easier than that!

Freeze Dried Food Can Be Used in All Recipes

Freeze-dried food is really versatile when it comes to using it in a wide variety of recipes. For example, I like to have freeze-dried raw eggs in my pantry. When it comes time to use them, I can put them in any recipe that would normally call for fresh eggs. 

Freeze Dried Food Can Be Vaccum Packed

Not only is freeze-dried food lightweight, but it can also be vacuum-packed so it takes up the smallest amount of space possible. Vacuum sealing also helps ensure that any trace amount of moisture stays out. 

Freeze Drying Your Own Food is Cheaper Than Store-Bought

Freeze-dried food from the grocery store isn’t a cost-effective way to stock your pantry. Truthfully, the cost of freeze-dried commercially produced food is pretty astronomical. Even with the high start-up cost of buying a freeze-dryer, it evens out to be quite a bit cheaper to make your own. 

Best Brand of Freeze Dryer

At-home freeze-dryers haven’t been on the market very long. Less than 10 years. Because these are relatively new products, there isn’t a whole lot of competition in terms of manufacturers.

The biggest name in at-home freeze-dryers is Harvest Right, and they make a great product. I know, because I have one!

Sizes Options for Freeze Dryers

Harvest Right offers three sizes of freeze-dryer. A small, medium, and large. 

Harvest Right Freeze Dryers
Small Freeze DryerMed. Freeze DryerLarge Freeze Dryer
Food Per Batch4-7 lbs7-10 lbs12-16 lbs
Freeze-Dried Product1-1.5 gal1.5-2.5 gal2-3.5 gal
Dimentions16.5’’W x 18.5’’L x 25’’ H18’’W x 21.25’’L x 28.5’’H20.25’’W x 23.75’’ L x 30.75 H
Number of Trays345
Tray Dimensions7.75’’W x 14’’L x0.75’’H7.5’’W x 18’’L x 0.75’’H9’’W x 20.5’’L x 0.75’’H
Weight61 lbs112 lbs138 lbs
Oil Pump Weight32 lbs32 lbs32 lbs

What’s Included with a Harvest Right Freeze-Dryer?

According to Harvest Right, this is what is included with their freeze-dryers.

  • Premier vacuum pump (an oil-free pump costs extra)
  • Vacuum pump oil
  • Oil filter
  • Stainless steel trays (5)
  • Guide to freeze-drying
  • 50 Mylar bags
  • 50 oxygen absorbers
  • Impulse sealer

How Much Food Can I Make in a Freeze Dryer?

Below I’ve included a table of basic statistics on each size freeze dryer. 

Harvest Right Freeze Dryers
Small Freeze DryerMed. Freeze DryerLarge Freeze Dryer
Food Per Batch4-7 lbs7-10 lbs12-16 lbs
Freeze-Dried Product1-1.5 gal1.5-2.5 gal2-3.5 gal
Annual Fresh840 lbs1,450 lbs2,500 lbs
Annual Freeze Dried195 gal312 gal546 gal

How Long Does it Take to Freeze Dry Food?

It can take between 20-40 hours to freeze dry food, depending on what it is, and whether it was frozen before you put it in. 

What Foods Cannot Be Freeze Dried?

Despite the large number of foods that can be freeze-dried, there are still a few that cannot. Namely, fatty foods like butter, lard, and nut butter cannot be freeze-dried. Similarly, if you try to freeze-dry meat with lots of fat on it, you may find you aren’t able to get it properly dried out. 

How Much Does a Freeze Dryer Cost?

Ok, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Freeze dryers are expensive. Here’s the breakdown for Harvest Right freeze dryers. The cost of these freeze dryers is the cost with the “premium pump,” which is an oil pump. You can purchase an oil-free pump for extra. 

Harvest Right Freeze Dryers
Small Freeze DryerMed. Freeze DryerLarge Freeze Dryer
Cost$2,395$3,195$2,895
Oil-Free Pump$1,495$1,495$1,495

Layaway Option

Harvest Right does have a layaway option with a down payment of $250 and 0% interest. The freeze dryer will ship after you’ve made the final payment. 

Sometimes Harvest Right runs sales, and if you choose a layaway option you can lock in the sale price. 

What Kind of Pump Should I Get with My Freeze Dryer? 

Harvest Right makes three types of pumps. 

Oil Pump: This is the most standard type of pump, and requires an oil change every 4-5 batches. 

