How Long Does Beef Jerky Last?

There are some foods that seemingly last forever.

One of those is beef jerky. Beyond its incredible flavor, it’s a favorite for campers, hikers, and survivalists simply because it lasts a real long time. But how long is long? How long does beef jerky last, really? Is there a point where it’s no longer safe to eat and how do you know? Let’s break down this tasty meat treat to find out. 

Does beef jerky go bad?

Just like any foods, yes it can. But it will take a real long time to get there, especially in an unopened package or any sort of air-sealed container. Store-bought processed beef jerky will last one to two years easily in these conditions. If you’ve made homemade beef jerky, the cycle is shorter, say three months maximum. You can increase these times by freezing your jerky until it’s time to eat it.

But even then, is bad bad?

In ideal conditions beef jerky can last longer; you’ll need to use your senses and judgment to make the call. Take a look at the jerky. Is it a darker color than when you purchased it? Does it seem tougher or dryer than before? Does the smell seem slightly different? These are sure signs that the jerky will, at a minimum, not be the same eating experience as when you purchased it. Is it bad? Maybe. Maybe not. But we are talking a few dollars to purchase a new package, so why risk it?

Like any meats, there is a time, though, when it will go bad. There will be a significant sour smell to the meet when that happens, and it should not be consumed.

Why does beef jerky last so long?

There are many reasons why this tasty snack keeps as long as it does.

First, when making beef jerky, the cut of meat is typically very lean. The fattier the meat used, the quicker it will go bad as fat breaks down quicker than lean meat.

Second, the meat is dried in the cooking, removing most liquid from the beef. That lack of liquid helps the meat keep a long time. Bacteria likes moist environments, and beef jerky is the exact opposite of that.

Third, the salt itself acts as a preservative, and there’s a lot of salt in beef jerky. It helps keep the meat for a very long time. Store-bought jerky also contains other preservatives to help the meat stay fresh for prolonged periods.

If the jerky is seasoned with hot pepper, this may also help prolong its shelf life. The capsaicin in hot peppers helps keep bacteria at bay.

What about jerky that’s cooked with other ingredients?

It’s normally the other ingredients that you need to worry about in terms of spoilage. They will normally go bad faster than the jerky, so consider what else you are cooking with first.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on September 5, 2019 to include new content.
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Thank you for info on the beef jerky.