Freeze-dried food is known for its extensive shelf life. In fact, one of the primary purposes of preserving food via freeze-drying is to make fresh items like fruits, vegetables, and meats last longer. (Freeze-dried foods can even make the trek to space. That alone seems like a pretty good indicator of their longevity!)
The long-lasting reputation of freeze-dried foods begs the question: are they edible indefinitely? Will our future descendants unearth our freeze-dried snacks at an archaeological dig and find them still delicious after thousands of years?
That scenario might be a stretch—but you may be surprised at just how long foods preserved by freeze-drying can stay good to eat.
We’re diving into the intriguing details of the food with a shelf life that outlasts any other.
What is the Shelf-Life of Freeze-Dried Food?
Take a wild guess at how long freeze-dried food remains safe to eat. A year? Five years? Ten?
Believe it or not, many freeze-dried foods can last up to 25 or even 30 years! (However, some estimates place their shelf life closer to five to seven years.) Either way, a package of freeze-dried strawberries or carrots in your home pantry can hold its own among long-term, indefinitely edible foods like dried beans, oats, or rice.
Freeze-dried foods last significantly longer than foods that have been merely dehydrated.
The reason: the freezing and dual vacuum-drying stages involved in freeze-drying remove even more moisture than dehydrating, which only uses heat. Studies have shown that the moisture content in foods is what predicts their shelf life.
Not surprisingly, freeze-dried comestibles are often among the top food recommendations for emergency preparedness kits or long-term trekking.
As long as they’re kept away from light and air, these foods can provide nourishment for an extremely lengthy duration without losing quality or nutrients. (Freeze-dried foods retain almost all of their original vitamins and minerals.)
How Long Do Freeze Dried Foods Last Once Opened?
As with any other food, opening your freeze-dried foods reduces their shelf life. Once a package is opened, it encounters oxygen and moisture in the air. Both of these elements increase a food’s exposure to bacteria that can ultimately make it spoil.
As a general rule, it’s smart to consume freeze-dried foods within six months to a year after opening. That said, any food’s edibility will depend on the conditions around it.
A package of freeze-dried food that can’t be resealed or covered will spoil faster than one with a tight seal. For maximum freshness and durability, be sure to store opened freeze-dried foods in containers with a sealable lid or lock.
Do Freeze Dried Foods Expire?
Here’s a fun fact: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require foods to have printed expiration dates, nor does any other federal law. (Who knew?)
Use-by, sell-by, and best-by dates are an optional addition that food manufacturers may place on their products to give consumers a sense of their shelf life. Even when these dates are printed on food packaging, according to the FDA, they are an indication of food quality, not safety.
Don’t be surprised, then, if you spot expiration dates printed on freeze-dried foods that seem relatively short. (Some manufacturers may elect to place them on their products simply because consumers expect them.) Though these dates can be months or years in the future, even such a far-flung timeline might not reflect a freeze-dried food’s true shelf life, which could be up to 30 years.
To determine whether a freeze-dried item is actually good to eat, your senses are usually a more reliable indicator than a date stamped on the side of a package. If foods have an off odor, an unappealing look, or a slimy texture, they should be discarded. (More on identifying when a freeze-dried food is safe to eat below!)
These rules also apply to foods that have been freeze-dried at home. Just note that, depending on the process used for DIY freeze-drying, these foods may not last as long as commercially prepared ones.
Does Freeze-Dried Food Need to be Refrigerated?
Unlike fresh produce, meats, and dairy products, freeze-dried versions of these foods don’t need to be refrigerated, even after you’ve opened them.
To extend these foods’ shelf life to its maximum, you can store them below about 75 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius). The higher the temperature, the more quickly they will begin to deteriorate—so if your pantry tends to run warm, you may prefer to keep freeze-dried foods in the fridge (though it probably isn’t necessary).
Keeping your freeze-dried meals and snacks in a dark place, such as the back of your pantry, will also help them stay edible longer.
How Long Will Freeze-Dried Meat Keep?
It might be hard to imagine keeping meat for years on end, even when it’s been preserved. But freeze-dried meat isn’t your typical steak, chicken, fish or pork. Whereas, in their fresh form, these foods will spoil after just a week or 10 days, the magic of freeze-drying extends their edibility almost indefinitely. Estimates for freeze-dried meats’ shelf life range from five to 30 years.
Of course, after opening meat that’s been freeze-dried, you’ll want to use it up within about a year. In the meantime, though, freeze-dried meats make additions to salads, soups, casseroles, and more.
The most important question to ask before eating freeze-dried meat is whether it was cooked prior to being preserved. If the meat was cooked, simply rehydrate it and—boom!—add it to recipes just like you would any other pre-cooked meat. On the other hand, freeze-dried raw meat must be both rehydrated and cooked prior to eating.
How Can I Tell if Freeze-Dried Food is Bad?
It’s true that freeze-dried foods can last as long as some people’s entire careers. But that doesn’t mean they never go bad, especially if they’re not kept in ideal conditions. Stored improperly and exposed to light, heat, and moisture in the air, these foods won’t reach their decades-long potential.
To tell if freeze-dried foods are still good to eat, assess them as you would any other food: using your senses. (Again, a printed expiration date is merely an estimate of quality, not a deadline for safety.) Some signs that freeze-dried foods have gone bad include:
- An unpleasant, “off” smell
- Visible mold
- Wet or slimy texture
- Loss of crispness
- Change in color
- Bad taste
If you notice any of these signs on your food, throw it away.
The Bottom Line
We all want to get the most out of our delicious freeze-dried provisions. For maximum duration, proper storage is key.
Stash freeze-dried foods in a cool, dark place that won’t exceed 75 degrees Fahrenheit. And don’t forget to keep them tightly sealed!
With the right storage steps, you could be enjoying freeze-dried foods year in and year out.