How Long Does Beef Jerky Last?

Beef jerky is among today's most popular and healthy snacks. It's nutrient dense, portable and easy to consume, which makes it an ideal snack for a wide range of activities. But before you pick up some supply, you'll want to know how long beef jerky lasts.

Beef Jerky: Long-Lasting by Design

Beef jerky has been prepared for thousands of years with the primary purpose of remaining delicious and edible for long periods of time, so it's designed to last. An ancient method of preparation, jerking meat is a simple but effective way of preserving meat that continues to this day. The combination of simple ingredients and a basic process creates food with remarkable longevity. The most important components include:

  1. Lean Meat: Leaner beef used to make jerky contains less moisture and is easier to preserve
  2. Natural Preservatives: Spices like salt and celery juice powder add flavor
  3. Dehydration: Removing moisture through smoking and curing reduces deterioration while delivering rich flavor

Fortunately, the magical combination of ingredients and traditional processes create a delicious treat that has stood the test of time. While ancient peoples may have developed beef jerky to make it through scarce times, today we still reap the benefits of their work.

What Makes Beef Jerky Go Bad?

Even with a long shelf life nothing lasts forever, and that includes beef jerky. Generally, there are two primary culprits that accelerate deterioration and make beef jerky go bad. They are:

  1. Oxygen - The presence of oxygen accelerates chemical changes in food. While this can take several different forms, the presence of oxygen encourages the development of microorganisms.
  2. Moisture - The presence of moisture encourages the development of microorganisms, which can multiply and render food inedible.

Beef jerky that has been exposed to either of these elements will deteriorate much more quickly than jerked meat that's been kept snug and sealed in a vacuum sealed bag. So proper storage is the key to extending the life of your jerky.

How Can You Tell If Your Beef Jerky Is Bad?

All real beef jerky will eventually go bad, but it can be hard to determine what to look for. Keeping a close eye out for common signs is the best way to avoid a bad experience:

  1. Check the "Best By" date on the package
  2. Look for signs of moisture in the bag
  3. Avoid jerky that is not uniform in shape and texture
  4. Sniff for any rancid, fermented, or "off" smells
  5. Inspect for visible signs of mold

Storing Beef Jerky to Make it Last

Proper storage is the single most effective way to extend beef jerky shelf life. From commercial products that are sealed by the manufacturer to home prepared jerkies, the key to extending shelf life is minimizing exposure to moisture, light and heat.

Shelf Life: Opened vs. Unopened Beef Jerky

Among the many different methods to store your jerky, a comparison suggests that keeping the product sealed is among the most important:

Shelf Life of Beef Jerky
Unopened Manufacturer Sealed Bag Vacuum Sealed at Home Zip Lock Bag Opened and stored in the refrigerator Vacuum Sealed in a Freezer
1-2 years 3-6 months 1 week to four months 1-2 weeks Indefinitely

Clearly keeping the jerky in a cool place can make it last longer, but once the bag has been opened deterioration will accelerate dramatically.

Does Beef Jerky Need to Be Refrigerated?

No, beef jerky does not need to be refrigerated; however once the package has been opened refrigerating it will prevent deterioration.

Refrigeration can be particularly important for naturally made beef jerky that does not contain chemical preservatives, since the temperature will inhibit the growth of microorganisms naturally. However, when keeping jerky in the refrigerator be sure to protect it from moisture to avoid the growth of mold.

Beef Jerky Can Last a Long Time When Stored Correctly

The shelf life of beef jerky can range from one week to indefinitely based on how it's stored. If you're looking to stock up on a snack ideal for your active lifestyle, beef jerky will remain a high-quality, delicious snack when stored in a dry, cool, dark place. So if you've been wondering whether you can snack on a bag you found in your backpack from your last hiking trip, you'll likely be OK.

At Karl Family Farms, we have an assortment of delicious beef jerkies ready for activity.