Beef jerky is one of the most popular American snacks. It’s a go-to food for people on the go because of its portability, long shelf life, and nutritional value.
However, even a good snack like beef jerky does not last forever.
We have put together the things you need to know about beef jerky especially how long it lasts after opening.
How Long Can Beef Jerky Last After Opening:
1. Unopened commercial beef jerky has a shelf life of 2-3 years because of the processing steps and ingredients in it.
2. You can prepare beef jerky at home and take similar measures to prolong the shelf life of your beef jerky.
3. After opening, make sure to eat your jerky within 3 days for the optimum snacking experience.
Quick Facts on Beef Jerky
1. Beef jerky is dehydrated meat.
It’s made up of lean cuts of beef or ground beef that have been cured in a mixture of several sauces, spices, and additives.
The meat then proceeds to the smoking process (optional), a drying process, and vacuum sealing.
2. Its popularity is due to convenience.
It has a long shelf life, takes 2-3 years for store-bought unopened beef jerky to spoil.
You’re not required to put it in the fridge so it is one of those easy on-the-go food products.
3. Beef jerky is nutritious.
It has the following nutrients:
- Other vitamins and minerals: Vitamin B12, phosphorus, folate, copper, choline, selenium, thiamine, potassium, riboflavin, and niacin
4. Jerky was originally designed for survival.
Quechua Indians used them as early as 1550 and refer to them as “charqui” which when translated means “dried meat”.
It allowed them to preserve meat when it is abundant for times when the food is scarce such as during winter.
5. Jerky products are not limited to beef.
Turkey jerky is popular but you can also use other meat like buffalo, duck, fish, tuna, alligator, venison, wild boar, yak, elk, and alpaca.
Why does beef jerky last so long?
You usually see best-by dates on beef jerky instead of an expiration date. This is because when it is made, packaged, and stored properly, it can last a very long time and does not expire.
Best-by dates will tell you when the product is at its freshest while expiry dates indicate when it is no longer fit to consume.
Here are the secrets of beef jerky’s long shelf life:
- Low-fat content.
Fats deteriorate quickly. But since the meat used for beef jerky are lean cuts, it contains a minimal amount of this easily degraded component.
- Complete drying.
Water is a requirement for microorganisms to thrive. Dry meat is essentially not conducive to the growth of microorganisms that cause spoilage.
In addition to the dryness of the meat, it is also heavily salted which prevents bacterial or fungal growth.
- The salt, as the main preservative, will dehydrate both the beef and these microorganisms.
- Jerky curing salts contain sodium nitrite (or sodium nitrate which eventually gets converted to sodium nitrite) which prevents the growth of Clostridium botulinum.
- This is a type of bacterium is one of the worst things because it produces lethal toxins, which could lead to muscular and respiratory paralysis.
- At home, you can source sodium nitrite from Prague powder.
This ingredient is readily available in grocery stores; it gives the meat the characteristic red color and flavor associated with jerky.
Some substances in chili or peppers, like capsaicin, are also known for their antibacterial properties. It can work in synergy with the salt to prolong the jerky shelf life.
- Vacuum packaging.
After drying, commercial beef jerky is vacuum packed under nitrogen gas to avoid moisture and oxygen contact with the meat in the final packaging.
Aside from moisture, most bacteria need oxygen to grow and multiply. Oxygen also speeds up the deterioration of the fats in the jerky.
At home, nitrogen gas can be impossible to procure but it is a good idea to purchase a vacuum sealer.
Aside from beef jerky, you can also use this long-term for storing other food like game meat and fish.
- Oxygen Absorbers.
Some commercial beef jerky is packed with oxygen absorbers, or oxygen scavengers, in addition to vacuum sealing for best results.
Some oxygen can still diffuse into the packaging material so having this is actually the second line of defense.
These are readily available so you can purchase them and place them in a sealed container such as a Ziploc bag, freezer bag, or canning jar with your jerky.
Despite these measures, beef jerky does not remain safe to be eaten forever. In time, the seasoning on the jerky and the packaging will deteriorate, making it go bad.
How long does beef jerky last after opening?
Opening the jerky package sets off a clock where the jerky remains safe for consumption as the beef gets exposed to moisture, oxygen, and sunlight.
You can always check the label for storage instructions after opening. But in general, here are some practices to abide by:
- Store-bought beef jerky is usually best to eat within three days after opening without refrigeration, assuming you reseal the packaging.
Afterward, you need to put it in the fridge if you want to extend its shelf-life or dispose of it because it is no longer in its best flavor.
- Homemade jerky, once vacuum-sealed, will last for roughly 3 months.
After opening, it is best consumed in three days but can last one more month as long you keep it refrigerated and resealed.
- In both cases, you want to store your jerky in a dark pantry or other cool places.
Cool dark places keep your jerky at a low temperature and away from sunlight.
This helps to prevent condensation inside the packaging which can induce mold growth.
- You can also freeze and keep jerky for an additional 6-12 months.
However, expect to eat tougher meat afterward.
When is beef jerky still good to eat?
Spoiled beef jerky can be difficult to spot because it does not develop a strong smell or have obvious signs attributed to rotting like regular meat products and other perishable foods.
Especially if the jerky is already past that best-by date, you need to check for signs of spoilage before attempting to eat it.
As part of food safety, you can check the following to make sure it is still safe to eat:
- Labeling: Always check the best-by dates which are usually at the bottom of the bag.
Some brands also indicate an expiry date because some jerky can have residual moisture.
- Color, odor, and texture: Beef jerky is likely to have gone bad when it became darker, harder, or even has a slight odor compared to its normal state.
You expect to find white spots in beef jerky because of the fat or salt. However, if you suspect it is mold, take a good sniff and watch out for a light green tinge.
- Tears or rips on the package: Damages on the packaging mean that moisture and oxygen have entered the bag.
Chances are if it has been that way too long, the beef has already gone bad.
Eating bad meat puts you at risk of food poisoning. Aside from Clostridium botulinum, spoiled beef jerky can also contain Salmonella and E. coli.
You can experience diarrhea, fever, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pains. Food poisoning can sometimes be lethal so it is better to lean on the safe side.
If you already have these symptoms, drink plenty of water and seek medical help to prevent your condition from getting worse.
Does beef jerky actually go bad?
It does. Although the shelf-life of beef jerky is around 2-3 years, it will spoil eventually.
In general, it is best enjoyed one year from the manufacturing date. For homemade jerky, however, it can only last one to two months after preparation when stored in an airtight container.
How long is Jack Link’s beef jerky good for after opening?
According to their website, you should eat or refrigerate their beef jerky within 3 days after opening.
They discourage freezing, even if it lengthens that time that the jerky is safe for eating because it will change the taste and texture of the jerky.
Beef jerky, being a shelf-stable product is one of the popular ready-to-eat snacks.
You can buy them from your favorite grocery stores or prepare them at home.
Make sure to keep it in sealed containers in a cool dry place and eat within three days after opening for optimum taste and texture.