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Food Drying Process

Food drying is one of the oldest forms of storing food for later use. It can either be an alternative to canning or freezing, or complement such methods. Drying foods is simple, safe and quick to know. With modern food dehydrators, fruit leathers, banana chips and beef jerky can all be dried year round at home. How Drying Preserves Food Drying removes the moisture from the food so bacteria, yeast and mold can not grow and spoil the food. Drying also slows down the action of enzymes (naturally occurring substances which cause foods to ripen), but does not inactivate them. Since drying eliminates moisture, the food becomes smaller and lighter in weight. When the food is ready for use, the water is added back, and the food returns to its original shape. Foods can be dried in the sun, in an oven or in a food dehydrator by using the right combination of warm temperatures , low humidity and air current. Drying Foods Out-of-Doors Sun Drying The high sugar and acid content of fruits make them safe to dry in the sun.

Vegetables and meats are not recommended for sun drying. Vegetables are low in sugar and acid. This increases the risks for food spoilage. Meats are high in protein making them ideal for microbial growth when heat and humidity cannot be controlled. To dry in the sun, hot, dry, breezy days are best. A minimum temperature of 86°F is needed with higher temperatures being better. It takes several days to dry foods out-of-doors. Because the weather is uncontrollable, sun drying can be risky. Also, the high humidity in the South is a problem. A humidity below 60 percent is best for sun drying. Often these ideal conditions are not available when fruit ripens. Fruits dried in the sun are placed on trays made of screen or wooden dowels. Screens need to be safe for contact with food.

The best screens are stainless steel, teflon coated fiberglass or plastic. Avoid screens made from “hardware cloth.” This is galvanized metal cloth that is coated with cadmium or zinc. These materials can oxidize, leaving harmful residues on the food. Also avoid copper and aluminum screening. Copper destroys vitamin C and increases oxidation. Aluminum tends to discolor and corrode. Most woods are fine for making trays. However, do not use green wood, pine, cedar, oak or redwood. These woods warp, stain the food or cause off-flavors in the food. Place trays on blocks to allow for better air movement around the food. Because the ground may be moist, it is best to place the racks or screens on a concrete driveway or if possible over a sheet of aluminum or tin.

The reflection of the sun on the metal increases the drying temperature. Cover the trays with cheesecloth to help protect the fruit from birds or insects. Fruits dried in the sun must be covered or brought under shelter at night. The cool night air condenses and could add moisture back to the food, thus slowing down the drying process. Solar Drying Recent efforts to improve on sun drying have led to solar drying. Solar drying also uses the sun as the heat source. A foil surface inside the dehydrator helps to increase the temperature. Ventilation speeds up the drying time. Shorter drying times reduce the risks of food spoilage or mold growth.

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