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[pct-l] How long til it rots?

Hello Robert -

You asked:

>I am planning on thru-hiking the PCT next year and I want to dehydrate
some of
>my own food. I am curious as to how long the dehydrated food keeps. Once
>dehydrated, will the food keep indefinitely or is there a "shelf life" on
>certain things.

I tend to dehydrate mostly cooked foods for trail use, so my comments
pertain MOSTLY to that branch of dehydramania <g>.  I am away from my
trusty Mac (traveling) and don't have access to my records from my
hikes...I may be off by a month or two on the various shelf life figures
used below (don't figure too close <g>).  I will check my records when I
get home and will post corrections if it turns out that my memory has been
fried by eating all that out-of-date trail food...

I decided to dehydrate cooked foods (veggies, fruits, and meats) for my AT
hike based on a recommendation from a distance skier who had been using
self-dehydrated cooked foods in his resupply drops for a decade or more.
He tended to think in terms of entire winters when he worried about shelf
life (would bury his resupply drop before the snow flew and would dig it up
after break-up if he didn't use it in between.  He was still ski-touring
and hadn't killed too many of his friends, so I figured that he must be on
to something <g>.

I wound up doing additional research because I wanted to get a little more
info on ways to package my dehydrated cooked foods (particularly the
meats).  To be honest, in '92 there wasn't much out there that I could find
on the subject...so I decided to look around for folks doing the food
preservation research.  

Found a retired prof who had been lead on a food preservation study (UC
Davis?) for decades.  He was more than willing to cut thru the mountains of
paper they had produced for the Dept. of Agriculture and to boil it down to
some trail-simple advice: 

make SURE that you get at least 80% of the moisture out

store in airtight jars (cool, out of direct sunlight) and you should easily
get 10-12 months for the cooked veggies and 2-4 months for the cooked meats
before the taste starts to get "musty"

vacuum-bag the meats with a commercial grade vacuum (20-22 inches of
mercury!) and you should get at least a year

bag up the veggies into air-tight bags (NOT zip-loc's) and grab the
vacuum-bagged meat - drop both into your home freezer...the clock won't
start ticking until you take them out!

The prof was very emphatic about the need to remove at least 80% of the
moisture from whatever you are dehydrating.  He really got into telling me
about how to weigh the food, how to look up the moisture content % numbers
from the "official" tables, how to calculate the weight of moisture in the
batch, and then how to weigh it several times during dehydration to make
SURE that at least 80% of the moisture had gone away.  He pointed out that
the 80% number was for ALL the food...if any little chunk retains too much
moisture, then all bets are off!

I explained how scientific I tended to be when I was in a dehydrating fit:
I would put the food into the dehydrator and would leave it running until I
got around to cooking up another batch (or I got back from Oshkosh or
something).  The stuff often stays in the dehydrator for a week or more...I
ain't any too worried about getting it out as quickly as possible <g>.

We decided that (given my rigerous technique <g>) I wouldn't need to worry
about minimum drying times and that I should just leave everything in until
it's obvious that it isn't going to get any crunchier.  He warned me again
to break up the clumps and check the insides to make SURE that EVERYTHING
was as dry as it was going to get.

I use the above method to do up all my cooked veggie and cooked meats.
Fruits and fruit leathers are a different story.  I make a lot of leather
out of (half) apple sauce and (half) whatever I am willing to mix together
in the blender...I usually watch it pretty close so that it doesn't get too
brittle.  I like to get the gallon cans of pineapple chunks or fruit
coctail and dry it along with the juice...I usually watch it pretty close
so that I can pull it out when it is exactly chewy enough <g>.  I have
never paid much attention to how long this type of food lasts in storage.
I usually do it up a week or two before the trip and just keep it in the
refrigerator until it is needed for the resupply box.  We did have some go
mouldy once, but we think that it might have been repeatedly pushed to the
back of the queue for a year or more (it turns out that I ain't any big fan
of mince-meat leather <g>).

I did up all the veggies and meat for our PCT hike before we left.  I
bagged the cooked veggies in 1-cup amounts in plastic food storage bags
(not zip-loc).  The meats were vacuum-bagged in 1-cup amounts.  Both were
dropped into bins in the freezer and my wife would pull them as she made up
the resupply mailings.  I didn't have any idea how long the hike would
take, so I made up 350+ man/meals worth of meats and veggies for what I
figured to be a worst-case hike (2 people for 6 months). We wound up taking
only about 4 and 1/2 months, so I had plenty left over.  

A lot has been used as my Scout Troop took week-long trips...some is still
in the freezer.  I will have to try some when I get back home...if it's
still good, do you want to try a sample <VBG>? 

- Charlie II   AT (MEGA'93)
               PCT (Mex@Can'95)   

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