Does Beef Jerky Need To Be Refrigerated (And How Long Does It Last)

Beef jerky is a tasty, protein-packed snack that is practical for travel and home consumption. It is essentially thin, dried strips of beef, and it has been a cherished American snack for literally hundreds of years.

The ability to travel across country with cured meats that could keep well for long periods of time was incredibly important to the settlers of America, and we’ve been reaping the delicious rewards ever since. 

Does Beef Jerky Need To Be Refrigerated

These days you can buy all kinds of jerky, including turkey, pork, chicken, and fish to name but a few. However, beef is still America’s most loved jerky and in this article, we’re going to explain the ins and outs of storing it at home.

One of the best things about jerky, besides its taste, is its ability to remain fresh for long periods of time. But there’s no denying that heat and moisture still try their best to spoil your favorite salty, chewy snack, so we’re here to help. 

Why Refrigerate Your Food?

American homes have been benefiting from refrigeration for over 100 years. A fridge is purposed with slowing down bacteria growth on many fresh food types. Storing food at low temperatures helps to extend its life and prolong the time of safe consumption.

However, it’s no secret that some foods are more prone to bacteria growth than others. See where beef jerky fits into the refrigeration conversation by looking at beef jerky in all its forms. 

Does Beef Jerky Require Refrigeration?

Unopened Beef Jerky

99% of shop-bought beef jerky comes in airtight vacuum-sealed plastic packaging.

This type of packaging offers an ideal environment to store beef jerky, but how long does it last? Jerky manufacturers are known to give their beef jerky at least 12 months, and up to two years expiry.

While unopened beef jerky doesn’t need to be refrigerated, it does, however, need to be stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.

If these conditions are not met, then the jerky will spoil much quicker as excessive moisture promotes bacteria growth within jerky packaging. 

Opened Beef Jerky

Once shop-bought beef jerky has been opened its best before date is dramatically reduced. You will find most brands will state on their labels that, once opened, the jerky must be consumed within three days.

In reality, jerky is generally safe to consume within 1 week after opening, granted it’s stored in a cool, dry place. Although it isn’t written law, a lot of people tend to refrigerate their jerky after opening just to be on the safe side.

Refrigerating opened jerky helps to reduce the chance of bacteria growth, especially in southern states where hot weather is commonplace.

Homemade Beef Jerky

If you’re a real jerky lover, making your own jerky at home can be a great way of saving money. Not only is it the frugal way of enjoying jerky, but it also allows you to season your jerky just the way you like it. It can also be a great way of using up meat that may have spoiled otherwise.

However, the difference between a jerky company’s dehydration and packaging methods and at-home meat dehydrating, means that homemade jerky will have a reduced best-before period. 1-2 months is the recommended consumption period for homemade jerky.

If you are looking to take your jerky making seriously, then buying a vacuum sealer could be a good idea, as it will help to prolong your jerky’s life. If you store jerky in an airtight container or zip lock bag in the fridge, your jerky will stay fresh enough to eat for 1-2 weeks. 

Is Freezing Beef Jerky A Good Idea?

If you’ve made a big batch of jerky and you’re worried about not getting through it all before it spoils, then the freezer is certainly not a silly option.

Freezing jerky can give it another 12 months of life, granted it is stored in the correct way. In a similar fashion to storing jerky in the pantry and fridge, it’s best to store jerky in the freezer in an airtight container or zip-lock bag.

If stored for a prolonged period of time, this will help reduce the risk of jerky becoming tough, and, therefore, less desirable to eat. 

How To Tell If Beef Jerky Is Spoiled?

No matter how hard you try to keep jerky in its optimal storing conditions, sometimes, for whatever reason, it will spoil. Not that it’s hard, but this is why eating your jerky promptly is the best way to ensure it’s as fresh as it can be.

But we know that not everyone can polish off a pack of jerky in one sitting, so these are the signs to look out for when sussing out some suspicious-looking jerky. 

  • Evidence of moisture or condensation on a jerky packet or the jerky itself is a very good indication that there may be something wrong with your jerky. 

  • Jerky that has been left open for a long time will become dry, and hard. Not only does this reduce the flavor, and make it tougher to chew, but this also means that it could be spoiled too. 

  • Investigate the jerky for signs of mold, discoloration, or anything else that could be considered abnormal for jerky. 

  • If you’re unsure just by sight, then giving jerky a good whiff could prove the difference. Although jerky won’t have the putrid smell of rancid meat, it’s still easy to spot what spoiled jerky smells like. 

Summary

As is evidenced in this article, beef jerky isn’t something that necessarily needs to be refrigerated. Although many people will refrigerate their jerky after opening to be on the safe side, its lack of moisture means it will store perfectly fine in the right conditions.

A kitchen pantry or cupboard that’s naturally cool and dry is all you need to store jerky, in confidence, without refrigeration. However, not everyone has the same view when it comes to refrigerating food.

Choosing to store your jerky in a way that works for you is always the best policy. But just remember, that, by design, jerky makes a great case for keeping well, and tasting great, without the need for a stint in the fridge.

Jess Smith
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