Home freeze dryers, such as the Harvest Right freeze dryer (affiliate) are a hot topic right now in the preparedness industry. I have someone email me asking me opinion about them at least once a week.
I thought if that many people are emailing me about it, there are probably many more wondering who haven’t emailed. So, I thought it was time to write up my thoughts about home freeze dryers in a comprehensive post.
Note – Some links in this post are affiliate links meaning if you purchase after clicking on them, I will be given a small commission (at no additional cost to you). Learn more here about how I am (and am not) compensated, and thank you for your support of me and my family!
What’s Great about the Harvest Right
The Harvest Right home freeze dryer (affiliate), while quite pricey, can be tempting. Up until the Harvest Right, the only way to preserve food at home was by dehydrating or canning it. However, there are many benefits to storing freeze dried food instead.
- Freeze dried food is more nutritious than dehydrated or canned food because it doesn’t require heat processing.
- Freeze dried food lasts longer than canned or dehydrated food.
- Freeze dried foods don’t require any any additives/preservatives (sugar/salt).
- Freeze dried food is easier to use in recipes as freeze drying doesn’t change the texture or size of the food.
The idea of being able to use the Harvest Right home freeze dryer to make your own quality freeze dried food is exciting! It means you control what food you preserve, how fresh it is, what preservatives you use, and more.
I am very interested in the technology and will likely purchase one at some point in the future.
I’ve also heard from many, many sources that Harvest Right’s customer service is top notch. They respond quickly and with all the help you need.
But, I won’t be investing in a Harvest Right yet, and here is why:
#1 – I’ll wait on the Harvest Right because of the short warranty.
The Harvest Right (affiliate) is only under warranty for one year. This is not very long–especially if you are looking to make your investment back.
The short warranty makes me wonder,
Why don’t they have confidence that the product will last for longer than just one year?
As you will see in #3 below, it will take more than a year to make your money back by freeze drying your own food. What if your machine breaks after the one year, but before you can make your money back?
I’ve read reviews that say that when users perform the recommended cleaning after 30 cycles or so, they find a good deal of rust with black un-plated bolts and not much stainless steel. A new pump can cost hundreds of dollars. These things make me nervous about investing thousands of dollars in this machine.
I will wait to buy a Harvest Right (affiliate) until the creators of the Harvest Right are a bit more confident in their product (that costs thousands, not hundreds like those others listed above) and offer a warranty of at least two-three years (as long as it would take to earn my money back).
#2 – I will wait on the Harvest Right until I can be confident in the technology.
Home freeze drying technology is new. Any new technology has a “learning curve” so to speak. I’m certain that home freeze dryers will get better (and less expensive) over time. But there is currently no solid competition for the Harvest Right, and I’m not 100% confident in the technology yet.
I work closely with Thrive Life (affiliate) owners and executives. They are the only food storage company to freeze dry their own food, and I know that in order for them to produce quality freeze dried food
- They test each individual product multiple at different settings–testing it after each run. They adjust the setting again and again until they get it perfect.
- The settings for each food item (strawberries vs chicken) are different. This is why they test each product individually.
- They are carefully monitored by the FDA in order to ensure that their food is properly preserved and safe.
I’m concerned that the lack of control in the settings combined with my user error may create food that isn’t safe for my family. That would be the worst possible scenario, but even if that doesn’t happen, I’m not sure the shelf life would be as long or the nutrient level as high.
In fact, Harvest Right themselves sell a “scientific” freeze dryer (affiliate) that allows you to control the temperature and pressure per product. How can the two machines deliver the same quality in product? The quality of the “home” dehydrator has to be different.
I get that many of these same concerns exist for home dehydrated and canned foods–you don’t have as much control, and there is far more room for user error. However, because both of those technologies have existed for a very long time “at home,” there are lots of competitors (reasons to try and be the best), so I am more confident that the technology is sound.
Harvest Right also suggests freeze drying whole pork chops, chicken breasts, casseroles etc. You can’t find these items freeze dried commercially because they are thick and don’t always freeze dry safely. It makes me nervous that they recommend using these less-than-precise machines to have people try this at home.
I have had multiple people who own a Harvest Right (granted, they all own the oldest version) tell me that casseroles and large pieces of meat that they have dried have gone bad quickly.
While you could simply decide not to freeze dry such things, it makes me question Harvest Right in general that they suggest such things are okay to their customers.
So, for me, I will wait on the Harvest Right (affiliate) until they have at least one solid competitor to drive up the quality of the technology and machines.
#3 – I will wait on the Harvest Right until I can make my money back a bit quicker.
