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 anywhere between 9 months and 2 years if properly stored. Homemade jerky will last up to a year in the freezer, up to 2 weeks in the fridge, and 1-2 months in an airtight container 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 – and Why Does Beef Jerky Last So Long?
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, preppers, and survivalists.
Store-bought jerky lasts longer than homemade jerky. It lasts for longer periods of time because of the processing and preservatives that have been added to it.
Typical Beef Jerky Shelf Life
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!
If you’re talking about commercial beef jerky, it will last a bit longer. Commercial jerky has to meet more rigorous cooking, preparation, and drying standards, so it will last for a couple of months at minimum or even a few years with the right storage.
Once opened, beef jerky will only last a few days to a week…
Signs of Spoilage
How can you tell if beef jerky has gone bad? 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 odor
- 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. The best way to do this is to make sure you’re following some important storage tips.
Freeze the Jerky
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.
Use an Oxygen Absorber
Another strategy is to use an oxygen absorber. An oxygen absorber works by removing oxygen from the air inside the container, creating an air-tight environment that helps to preserve the food from moisture and bacteria that can cause it to spoil.
To use an oxygen absorber for beef jerky, simply open the package and place it in the container that stores your food. It’s important to leave enough space between the absorber and solid surfaces or walls of the container so that enough oxygen can be pulled out of the container.
After a few minutes, close the lid and seal your beef jerky container tightly with a good cover or lid. The beef jerky should remain fresher longer using this technique. With this method, you can store and keep your delicious beef jerky for up to several months without having to worry about spoilage.
Put it in an Airtight Container
This sounds obvious, but the easiest way to extend beef jerky’s shelf life is to store it in an airtight container labeled with the packed date and expected expiration date.
Keeping moisture and air away from your jerky is the best way to ensure it will last just as long as you want it to. A sealed bag, sealed glass jars like mason jars, or again, a vacuum-sealed bag will work just fine.
Try to avoid plastic containers for long-term storage, as this can impart an odd flavor to your beef jerky. It also tends to hold moisture a bit more than glass or metal.
Don’t forget that the right storage means the world when it comes to extending beef jerky’s shelf life. Store your beef jerky out of direct sunlight and a bit cooler than room temperature.
You can refrigerate it to prolong the time until it starts spoiling, too, but you may find that this affects the flavor and texture.
How Long Will Jerky Last Without Curing Salt?
Curing salt is usually added to jerky to keep it fresh for a longer period, but not everyone is a fan of using curing salt.
Without curing salt, jerky will last for about two weeks. The shelf life of jerky depends on various factors such as temperature, humidity, and air exposure.
How Long Do Other Types of Jerky Last?
In general, beef and venison jerky last a bit longer than pork or poultry jerky. This is because they have less fat content than pork and poultry, which can spoil faster.
The average shelf life is still fairly close – you can expect pork, turkey, or salmon jerky (just a few examples) to last around two weeks if it’s homemade. Otherwise, you can expect it to last for a few months or so.
- 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, or mold.
- You can extend the shelf-life by vacuum packing and freezing your jerky.
Beef jerky has always been a 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.
Beef Jerky FAQ
When properly stored, commercial beef jerky can last anywhere between nine months and two years. Homemade jerky will only last at most a year in the freezer in airtight containers.
Eating old and rancid beef jerky can lead to food poisoning or upset stomach. Always make sure to check for signs of spoilage like mold, unusual colors or smells, or changes in texture.
Contrary to popular belief, beef jerky does not get better with age – in fact, it’s the opposite. Commercial jerky freshness starts to decline after three to six months (sooner for the homemade stuff), which can cause a change in taste and texture.
When stored in an airtight bag, vacuum-sealed beef jerky can last up to one to two years in the pantry. When opening the package, consume within the same timeframe as regular beef jerky.
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.