Beef jerky is a popular, tasty treat that’s perfect for anywhere and everywhere. Depending on whether you buy it at your local butcher or make it yourself, you want it to last.
So, here’s the question: how long does beef jerky last?
Store-bought beef jerky will last for 1- 2 years if properly stored. Homemade jerky will last up to a year in the freezer, up to 2 weeks in the fridge, and up to one week in your pantry.
You can use a Ziploc bag or a vacuum-sealed bag and a refrigerator to maximize shelf life.
What is Beef Jerky?
Beef jerky is dehydrated meat. It’s made by marinating, salting, and curing the meat before exposing it to heated air – usually in a box or dehydrator. It’s easy to make and is a favorite treat here in South Africa (we call it biltong).
Removing the moisture removes possible breeding grounds for bacteria and the addition of salt in the drying process adds an extra level of preservation.
The high protein level and extended shelf-life make this a popular food for hikers, campers, and preppers and survivalists.
How Long does Beef Jerky Last?
Not long enough in our house, that’s for sure! In all seriousness, the shelf-life will vary somewhat depending on how the meat was prepared. If it’s prepared properly, store-bought beef jerky can last, unopened, for between a year and two years.
If it’s homemade, your jerky will last from several weeks to several months, depending on where and how you store it… unless you’re like me and you eat it as soon as it’s ready for eating!
Once opened, beef jerky will only last a few days to a week.
Signs of Spoilage
There are a few warning signs that your beef jerky has either gone bad, or about to go bad. Some of these signs are:
- Strange smell
- Strange, sour taste
Your sniffer will usually give you a good indication of whether your jerky is bad or not. If it’s got a funky smell, then it’s probably not a good idea to eat it.
On a similar note, if it tastes funny in any way; don’t eat it. Smell and taste aside, a bigger problem to watch for; is mold – especially if your jerky is homemade.
Mold is like the arch-nemesis of biltong/beef jerky, it spreads rapidly from piece to piece and can destroy your jerky. Thankfully, if you catch it early enough you can save your meat by rubbing vinegar into the moldy sections. If you’re too late…well…goodbye beef jerky. You have to throw it away and start over.
Can you Extend Shelf-Life?
Eating bad jerky can lead to some rather nasty food poisoning. The symptoms of which include:
- Abdominal pain
Take it from someone who knows, food poisoning by beef jerky is not pleasant. It can last from a day or two to a week and it can be very uncomfortable.
So, can you extend the shelf-life of beef jerky beyond the use-by date? Well, yeah, you can.
One way of extending the shelf life is to freeze the jerky after it’s completely dehydrated. You can then take it out whenever you like and chow down.
You can also vacuum-pack the meat once it’s ready. Vacuum-packing seals the meat in an airless bag – no air means no moisture and what does no moisture mean? Right, no mold!
No mold, no problem, you can eat safely without risk of food poisoning.
- Store-bought beef jerky will last, unopened for a year or two.
- Homemade jerky will last, unopened, from several weeks to 2-3 months.
- There are a few warning signs for bad jerky including strange smells / tastes, and / or mold.
- You can extend the shelf-life by vacuum packing and freezing your jerky.
Beef jerky has always been popular snack – including for mothers with teething infants (yes, really) – and probably always will be. Store-bought or homemade, you don’t want to lose your jerky; and while it has a long shelf-life, it will go bad after a while.
I hope you guys enjoyed the article and found it informative. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in the next one.
Greg is a South African farmer and homesteader who’s been around animals ever since he can remember. he’s also an avid camper and hiker.