Premier Oil Pump: This pump only needs an oil change every 20-25 batches, but does require Robinair Premium High Vacuum Pump Oil or JB Industries Black Gold Vacuum Pump Oil

Oil-Free Pump: This pump does not require oil but is significantly more expensive than the other two pumps. 

How Long Does a Freeze Dryer Last?

Harvest Right provides a three-year limited warranty on their products, but you should expect your freeze dryer to last a good 10 years with proper maintenance. 

How Do I Maintain My Freeze Dryer? 

The only maintenance mentioned by Harvest Right is to change the oil on the pump (unless you have the oil-free version). 

Additionally, you’ll want to wipe out the interior of the freeze dryer occasionally if you’ve spilled food in the bottom. 

How To Store Freeze Dried Food

Once you’ve been through the process of freeze-drying your food, you have to take some special precautions while storing it, especially if you want it to last 20 years into the future. 

In particular, you need to store it so that any moisture from the air can’t get to it. There are a few ways to do this. 

Mylar Bags

Harvest Right gives you 50 Mylar bags when you purchase a freeze dryer, but you’ll need many more than this to get your money’s worth out of the machine. Mylar is like a fancy aluminum that was developed by the military. It is known for keeping air, moisture, and other tastes out of your food. You’ll need to add an oxygen absorber into the bag and then seal it with an impulse sealer

Tin Cans

I purchased brand-new food-grade tin cans from a food warehouse, and I really like these for storing food. You do have to have a can sealer to use these and of course an oxygen absorber in each can. 

Vacuum Sealer

Vacuum sealing is a great way to store freeze-dried food, and vacuum sealers are available online. Harvest Right warns not to vacuum seal meat or other “high protein” items. 

Airtight Glass Jars

If you’re looking to store food for a few months, or are planning to snack on some of your food continuously for a while, airtight glass jars are perfectly fine. 

Disadvantages of Purchasing a Home Freeze Dryer

Now that I’ve talked up the benefits of owning a freeze-dryer, we need to discuss the disadvantages. As much as I love my freeze-dryer, there are some downsides to consider. 

Will My Utility Bill Go Up If I Use a Freeze Dryer? 

Yes, anticipate your electricity bill to go up if you use a freeze dryer regularly. This is a powerful appliance that draws a lot of electricity to cool your food down to -50 degrees Fahrenheit. Most people who report regular use of their freeze dryer say their monthly bill goes up by about $10-$30/month. 

What are the Maintenance Costs of Owning a Freeze Dryer?

If you don’t buy the oil-free pump, you will need to purchase new oil occasionally. This will generally run you $20 or less per quart. 

Are Freeze Dryers Noisy?

Freeze dryers typically have a decibel rating between 60-70. A vacuum cleaner usually hits about 70 decibels, so while the freeze dryer may not burst your eardrums, keep in mind they usually need to run for 20-40 hours. 

If you can keep your freeze dryer in a basement or unused room, I recommend that. 

How Much Space Will a Freeze Dryer Take Up? 

Freeze dryers are not small nor are they lightweight. Despite the fact that they make food lightweight, they themselves are very heavy. 

Harvest Right Freeze Dryers
Small Freeze DryerMed. Freeze DryerLarge Freeze Dryer
Dimensions16.5’’W x 18.5’’L x 25’’ H18’’W x 21.25’’L x 28.5’’H20.25’’W x 23.75’’ L x 30.75 H
Weight61 lbs112 lbs138 lbs
Oil Pump Weight32 lbs32 lbs32 lbs

How to Decide if a Freeze Dryer is Right For You

No two ways about it: a freeze dryer is an investment. When considering whether to buy a freeze-dryer, consider the following: 

A Freeze Dryer Is Worth It If: A Freeze Dryer Is Not Worth It If:
You have the money to buy one.You do not have the money to buy one.
You would use it regularlyYou have lots of other ways to prep and store food. 
You have a space large enough to store itYou don’t have the space to store it. 
Freeze dried food would add substantially to your emergency food pantry. You’re not sure how often it would get used. 

David

Hi! I’m David. For most of my life I have been interested in emergency preparedness. Over the many years things have changed a great deal. From freeze dried food, to LED lanterns, preparing for an emergency has never been easier. The continual research I have done over the years have become the basis for this website. Now it is one of the most trusted sources to learn about emergency preparedness. Read More

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