Properly sealed and stored beef jerky can, in theory, last indefinitely. But once you open the package, you start the clock. Most store-bought beef jerky instructs consumers to “eat within 3 days after opening” for ultimate freshness. It can still be good for a few days after, but only if you seal and store it properly.
After all, the method of drying meat was developed centuries ago to extend the shelf life of meat (and the lives of the people eating it!). A bit of salt here and some drying there, and now the family could survive the winter.
These days, we don’t depend on jerky to keep us alive for months on end. So, we think more about its freshness and flavor than its edibility. That’s why commercial beef jerky stamps “Best By” dates instead of “Survive By” dates.
However, just because beef jerky can last for a long time, doesn’t mean it will.
Improper packaging and storage (before or after opening) can drastically shorten its shelf life and potentially expose you to food-borne illness. The good news is that you can pretty easily tell if your beef or turkey jerky is still good, and when it has taken a bad turn.
We’ll go over how long beef jerky lasts before and after opening. Then, I’ll tell you how to test its freshness and give you tips on how to prolong its shelf life.
Does Beef Jerky Go Bad?
Beef jerky does not spoil in the same way that perishable foods like eggs, milk, bread, and cheese do. If it is properly kept, it should last for a very long time. Though, most brands recommend you open their beef jerky within 1 year and consume it within 3 days.
The style of jerky, meaning whether it is moist or dry, can influence how long it will last once opened. Some moist jerky will only last for a few days, while some dry jerky can last indefinitely.
The two most important factors that affect how long your jerky will last are oxygen and moisture. Removing the meat’s moisture by drying it, and reducing any oxygen exposure by sealing it, can help keep it fresher for longer periods of time.
Homemade beef jerky can last 1-2 months. But again, that depends on proper sealing and storage.
How Long Does Beef Jerky Last After Opening?
Most commercial packages of beef jerky recommend consuming the jerky “within 3 days after opening.” But that is a best-by date, not an expiration date. It’s meant for you to enjoy the jerky while it’s the freshest. After the 3-day mark, its flavor and texture may start to deteriorate.
In general, opened beef jerky can last for a week if sealed and stored properly in a cool dry place (more on that below). Opened beef jerky can last a bit longer in the fridge, but that tends to make it too tough to want to eat anyway.
If you’re a beef jerky lover like me, eating it within 3 days is usually not a problem. But sometimes life gets in the way of jerky-eating and suddenly, more than 3 days have passed! You might think “meh, it’s probably still good” and chomp away. You could be right, but you don’t want to bite blindly into it.
You need to check it for freshness first…
How Can You Tell if Jerky is Still Fresh?
With commercial beef jerky, the first thing you want to do is check the jerky package for the best-by date. Jerky is usually sold in an air-tight, vacuum-sealed package. After the drying process, companies use a vacuum sealer to remove all of the air from the bag when packing it so that the jerky will stay fresh.
All beef jerky products made in America have to have a best-by date printed on the package. You can usually find it near the bottom seal of the package. Some brands also include an expiration date.
If you have an unopened package of beef jerky, then there should be no issue with its freshness before the expiration date. If the jerky is kept in that air-tight container, it should be just fine through (and even past) the expiration date.
For homemade jerky, it’s a good idea to keep it in a sealed container or a vacuum pack freezer bag. Proper storage in an airtight container ensures that the jerky will have a long shelf life.
If the jerky wasn’t properly stored, or it is homemade and you want to be sure that it is still fresh, there are a few things you can look for. First, look for any holes or other damage to the package or airtight container.
Then, inspect the jerky for any signs of rancidity. That includes weird spots on the meat, odd smells, or if it feels weird in any way. If the jerky smells or looks strange, the best thing you can do is toss it. Using your common sense and trusting your senses when inspecting the meat will go a long way.
When in doubt, throw it away. Even the best jerky isn’t worth risking food poisoning.
The Best Way to Store Your Beef Jerky
There are simple ways to increase the shelf life of beef jerky. Following these six key tips for your jerky storage should keep it fresher for longer, and give you the best results:
- Avoid any moisture
- Keep it out of direct sunlight
- Keep it in its original packaging
- Maintain a steady temperature
- Freeze it only when necessary
- Buy from reputable companies
Jerky keeps better when stored in a dry place without any moisture.
Many packages come complete with an oxygen absorber to remove any excess moisture that builds up in the packaging. A lack of moisture means fresh jerky (and the best flavor jerky!) for longer.
You can also purchase oxygen absorber packs online to ensure your homemade beef jerky lasts for a long time and resists any growth of bacteria.
Keep it Out of Direct Sunlight
Keep your open and unopened jerky in a dark pantry at normal room temperature. A dark place without direct sunlight will slow bacterial growth on food, helping reduce the chance of any foodborne illness. It helps keep the dehydrated meat fresher for longer.
Keep it in its Original Packaging
By storing your jerky in its original packaging, you can help minimize its exposure to oxygen. The bag, after all, was designed to maintain freshness.
Maintain a Steady Temperature
Keep your jerky in a cool place, but not cold. A steady room temperature is ideal: not too hot and not too cold. A dark pantry or cabinet is a great spot for your tasty treat!
Freeze Only When Necessary
If you do not anticipate eating all of your jerky before it expires, you can freeze it. However, it is not recommended that you do. Not only can it get freezer burn, but the texture, flavor, and nutritional benefits will diminish.
Buy from Reputable Companies
Finally, make sure that you purchase from reputable beef jerky companies. If you’re buying jerky that Joe Shmo made in his garage, you’re taking a risk that he didn’t properly dry or package the jerky. That could lead to you getting sick, or the beef jerky going bad very quickly.
If you’re the Joe Shmo making beef jerky in his garage, all the power to you! Just be sure you buy the best beef for jerky that is fresh. The better qualityand fresher the meat, the longer the entire batch will last.
What Happens if You Eat Bad Meat?
If you think you have eaten bad jerky, watch for symptoms of this type of food poisoning. It may take hours or days to develop symptoms. Symptoms can include:
- Upset Stomach
- Stomach Cramps
If you get a fever or other worsening conditions, such as bloody stool or signs of dehydration, be sure to contact your doctor. That can help you prevent any long-term effects or serious health problems from food poisoning.