Beef jerky is one of the best snacks on earth. It’s chewy, filling, filled with protein, and comes in every flavor under the sun.
But before you start stocking up on this tasty treat, it’s important to know just how long beef jerky will last.
This guide will cover the shelf life of jerky as well as how you can store yours to keep it fresh for longer.
NOTE: This article was reviewed by Melissa Macher, Registered Dietician and Food Scientist for safety and accuracy.
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How Long Does Beef Jerky Last?
Beef jerky can last anywhere from 1 week to 1 year depending on if it’s store-bought or homemade and how it is stored.
When stored properly, store-bought jerky can last from 6 months to 1 year. Homemade jerky, on the other hand, usually only lasts 1 to 2 months provided it has been made and stored properly (meat was heated above 165°F and was dried at 130-140°F throughout the drying process).
Want to store your beef jerky so it will last longer? Keep reading to learn all about the shelf-life of various types of jerky and how you should store it for the best results.
Properly Storing Beef Jerky
Before we can discuss how long beef jerky will last, let’s take a look at some of the possible ways you can store beef jerky.
- Original Bag
- Ziplock Bag
- Vacuum Sealed
Below are some details about each method of storing jerky so you can find the one that is best for you.
Most store-bought jerky comes in some sort of plastic bag with a resealable top. It’s actually suggested that you leave your jerky in this bag if possible–as the bag also comes with food-grade desiccant bags that can help keep your jerky fresh.
If something happens to your store-bought bag or if you made your own jerky, you may just want to put it in a Ziplock or other plastic resealable bag. Storing your beef jerky in a Ziploc bag is the easiest way to store your jerky, but it certainly isn’t the best. If you are on in a bind, it can keep your store-bought jerky fresh for about 2 weeks at room temperature or 3 weeks in the refrigerator.
The best method for storing beef jerk is to keep it in a vacuum sealed bag. This method of storage keeps the moisture in your jerky while preventing the air from spoiling it.
Storing store-bought beef jerky in a vacuum sealed bag can keep it fresh for months–up to 12 if you also place your vacuum sealed bag in the freezer. How long homemade jerky will stay fresh using this method will vary, but it will keep it fresh for around two months.
How to Know When Beef Jerky has Gone Bad
So you’ve been storing your homemade beef jerky in a bag in the fridge, and well, somehow you forgot about it. You find it later, unsure how long it’s been there and whether or not it’s still good. Here’s how you can tell your beef jerky has gone bad.
First and foremost, if you are enjoying store-bought jerky, check the best by date on the bag. If the jerky is more than a month or two past date, it’s probably better just to throw it away. If you no longer have the bag the jerky was stored in, the next step is to look at the jerky itself.
Unfortunately, unlike fresh spoiled meat, spoiled beef jerky will rarely have a smell. But if there is an odor coming from your jerky and it isn’t teriyaki, then it probably has gone bad.
Next, check the color and consistency of your beef jerky. If it is bad, it will be darker than you remember it being, and likely hard–you may have difficulty biting into it. If you see any signs of mold on any of the pieces of beef jerky, then the whole batch has likely gone bad.
If there’s something strange on the jerky, or you have a question about how it looks, don’t be afraid to contact the company you purchased the jerky from. There is usually a customer service number on the bag. They will be able to tell you if this color is normal or if you should throw the bag away. Sadly, this isn’t an option for homemade jerky makers.
If you’ve made it this far, and you bite into the normal-looking jerky to find it tastes bad, this is your last indication that you shouldn’t be eating the beef jerky and that it needs to be thrown away.
What Happens When You Eat Beef Jerky that has Gone Bad?
Beef jerky, well meat of any kind, is very bad for your body if you eat it after it has gone bad. Most likely eating bad beef jerky will cause symptoms similar to food poisoning such as stomach upset, cramps, fever, and maybe even vomiting.
If you ever find that the quality of your beef jerky is questionable, it’s better to throw it away than risk not feeling well for 2-7 days. When you don’t feel well after ingesting some questionable beef jerky you should contact a health professional right away.
Keeping Your Beef Jerky Fresh for Longer
It can be disheartening to toss out a bag of beef jerky you were looking forward to enjoying, especially if you made it yourself. Below are a few tips to help you make your beef jerky last longer.
- Make Leaner Jerky
- Minimize O2 Exposure
- Drying Length
- Keep Away from the Sun
- Use a Cure
- Freeze It
Not all of these methods will keep your jerky fresh for the same amount of time. Read below to see the details of each method of keeping your jerky fresh.
Make Leaner Jerky
Although fattier meats make tastier jerky, the fat in the meat spoils faster than the meat, making it impossible to keep fatty jerky fresh. Instead, trim off as much fat as you can before you dry your jerky, or stick to buying leaner meat when you want your jerky to last.
Minimize Oxygen Exposure
The less your beef jerky is exposed to the outside air, the better. When purchasing beef jerky from the store, try not to open a bag until you are ready to consume the entire bag within a week.
For those making beef jerky at home, try one of the air-tight storage ideas recommended above. You will also want to plan carefully so that you don’t make more jerky than you can eat before it goes bad.
How long you leave your jerky to dry plays a part in how long it will last. While you don’t want to over dry your jerky, you do want to ensure you dry it long enough to preserve it because leaving unnecessary moisture in the jerky will cause it to mold more quickly.
Follow suggested drying times for the thickness and type of meat you are using to ensure you dry your jerky enough but not too much.
Keep Jerky Away From the Sun
The sun will cause your jerky to spoil quickly. Store any jerky you have on hand, whether store-bought or homemade in a dry and cool environment like a cupboard or pantry.
You’ll even want to avoid storing it in cabinets that get a lot of sunlight, or those that are located over the stove, as these areas of your kitchen can have additional heat at times that you aren’t aware of.
Use a Cure
The reason store-bought jerky lasts so long is because the meat is cured with sodium nitrate to extend its shelf-life. Curing your own meat can be very difficult, and sodium nitrate isn’t good for your body, so while this will make your jerky last longer, it isn’t recommended as a solution for homemade jerky.
While freezing jerky isn’t recommended (it can diminish the diverse flavors) it is a solution if you’ve made a batch of beef jerky that is simply too large to enjoy within a week or two.
Ensure that when you place beef jerky in the freezer that it is in an air-tight container such as a Ziploc bag or vacuum-sealed bag.
Final Thoughts Storing Jerky
It can be easy to want to fill your pantry with beef jerky because it is a snack that takes a long time to go bad! But even though there is no refrigeration required, beef jerky can go bad and you should only stock up with an amount you can comfortably eat before the expiration date.
When making homemade jerky, you should only make an amount that you can eat within a week or two. While you can prolong the shelf-life of your beef jerky using many of the above methods, fresh jerky really is the best type of jerky.
Are you here because you want to try making homemade jerky for your family? Find out which meats make the best beef jerky before you begin!
If you want to learn more about grilling, check out these other helpful resources!