Many people look at the cost of the Harvest Right (affiliate) and think
I’ll make that money back in no time by not having to pay a premium to a food storage company to freeze dry my food for me. It’s a great investment!
In fact, the Harvest Right website says that if you freeze dry daily, you will make your money back in just one year.
Well, by my calculations*, you may not make your money back as quick as you think.
There are a few reasons for this:
#1 – For the two smaller machines, the only way to make your money back in a year is to freeze dry 24 hours a day 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Who will really do that? Not me.
#2 – You would also have to get premium prices on the food you are drying year round. This might happen in the summer with low produce prices or by using your own garden produce, but it isn’t going to happen in the winter. And if you are freeze drying 24/7/365….you will be freeze drying in the winter.
#3 – You will also need to pay for electricity, oil, cans to store the food in, and oxygen absorbers (affiliate). These costs add up.
#4 – If you shop the right sales, you can get great deals on commercially freeze dried foods. The “make your money back” assumptions are based on you paying full price for commercially freeze dried foods.
When you take all that into account, it will take one year, two months-three and a half years for you to make your money back, depending on which size freeze dryer you buy. And this is still based on buying freeze dried food at full price.
With the biggest–and most expensive machine–it would take just over a year to maybe 18 months. This is reasonable. BUT, that is only if you freeze dry 335 cans in a year, which would be more than a one year supply for most families of around four-six people.
*(If you want to see my detailed calculations, you can scroll down to the end of this post.)
All these estimates are beyond the one year warranty period, and I just can’t confidently invest in something that I’m not sure will last long enough for me to make my money back–especially since I never pay full price for my commercially freeze dried foods.
I will wait on the Harvest Right (affiliate) until the warranty period increases or the time to freeze dry the food decreases.
#4 – I will wait on the Harvest Right because my time is money.
Honestly? I don’t want to be cooking, chopping, peeling, and shredding foods every day or two for 1 1/2 – 3 1/2 years in order to regularly use my freeze dryer and make my money back. I don’t want to spend time maintaining the machine’s pump between every cycle.
That honestly sounds exhausting to me right now with 4 young kids at home and a full time business to run! My time is worth a LOT–financially, yes, but also in my relationships with my family members and other things I want to do with my time (exercise, developing talents, serving, volunteering, spirituality, etc). I don’t have the time to prep multiple #10 cans worth of food several times each week and maintain an expensive machine.
So, I could use it just during the summer–that would decrease my produce cost if I use garden produce, and I could involve the kids…but then it would take three-four times as long to freeze dry the same amount of food (because I’m only doing so three-four months of the year instead of twelve).
I will wait on the Harvest Right (affiliate) until the cost comes down (so it doesn’t take as long to “make it back,” and I don’t feel as pressured to use it all the time) OR until it can freeze dry food much faster.
I think the idea of the Harvest Right (affiliate) is fantastic! I’m excited about the technology. I don’t love cooking with most dehydrated foods (which is why I store mostly freeze dried), and I love the idea of being able to freeze dry my own foods.
However, I will wait to invest in a Harvest Right until:
- It has a longer warranty
- The technology has been around a bit longer and there is some solid competition
- I can make back my investment more quickly
- I don’t have to invest hours and hours of time freeze drying year round because I feel pressured to make my money back
You Might Also Want to Know
- You can put the machine on layaway to secure a sale price–so watch for sales even if you aren’t quite ready to buy one yet. This is a FANTASTIC option!
- Even the smallest Harvest Right (affiliate) is pretty big (over 2 ft tall and 1 1/2 feet deep). The largest one (affiliate) is nearly 3 feet tall and just slightly deeper than my counter tops. You will also need room for the pump. This is not an appliance that is going to fit nicely under the cabinet.
- The Harvest Right is not quiet. It isn’t crazy loud, but it’s not quiet–imagine a noisy dishwasher. So, if you are running it all day everyday, you may not want it in the kitchen. You may want to consider a utility room or garage.
- One thing that is not very obvious on the Harvest Right site is the need for pump maintenance. You have to drain 2 T of oil after every use. Then, you should completely change the oil every 5-6 cycles. Then, after 10-12 cycles, you have to do a power flush, and it can get quite messy. At 30-36 cycles, you have to remove the pump cover and deep clean the pump.
How About You?
I totally get that not everyone will have the same opinion as I have. Purchasing a Harvest Right (affiliate) may be a wise decision for you.
Do you have a Harvest Right? Have you considered getting one? Why? Why not?
My Cost Calculations
Below you can see exactly how I calculated out how much money the Harvest Right (affiliate) might save you and, therefore, how long it would take to “pay it back.”
