Does Jerky Go Bad?

So you’ve bought a pack of beef jerky, eager to taste what a few of your friends have been talking to you about. And it didn’t disappoint. But while you really liked it, you’re not much of a meat eater. Thus you expect it will take some time until you finish the package. Does jerky go bad?

Or maybe you’ve stocked up on jerky on a sale, and now you’re wondering how long will all of that meat last. And since a few of the packages were only a month or two from the date on the label, you’re thinking about freezing them, but you’re not sure if it’s a good idea.

If you’re only starting out your journey with jerky, it’s probably best if you learn a thing or two about its storage, shelf life, and going bad. Or whether or not freezing it makes sense. If that’s what you’re looking for, this article is for you.

Beef JerkyImage used under Creative Commons from Ron Dollete

How to Store Jerky

Jerky is lean meat that’s been dried to extend its shelf life. While beef jerky is the most popular variety, the meat could be anything from beef to turkey. The drying process usually includes salting the meat to draw out moisture and preserve the product. And lack of water and a fairly high level of salt mean the meat doesn’t spoil that easily. Nevertheless, storing jerky isn’t as simple as keeping the package in the pantry until you finish it.

Let’s start with store-bought jerky. The package usually is either vacuum-sealed or nitrogen-flushed (like a bag of snack chips). Either way, there’s very little to no oxygen in the container, so the jerky is quite safe from spoilage. As long as the pack is unopened, you can keep it in a dark and cool place, like the pantry or a kitchen cabinet.

Once you open it, things get a bit more interesting. First of all, if it’s not a resealable bag, you should transfer the jerky to one, or in an airtight container. No matter where you put the meat, it should be protected from the outside world and not have access to fresh air. Some producers add more preservatives to their jerky, and if that’s the case, you can continue to keep the bag or container at room temperature for a week or two. Others, mainly those who use little to no preservatives (besides salt, of course), often inform on the label that you should refrigerate their jerky upon opening. In short, always check the label to make sure if you can leave it in the pantry. Of course, the jerky will retain freshness and last a bit longer if you refrigerate it.

When it comes to homemade jerky, how you store it depends on how you packaged it. If you vacuum-sealed it or used an oxygen absorber, storing the jerky in the pantry is perfectly okay. But if you’ve just put it in an airtight container after preparing, it will last only about a week in the pantry, so going for the fridge right away is probably a better choice.

Chocolate covered jerkyImage used under Creative Commons from Anders Sandberg

Can You Freeze Jerky?

Freezing jerky slightly alters the taste of the dehydrated meat, so some experts don’t recommend it. At the end of the day, it all a matter of personal preference, so you won’t know if it’s okay for you until you test it out for yourself.

When it comes to store-bought jerky that’s unopened, don’t freeze it unless you really have to. It usually has quite a long shelf life, and even if you open it near the date on the label or slightly past, it should be perfectly fine. But if you’ve opened the package, or it’s homemade jerky that’s not vacuum sealed, freezing is the way to go to extend its shelf life.

When freezing jerky, like with freezing pretty much any food, you need to protect the meat from the low temperature. To do that, you can use a freezer bag, an airtight container, or double-wrap the meat with aluminum foil. Going with a resealable freezer bag seems to be the best method because it’s environment-friendly and takes the least space in the freezer. Generally, freezer bags are super useful if freezer space comes at a premium in your household. Thaw the meat in the fridge overnight.

How Long Does Jerky Last

Commercially-packaged jerky keeps fresh about 12 months. A package usually comes with a best-by date, an that’s a great starting point. As long as you keep the package unopened, the meat should stay in top quality for some time past that date, maybe a month or two. Or longer, if it’s loaded with preservatives. Once you open the package, its shelf life depends on the number of preservatives added. But if you’re looking for a safe estimate, 1 to 2 weeks in the pantry and 3 to 4 weeks in the fridge seem reasonable.

When it comes to homemade jerky, it all depends on whether you vacuum-seal the package or not. If so, you can expect the meat to last about 1 to 2 months in the pantry and even more in the fridge. If not, 1 to 2 weeks at room temperature and about a month in the fridge are realistic estimates.

PantryFridge
Store-bought jerky (unopened)Best-be + 1 month
Store-bought jerky (opened)1 – 2 weeks1 month
Homemade jerky (vacuum-sealed)1 – 2 months4+ months
Homemade jerky (opened)1 – 2 weeks1 month

Please note the periods above are estimates only.

How To Tell If Jerky Has Gone Bad

If you didn’t store jerky properly, and moisture got inside the bag, sooner or later there will be some furry things growing or dark specs on the surface. If that’s the case, discard the snack. Same thing if it has become super hard or developed an off smell.

Color and/or texture changes indicate that the quality of the meat is degrading quite fast. But these aren’t necessarily signs of spoilage. It’s pretty much up to you to decide if the jerky is good enough to eat or not. And when in doubt, throw it out. Same if you already store the dehydrated meat for way longer than you should have.