Can Beef Jerky Go Bad?
Turning a good cut of lean meat into beef jerky accomplishes something amazing. It turns fresh meat into a preservable, convenient snack with a long shelf life. But just how long is that shelf life, anyway? Does the drying process involved in creating beef jerky mean that you never have to worry about a rotten smell in your cupboard? Is it like salt, where you never have to worry about an expiration date? Let’s clarify what the shelf life of your beef jerky might end up being. Just how long does beef jerky last, anyway?
What is the Shelf Life of Beef Jerky?
Some foods never go bad. Salt, for example. But even honey, with its acidic, low-moisture environment, is a desert for microbes that would otherwise cause spoilage. Extending the shelf life has a similar aim with beef jerky: creating a dry snack out of what was once moist meat. However, jerky chemistry is different from honey, so the short answer is: yes, beef jerky can eventually go bad.
It just takes a very long time.
According to TopChops.com, vacuum-sealed beef jerky stored in a cool, dark place can remain good to eat for up to two years. But keep in mind that these are under optimal conditions. The vacuum sealing locks out microbes, life, and moisture. Keeping it in a cool, dark place is generally suitable for inhibiting bacteria growth.
We tend to think of beef jerky as something of a new snack. Some type of snack that came along with the invention of the gas station and the modern grocery store. But homemade beef jerky has been around for a long time, thanks to these preservation powers. Preservatives like salt have helped people enjoy high-protein, nutrition-dense snacks that they could travel with for centuries.
Note: keep in mind that food with modern preservatives like beef jerky can last up to 2 years, but without the benefit of these preservatives, homemade beef jerky may only last up to two-three months.
How Can You Tell If Beef Jerky Has Gone Bad?
It depends. Let’s focus on a few methods you can start using to tell if your beef jerky has started going bad:
- Smell. Does it smell rancid? If there’s been some fat left in the beef jerky, this fat can go rancid, giving it an awful taste and smell that’s an immediate clue as to how “bad” your beef jerky has gone. If the jerky still smells like the smoky, meaty product you first enjoyed, it at least passes the smell test.
- Mold. Give the jerky a visual inspection. Mold tends to be furry or fuzzy, or even powdery. Look for something that looks like it doesn’t belong on your jerky; molds spots maybe the colors white, gray, or green, as well. Green growth on your jerky is a sure sign that it’s well past its time.
- Expiration date. Here’s the easiest one. If you’re keeping your jerky sealed in the bag in which you bought it, it will have a convenient expiration date that you can read and know immediately if you’ve kept it in the cupboards too long.
- General quality. Sometimes, you might not have a bunch of mold growing on your jerky, but the jerky itself will no longer be “good.” It tends to go harder and darker in this case, which means that the jerky has outlived its expected shelf life span.
What are the Ways to Keep Beef Jerky Fresh?
Although you shouldn’t think of beef jerky as “fresh” food in the traditional sense—it takes fresh food and makes it something you can store—there is undoubtedly a difference between good beef jerky and beef jerky that’s gone bad. Let’s look at some of the ways you can prevent it from going bad around the house:
- Full vacuum sealing. Many beef jerky bags come with resealable bags. When you seal these, try to squeeze as much air as you can out of them! A dry, vacuumed environment is best for beef jerky preservation. If you make your beef jerky at home, consider investing in a home vacuum sealer.
- Store your jerky in a cool, dark place. Think about it this way: the worst place you could leave your jerky if you wanted it to go bad is out in the sun. What do you do instead? Go the opposite route. Store it in a cool, dark place, which is usually a pantry cupboard. (Can you colder? A bit more on that below.)
- Keep your kitchen clean. It should go without saying that if your kitchen is clean, it’s going to be easier to store just about anything. The same applies to beef jerky. An airtight container can do a lot to keep beef jerky separated from the environment, to be sure. But there’s always the possibility of cross-contamination when you’re working in a dirty room. Keep the kitchen clean and tidy as much as possible. It will keep things simple—and maybe help some of your other food to stay better longer, too.
- Refrigerate or freeze jerky for longer-lasting preservation. Remember how we said to pursue the opposite of leaving jerky out in the sun? Well, you can go even colder than room temperature. Refrigerating jerky qualifies as a “cool, dark place,” as does freezing jerky. Of course, this will require bringing jerky up to room temperature when you’re ready to eat it again, but the trade-off is that you can have longer-lasting jerky handy.
Can beef jerky go bad? Believe it or not, even something as well-preserved as beef jerky can one-day spoil. But that doesn’t mean it’s pointless to fight it. You can preserve your beef jerky by storing it correctly, watching for the warning signs of spoilage, and generally keeping a tidy kitchen. The result will be long-lasting jerky that still tastes fresh even after a long time in proper storage.
Red Truck Beef Jerky is a small, family-owned business that sources all premium cuts of meat in the USA. Some more prominent beef jerky players say “packed in the USA,” which means that the meat is probably from overseas. With us, you are supporting a family business and keeping the quality right here in the USA.