Dehydrating food before storage is perhaps the easiest of all the preservation methods. Humans have dried their foods after hunting and harvesting for thousands of years, and we developed this method because the need to save food for later predates the refrigerator. But where to use it?
It is safe to use a dehydrator in a garage, provided there is adequate ventilation and air circulation. While any electrical appliance bears some risk during use, an electric dehydrator is no more dangerous than your refrigerator, and it runs constantly with no safety issues.
Finding the right dehydration method and spot to do it are important in your quest for dried and preserved foods, but so is the safety of you, your family, and your property. A little information will go a long way toward ensuring all of that, so let’s get started.
Using My Dehydrator Indoors
Now that you’ve bought an electric dehydrator, the question becomes where to put it. That decision will depend on many issues, from space to power requirements to smells associated with the process.
Many people opt for their garage as the central dehydrating station in their home. While this is perfectly safe, since your electric dehydrator is an appliance, there are some basic safety elements to consider.
The dehydrator must sit on a secure, level surface, as a wobbly or uneven surface could conceivably lead to the unit tipping or falling. You should also inspect the power cord and plug for any damage, as worn cords are fire hazards.
Also, consider that a dehydrator uses a heat source, which makes it a possible fire hazard. Whether it’s in your garage or elsewhere, it can’t be covered with rags or towels or anything else flammable.
Because you’re considering putting the unit in the garage, there is an inherent assumption that you’re planning on leaving it unattended, which is perfectly fine. Your air conditioner runs unattended for weeks on end in the summer. But it is only safe if it’s been inspected for any possible issues.
While there has been occasional safety recalls for dehydrators, there is nothing to suggest that these are dangerous products.
One definite plus to taking it to the garage is the food odors you may encounter. While dehydrating apples might be unpleasant for your spouse who hates the smell of them, that’s just an inconvenience.
Discomfort can result from dehydrating peppers or onions. The same oils that make your mouth hot when you eat a pepper and your eyes water when you cut onions can become airborne during dehydration.
Placing the unit in the garage would be better than the kitchen in those cases.
There is also a significant amount of moisture produced by the process– after all, it’s coming out of the food and has to go somewhere. That moisture carries those odors, so the garage needs good air circulation and to be well ventilated.
Opening a window might be more viable in the garage than in the kitchen.
One final note–if your garage is dirty, it may not be a good idea to prepare food in there. Gasoline fumes and sawdust can work their way into your dehydrator and your food, so be aware of your surroundings.
Using My Dehydrator Outdoors
Using a dehydrator outdoors isn’t illegal or anything, but it’s definitely suboptimal.
First, running an electric appliance outside invites trouble if a rain or electrical storm should arise. Even the most weatherized outdoor receptacles are not watertight, nor are they foolproof.
Second, and perhaps more pragmatically, you may encounter the same issues with the humidity with regard to air drying.
Finally, if it’s cold outside when you’re running your dehumidifier, the food toward the edges of the unit will not be heated as well as what’s closer to the center. A dehydrator is not a well-insulated piece of equipment and is not built to keep the cold at bay.
Perform Maintenance Before and After Use
No matter where you use your dehydrator, you will be able to use it safely and with peace of mind by maintaining and inspecting it before and after use. As mentioned earlier, a frayed or damaged power cord is a fire hazard. Also a fire safety issue, food buildup in your dehydrator can be a problem.
While you can replace your dehydrator trays with something like Presto’s Dehydro Trays, and there are reusable silicone dehydrator sheets available like these from Blulu, these are not alternatives to cleaning your dehydrator with soap and water after each use.
Learn How to Use Your Dehydrator
If you are just getting started in the dehydration game, plenty who have come before you can show a lot of tips and tricks. While there is a YouTube video for just about anything, specifically, try this one for a how-to guide on making beef jerky:
For tops on dehydrating most fruits, try watching this video:
Finally, there’s an apple-specific guide video to dehydrating here:
What Dehydrators Do and Why We Use Them
When you dehydrate food, you remove the water source for the bacteria that cause food spoilage by taking some of the moisture out of it. In the absence of those, your food doesn’t spoil. And while dehydrated food can go bad, it takes a lot longer than fresh food to do so.
You can also count on a dehydrator to reduce the size of the food you’re working with and take some of the weight off of it, which is why campers and hikers consume a lot of dehydrated things. It’s easier to pack, it saves space, and you have more room for gear.
While just about any fresh food is a good candidate for your electric dehydrator, some work better than others. Let’s take a look at a few options.
- Most fruits work well.
Apples need a splash of lemon juice before they go in, and most berries should be blanched first. There are specialized dehydrator trays you can get to make sheets of fruit leather. Avocados are not dehydrator-friendly.
- Vegetables make good candidates.
Wash mushrooms thoroughly before putting them into the dehydrator, and be aware that they may get very dark in there but will still taste delicious.
- Meats make up a large portion of what gets dehydrated.
Beef jerky is commonplace, and dehydrating other meats, poultry, even fish works well for when you want to store them away. Note that unless you’re dealing with cured ham, pork is not a candidate for your dehydrator.
- Nuts and grains can benefit from dehydration.
Grains retain their nutrients for a longer time in storage, and nuts become easier to digest after coming out of your dehydrator.
Several choices await you as you decide how to approach dehydrating your food. The most common methods are:
- An electric dehydrator
- Your kitchen oven
- Your microwave
- Air- and sun-drying
The electric dehydrator is by far the best and most reliable way to do this, as even the most basic models sport temperature controls and interior fans. Without moving the air inside the unit, the dehydrator can’t evenly dry everything in it.
Models like the Excalibur (just under $400), and the more budget-friendly COSORI machine offer different options, and you’ll want to choose the one best suited for your needs. These and a host of others are available through Amazon.
You can use your kitchen oven, too, but it will not be nearly as successful as a dedicated electric unit due to two main issues. Most ovens can’t be turned down lower than 140 degrees. Since ideal dehydrating temperatures for vegetables and herbs are significantly lower than that, you won’t get good results from your oven.
You’ll also be heating your entire kitchen and home, as you’ll have to leave the oven door open. A closed oven and higher temperatures mean you won’t be dehydrating but rather cooking your food.
Coupled with the fact that oven-drying your food takes at least twice as long, you’ll drive up your utility bills doing this long-term. You might also blow up your oven in the process, which might mean you’ll need to get a new stove.
Using your microwave is a short-term, quick solution for dehydrating herbs, but it’s not ideal for them. Also, there are flavor concerns, as most everyone knows that food reheated in a microwave just doesn’t taste the same as it did before it became leftovers.
Air- and sun-drying are slow, fickle pursuits greatly affected by the weather. Humid climates may induce mold on the food before the drying process is done.
Your electric dehydrator can save you money and space, and it can serve you well for a long time. If you choose to run it in the garage, which is perfectly safe to do, be sure and observe basic safety precautions, provide adequate ventilation, and keep the unit in good repair.
You should have no issues with a well-maintained unit, and like any other appliance, as long as you use it for its intended purposes, you will reap its benefits.