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We recently purchased a red medium Harvest Right Freeze Dryer. With the freeze dryer we also ordered the silicon mats for the trays. We ended up purchasing the medium freeze dryer and oil pump. Included in this purchase was also the impulse sealer, some Mylar Bags, 1 quart of oil, and the oil filtration set up. This was a large purchase that we hope to use for a lot of our backpacking and camping trips. Prior to this we have been using Mountain House freeze dried meals, but they tend to have a high sodium content. Meg is also limited in choice of meals (particularly lunch and dinner entrees) as they contain ingredients that she cannot eat, so this is another big motivator for getting the freeze dryer.
We ordered the freeze dryer early in December and it ultimately shipped in January. It would have been nice to know about the several week delay when we placed the order for our freeze dryer. We ended up contacting Harvest Right several weeks after our order placement and were given an estimate of another week or so prior to it shipping without an actual estimated date. We did have some issues with the actual arrival of our freeze dryer. Initially, Harvest Right shipped out a medium teal colored freeze dryer, which was the incorrect color. We had to refuse the FedEx shipment, so we wouldn't be paying for the return shipping. Harvest Right was contacted and they did have the correct item shipped out to us and we received it within a week. However, when spending several thousand dollars for a freeze dryer, you would think they could ship the correct item. Harvest Right sales staff did include some extra samples as a peace offering. On the second attempt, the shipment was missing the silicon mats we had ordered for the trays. We again contacted Harvest Right and it was ultimately shipped out, but it took 3 shipments to receive the products we ordered. This lack of attention to detail by Harvest Right is very frustrating, especially considering the cost of the machine.
Setting up the Harvest Right Freeze Dryer was not very difficult, but the included user's manual leaves something to be desired. From the incorrect information in the manual to the additional supplementary sheet of paper that was included, it is clear that Harvest Right is using up old material instead of providing the correct information. An example of this is that the user manual talks about is adjusting the feet to ensure the unit slopes backward. The problem is the new units have built in sloping bottom, so this is an unnecessary step. Apparently, the unit is supposed to rest for 24 hours before using it, but this little tidbit is buried deep in the manual. For something this important you would think that this was in big, bold letters in the front of the user manual. The manual needs some updating and one improvement would be to include more pictures to remove some of the vagueness within the manual. The manual does reference a YouTube video, however it doesn't address all the steps of using a Harvest Right Freeze Dryer. One of the questions we had after reading the user's manual, was referencing the black door insulating pad. We had yet to see a picture showing this pad in use. It makes sense to have an insulating pad on the clear door, but it's a bit confusing when Harvest Right doesn't include this in any of the information we have seen to date. Also, why have a clear door when you put a black pad between the door at the trays, it seems a bit bizarre.
After the first load we went to filter the oil and realized the filtration system that came with the unit is terrible. Yes it does filter the oil, but due to the construction of the setup there is always oil left in the upper container. Second, it turns out to be very messy and there is no good way to get the oil back into the pump. You will need a funnel or two and extra oil. For the oil only 1 quart is included and it's only really enough to do 1 load. So our second load had to wait until we ordered more oil. Ultimately we moved to the Dairyland Vacuum pump oil, on recommendation from other users on the Harvest Right Freeze Dryers - Freeze Drying Adventures Facebook Group. On the advice of this group, we are also trying out using a Brita pitch with Scott toilet Paper rolled very tight as the filter. We will let you know how this goes.
Now after using it for several loads, we started running into problems. First, the check value on the vacuum pump failed and this allowed oil to be pulled up into the vacuum line and into the Freeze Dryer. We contacted Harvest Right and they had us run a test on the check valve, which passed the test. We went back to using the Freeze Dryer and the same issue occurred again. So we need to contact Harvest Right again and see what they say this time. When this happens, you really have to clean the entire unit and take it apart as much as you can to reduce the oil smell. We never get the oil smell out completely, but have found that it goes away after running 1 or 2 more loads in the freeze dryer.
The second issue we found was water build up in the unit. This was initially puzzling as to where the water was coming from as there was still ice buildup in the unit. This was not a minimal amount of water: a small flood occurs when you open the door. Luckily, we put the unit in the garage where the water wouldn't do much damage. We contacted Tech Support and they were not very helpful with this issue. They had us pull the logs, send them back to Tech Support, and came back with the response that everything is fine so you shouldn't be having this issue. The Facebook group on Harvest Right Freeze Dryers - Freeze Drying Adventures was much more helpful with solving this issue. It turns out that if you have the drain hose in any water the water will be pulled up the drain line when you open the value. I understand the physics as to why this would happen, however this is not mentioned anywhere in the user's manual and never even brought up by Harvest Right Tech support. So the second issue is technically user error, but this could have been easily solved by better documentation from Harvest Right. With the complicated system of a freeze dryer, Harvest Right needs to do a better job.
The third problem we had was where vacuum couldn't be achieved. This also turned out to be user error, as the black insulator door pad had gotten caught in the door. This is completely operator error, but it would be nice to have a way of getting a message from the unit. We will go more into this towards the end of this review.
Overall, we have mixed feelings about the Harvest Right Freeze Dryer. Out of the 6 loads we have done we have only had 1 or 2 loads without any issues. When it works, it works great. Ultimately out critiques are that Harvest Right needs to work on their attention to detail, update their user's manual, and have better quality control on their products. These are very basic items for a manufacturing company. We understand that Harvest Right is a small family owned company, but that doesn't excuse these issues.
Now, once the basic items are covered I think it would be a really good idea for Harvest Right to add a WIFI adapter to the Freeze Dryer and develop a simple app to provide notifications, alerts, and additional control over your unit. We can control our HVAC and sprinkler systems from a smart phone and this would be a great improvement to these units. This could have helped the issue when I got the insulation pad stuck in the door preventing the unit from achieving vacuum by providing me an alert instead and running all night trying to get a vacuum.
Bottom line, would we purchase a unit from Harvest Right again? If you want to be in the home freeze drying game you have too, as they are the only company in the US to provide home freeze dryers. Honestly, some competition would help Harvest Right get it right. The customer service and user documentation are significant issues that need to be addressed sooner rather than later. If another company started to provide some competition, this would give Harvest Right more incentive to address these items. We are going to continue to use the freeze dryer and we will see how it goes in the long run. We really hope that the issues we have had are just growing pains, but only time will tell.