Cost to buy commercially freeze dried food:
Below is the average cost of one # 10 can (based on costs from three different companies) for an average fruit, veggie, and meat. Each #10 can typically holds approximately 11 cups.
- Freeze dried strawberries: $23.76 ($2.16 / cup)
- Freeze dried chicken: $51.84 (4.71 / cup)–each can includes approximately seven-eight pounds of meat
- Freeze dried green beans: $18.44 ($1.68 / cup)
Average cost per gallon can: $31.35
I have not considered sales in this pricing. If you carefully shop the right sales, you can get the cans for far less!
Cost to Buy the Same Food at the Grocery Store:
Now, obviously, the cost to buy the food above at the grocery store will vary depending on where you live and the quality of produce you buy. Let’s go with fairly low cost–and low quality, non-organic–foods you might buy at Wal-Mart. If you choose to buy higher quality, organic produce, your cost will be more.
- 1-1 lb container strawberries (approximately 2 1/2 cups when sliced): $3 ($1.20 per cup-$13.20 per gallon can)
- 7.5 lbs chicken @ $3 / lb – $22.50 ($2.05 per cup-$22.55 per gallon can)
- 1 lb green beans–(approximately 2 cups when trimmed)–$1.50 ($0.75 per cup-$8.25 per gallon can)
Yes, during the summer, you could likely get some produce for less, but I’m going with averages here. If you are using your freeze dryer all year, you won’t be paying rock-bottom prices for your produce for seven-nine of those twelve months.
You may garden and use that produce, but that still isn’t no cost; gardening does cost money (soil, water, seeds, plants, time, etc), and you will only be able to use fresh garden produce a few months of the year. In order to run your freeze dryer all year, you will need to buy some of what you freeze dry.
As for the chicken though, if you buy it at Zaycon (affiliate) like I recommend, you will likely play closer to $1.89 per pound bringing your cost for chicken down to $1.29 / cup and get much higher quality chicken.
*I might consider buying a Harvest Right just to freeze dry my own meat as the savings there is greater than produce, but I will wait until the technology is a bit more advanced.
Average cost per gallon can: $14.67
Additional Costs to Use the Harvest Right:
The Harvest Right uses electricity. According to Harvest Right (affiliate), it costs around $1-$2.80 per day to run ($1.90 average) depending on where you live.
One thing that is not very obvious on the Harvest Right site (affiliate) is the need for pump maintenance. You have to drain 2 T of oil after every use. Then, you should completely change the oil every five-six cycles. Then, after 10-12 cycles, you have to do a power flush, and it can get quite messy. After 30-36 batches you are to completely remove the pump cover and deep clean the pump.
Various estimates I’ve found from online reviews put this cost at around $1 per cycle.
If you are going to freeze dry your own food, you will need to store it properly (without oxygen or light) in a mylar bag (shorter shelf life of three-five years), a #10 can (25+ year shelf life) or food grade bucket with a mylar bag (25+ year shelf life).
Cost to store in mylar bags:
This will obviously vary depending on where you shop, but mylar bags are quite inexpensive. However, you lose much of the shelf life and risk rodents getting into your food if you choose this method.
- 50 1 gallon (same size as a #10 can) mylar bags plus oxygen absorbers: $15.99 ($0.32 each) (affiliate)
Total cost per gallon if using mylar bags alone: $0.32
Cost to store in #10 cans:
These can be hard to find. You used to be able to get them from the LDS Cannery, but not anymore. After a bit of searching, I found this source for lined #10 cans at a reasonable price:
- Cost for the cans and metal lids: $2.15 each (must buy in bulk)
- Cost for plastic lids (to be used once you open the can): $0.43 each (must buy in bulk)
- Cost for the machine to seal the metal lid to the metal can: $1,491 (I will add this to the cost of the Harvest Right Freeze dryer in my final calculations, but you could also share a sealer with multiple people in your neighborhood). I don’t know of anywhere you can rent these anymore.
If anyone knows of a better source for the cans/sealer, I’d love to know! Let us know in the comments!
Total Cost per gallon if using #10 cans: $2.58 (plus the cost of the sealer)
Cost to store in buckets:
Each 5 gallon bucket will hold the equivalent of five #10 cans. When storing in buckets it is best practice to store with a mylar bag as well.
- Cost of 5 gallon mylar bags and oxygen absorbers: $19.99 (so $2 per #10 can) (affiliate)
- Cost for food grade 5 gallon bucket with regular lid: $7.50 (so $1.50 per #10 can) (affiliate)
- Cost for food grade 5 gallon bucket with gamma lid (keeps food fresh longer once you’ve opened the bucket): $13.44 ($2.69 per #10 can)
- Combo from Emergency Essentials (included, mylar bags, oxygen absorbers, buckets and regular lids): $79.99 ($2 per #10 can) (affiliate)
Least expensive cost per gallon if using buckets: $2
Which Storage Method is Best?
