Beef Jerky Shelf Life: Can It Go Bad or Expire? HOW TO TELL

image of spoil beef jerky

We love eating jerky as much as the next person. After all, it’s delicious, satisfying, and a great source of nutrients and protein. But did you know that you can get food poisoning from eating beef jerky? (*)

Yes, you can—if you consume bad beef jerky.

Let us take a wild guess. You’ve always thought of beef jerky as a shelf-stable snack, right?

So how can it get spoiled? Can it go bad?

We thought that too.. until we consumed a bad beef jerky and suffered from a major case of diarrhea.

And we don’t want that to happen to you, so we’ll share with you what we discovered from that bad experience.

Big News: Yes, beef jerky does go bad, but it won’t get spoiled or become unfit for consumption when it’s stored properly.

That’s great news, right? But how to store beef jerky? Well, that’s one of the things that we’ll talk about in this article.

Other topics that we’ll tackle include:

  • Beef jerky shelf life: does beef jerky go bad?
  • How long does beef jerky last?
  • How to tell if beef jerky has gone bad?
  • How to store beef jerky?
  • …and a few more questions about it!

Are you ready to get into the meat of the matter? Let’s dig in!

Does Beef Jerky Go Bad?

While it’s true that beef jerky does go bad, you’ll be happy to know that it doesn’t spoil and can last for quite a long time when stored properly.

Why does beef jerky last long? First, it has a longer shelf life than most products, and this is due to the curing solution and the drying process.

Fun Fact: The curing solution is added to the beef for two main reasons: to add taste and extend its shelf life at the same time.

Typically made with artificial and natural preservatives (salt and sodium nitrate), the curing solution prevents bacterial growth during the manufacturing process.

After the curing step, the meat is dried to remove excess moisture and ensure that the meat won’t be a breeding ground for bacteria.

Lastly, the meat is vacuum-sealed to protect the meat from airborne bacteria.

But why does it go bad? Well, the deterioration of the jerky’s flavor and texture starts once it’s opened. This is because it’s exposed to air which triggers the oxidation process, which causes the degradation and rancidification of the meat’s lipid. (*)

How Long Does Beef Jerky Last?

As mentioned, the shelf life of beef jerky is very long. An unopened bag of commercially packaged jerky can last indefinitely as long as it has been properly cooked, dehydrated, packaged, and then stored.

However, there’s a catch: it will gradually lose freshness, and there will be changes in its texture and flavor.

This is the exact reason why beef jerky manufacturers indicate a best before date and not an expiry date or expiration date.

Fun Fact: While the expiry date or expiration date tells us when the product will start to spoil, the best before date on the package indicates when you can enjoy the beef jerky at its peak freshness.

Past the printed date, it’s still safe for you to consume the beef jerky, but its flavor and texture will already start to change.

With that said, when can you enjoy beef jerky? That would depend on the type (homemade or store beef jerky), condition (opened or unopened), and storage temperature (refrigerated or room temperature).

Here are some shelf life guidelines that you can follow:

1. Commercial or Store Beef Jerky

Since store beef jerky undergoes more rigorous cooking and drying processes and has added preservatives, it’s expected to last longer.

  • Unopened: Best before date + 1 month (pantry)
  • Opened: 1-2 weeks (pantry), 1 month (fridge)

2. Homemade Beef Jerky

Since the processing techniques of homemade beef jerky are not as meticulous as that of commercial beef jerky, its shelf life is considerably shorter.

  • Vacuum Sealed: 1 – 2 months (pantry), More than 4 months (fridge)
  • Opened: 1 – 2 weeks (pantry), 1 month (fridge)

Please take note that the above shelf lives are only estimates, so it’s always best that you inspect your old beef jerky first before consuming it.

How to Tell if Beef Jerky Has Gone Bad?

But while beef jerky has a very long shelf life and can last almost indefinitely, it’s essential to keep in mind that it’s not immune to mishandling. For example, if it hasn’t been properly packaged or dehydrated, it can go bad to the point that it will no longer be fit for consumption.

That’s why it’s always best that you err on the side of caution and always take the time to examine the beef jerky before eating. Here are some of the steps on how to do that:

Step 1. Check out the best before date.