At first glance, it seems like using buckets would be the best idea, but there are a few issues you’d want to consider.
You can only freeze dry one gallon of food at a time and each gallon takes 24-48 hours. That means that by the time you get the fifth gallon freeze dried, the first one will have sat there–improperly packaged and exposed to oxygen and moisture–for seven-nine days or so. It will no longer be as crisp or as fresh.
When you open a package of freeze dried food, it will immediately start taking up moisture and becoming “sticky.” It could take months (or even years for some families) to get through one # 10 can of green beans! This means that by the time you get to the end of that bucket, your food won’t be as fresh.
Both of these issues can be mitigated a little by using the gamma lid instead of the regular lid, but that will increase your cost.
Last, there may simply be some foods that you don’t even want five full gallons of!
So, you could go with the mylar bags, but then you face issues with rodents and a much shorter shelf life.
If it were me, I’d go with the #10 cans. For this reason, this is what I’ve based my price comparisons on.
Comparing the Costs
So, if we add the average cost per #10 (gallon) can for the food ($14.67) and the #10 cans ($2.58), we get $17.25.
Compared to $31.35 that you’d spend on the same commercially freeze dried food, that is QUITE the savings! You are saving around $14.10 PER CAN!
But you need to add the cost of the sealer, freeze dryer, oil and electricity into the mix.
On the Harvest Right site (affiliate), they provide estimates for how many #10 cans worth of food you can do for each batch. However, these estimates assume you run your Harvest Right all day every day for 365 days. I know I won’t do that.
I have kids, I’m busy, it may take me an hour to two between each batch (if I’m not sleeping when one finishes). Heck, it may take days between each batch. We will take vacations; we will get sick. I will want a break (it is noisy). I know myself and my life, and I know I won’t run it 100% around the clock.
So, if I am realistic with myself, I may run it 50% of the time. And honestly, even running it every other day (or six months of the year) is going to be a stretch for me.
The Smallest Harvest Right: (affiliate)
It costs around $1.90 per day to run this machine. It takes 24-48 hours to freeze dry one batch (about one gallon can). This means that each batch costs $1.90-$4.80 or an average of $3.35.
Each batch also costs $1 in oil, which for this machine = one can.
So, the cost for the food ($14.67) plus the can supplies ($2.58), plus the electricity ($3.35), and the oil ($1) is $21.60 (on average) per #10 can. A commercial can is $31.35 on average. So, on average, you are saving $9.75 per can, which is still pretty significant!
But remember, you first have to use that savings to pay back the cost of the freeze dryer ($2795) and can sealer ($1491).
The Harvest Right site says you can freeze dry 240 cans per year, but as mentioned above, I’m not going to run it 100% of every single day. So, if I am more realistically freeze drying 120 cans per year, that is $1170 per year in savings.
If I don’t share the can sealer, it’d take about three years and eight months to earn back what I spent. If I share the sealer, with three neighbors it’d take closer to two years, ten months.
The Standard Harvest Right: (affiliate)
Electricity, food, and supplies are the same for this size machine and each batch still takes an average of 36 hours. But you are getting around two gallons per batch instead of just one, so this lowers your electricity and oil cost per gallon can to $2.17 total making your savings per can around $11.92
The Harvest Right site says you can freeze dry 380 cans per year with this size, so I would more realistically freeze dry 190 cans per year, which is a $2265 per year in savings. This machine costs $3495, and the cost of the can sealer is the same.
If I don’t share the can sealer, it’d take about two years and two months to earn back what I spent. If I share the sealer, with three neighbors it’d take closer to one year and nine months.
The Largest Harvest Right: (affiliate)
Electricity, food, and supplies are the same for this size machine and each batch still takes an average of 36 hours. But you are getting around three-three and a half gallons per batch instead of just one or two, so this lowers your electricity and oil cost per gallon can to $1.34 total making your savings per can around $12.76
The Harvest Right site says you can freeze dry 670 (WOW!) cans per year, so I would more realistically freeze dry 335 cans per year, which is a $4274 per year in savings. This machine costs $4495 and the cost of the can sealer is the same.
If I don’t share the can sealer, it would take about one year, three months to earn back what I spent. If I share the sealer, with three neighbors it would take closer to one year and two months.
I hope this can be a helpful guide as you do your own calculations!