Even though it’s not an expiration date, checking out the best by date printed on the jerky package is always the best place to start when determining the jerky’s freshness.

Step 2. Examine the packaging.

If the packaging has been compromised (aka it has rips, holes, tears, and incorrect seal), it means that oxygen has entered the bag, and the oxidation process has already begun.

Although it’s not a sure sign that the beef jerky has already gone bad, it’s a sign that you need to scrutinize the product.

One more thing to look for is water droplets inside the packaging. This is a surefire sign that the commercial beef jerky wasn’t properly dried. This is because moisture makes the jerky a good breeding ground for bacteria.

Pro Tip: If you saw this in the packaging of homemade jerky, don’t throw it just yet. You can easily fix this issue by putting the meat back in the dehydrator to dry it further.

Step 3. Inspect the jerky’s appearance.

To do this, you need to look for one thing: mold growth.

You’ll know when the jerky has already mold growth when there’s either a white or green fuzzy growth at the surface of the meat.

Pro Tip: Unfortunately, it’s easy to confuse mold with fats or salt. To clear things up, mold growth usually takes on a spider web pattern. (*)

Step 4. Smell the beef jerky.

Rancidity is another telltale sign of bad beef jerky. A strong spoiled weird smell usually represents this.

If your beef jerky shows any of the signs we’ve mentioned, you should throw it right away,

How to Store Beef Jerky?

Proper storage is a must if you want to ensure that the beef jerky will retain its freshness for a more extended period. Here are some tips on how to store beef jerky properly.

1. Store in a cool (not cold) place.

The best storage temperature for beef jerky is at room temperature as it’s not too hot, not too cold.

Pro Tip: Typically, beef jerky stores well in your kitchen cabinets or pantry. But if you live in a place with a warmer climate, you may want to consider refrigerating the jerky.

2. Keep it in a place with low to no humidity.

Ensure that the jerky is dry as much as possible. Doing this is relatively easy if you store your jerky in your pantry.

However, it might not be an easy feat when the jerky is stored in the refrigerator. The key to this is to maintain the temperature as much as possible. When you take it outside the fridge, don’t leave the package at room temperature for hours to avoid the formation of water droplets.

3. Protect it from light.

Light can promote oxidation, too, so make sure that your jerky is not exposed to sunlight and stored far away from the kitchen windows.

4. Minimize air exposure.

With regards to commercial jerky, store them in their original packaging. But if the packaging is not resealable, we recommend transferring the leftovers to a resealable airtight container.

5. Choose the proper storage container if you want homemade jerky to last longer.

You have three storage options: vacuum seal bag, dry cans or mason jars, and small resealable bags when it comes to this.

Among the three, a vacuum seal bag is the best option as it keeps the air out. And at the same time, it seals in moisture which helps the jerky stay tender.

But if you’re looking for a more affordable solution, go with mason or dry jars. Before placing the jerky in the pot, you must bake the jars first to remove moisture altogether. You can do this by placing both the jars and the lids in the oven for 10 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lastly, Ziplock bags are the most accessible and convenient option. However, jerky stored this way will not last as long as the jerky stored in a dry jar or vacuum seal bag.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What happens if I eat spoiled jerky?

Eating rotten meat will cause food poisoning, so you’ll likely experience the following symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches

2. Can you freeze beef jerky?

Yes, you can freeze beef jerky. However, freezing meat can cause alterations to its texture, so most experts do not recommend it.

Fun Fact: Beef jerky can last for up to 6 months in the freezer.

If you want to extend the jerky’s shelf life and minimize the potential changes at the same time, freezer burn is something you need to avoid.

You can do this by double wrapping the meat. First, wrap the jerky with aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Afterward, place the wrapped jerky in an airtight freezer bag.

Getting Into the Meat of The Matter

Does beef jerky go bad? Yes, it can. But as long as it’s properly prepared and stored, it won’t get spoiled.

Since eating spoiled beef jerky will cause a wide range of adverse effects, you must store your jerky correctly and ensure that it hasn’t gone bad before consuming it.

We’ve already done our part by sharing with you everything you need to know about beef jerky. How you can protect yourself from food poisoning and prolong the freshness of your favorite snack is up to you. Can you handle it?

image of shelf life's beef jerky

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