You found a beef jerky packet that’s a couple of months past its date, and you want to know if you can eat it. How long does beef jerky last?
Or you’ve just opened yours, and you’re wondering if you should refrigerate the leftovers or how long they are good for. The label doesn’t mention any of that, so you decided to do a bit of research.
Sounds familiar? If so, this article is for you. In it, we’re going to cover:
- shelf life – how long does this dried meat last, and how many days can you store the leftovers?
- storage – should you refrigerate beef jerky after opening the package?
- going bad – how to tell if yours is still okay to eat or not
Let’s get right into it.
How Long Does Beef Jerky Last?
As long as your beef jerky packet is unopened, it should retain quality for at least a couple of months past the best-by date on the label.
Once you open it, it tastes best for about three days if you store it at room temperature or more than a week if you refrigerate it. Of course, it stays safe to eat much longer, assuming you take good care of it.
How come it lasts so long? Beef jerky is dehydrated meat, so its moisture content is very low. And, as you likely know, no moisture means bacteria can’t grow on it. Plus, the bags are vacuum-sealed so that nothing can get inside the bag.
This articel is about store-bought jerky. Please note that homemade beef jerky doesn’t last nearly as long. Check the recipe you’re following for homemade jerky to learn how long you can store yours.
Beef jerky packets come with a best-by date printed on the label that’s usually between 12 and 24 months of packaging.
That date informs you how long the manufacturer expects the meat to retain optimal quality. It has nothing to do with food safety, and by no means it’s an expiration date.
Even the producers often say that their jerky should be fine after that date:
When we produce beef jerky we print a “Best By” date of 18 months. Jerky stored under most circumstances will be just fine after 18 months.Jack Link’s
Of course, it’s impossible to say how long past that date the meat will be fine. The best advice I can give you is: open that out-of-date package, and if it doesn’t have any signs of spoilage, give it a try.
When it comes to leftover jerky, most producers recommend finishing the bag within a couple of days (usually 3 to 5) of opening the package. Of course, as long as you store the meat well, it keeps for much longer, like even a couple of weeks.
More often than not, you will throw out old jerky because its quality is not good enough anymore, not because it’s spoiled in the traditional meaning of the word.
How To Store Beef Jerky
Store unopened jerky in a cool, dry, and dark place, like a cupboard in the pantry or kitchen.
Once you open the packet, feel free to leave it in the same place if you’re going to finish the meat within 2 to 3 days. If you need more time, refrigerate it in a resealable bag.
While jerky packages that haven’t been open yet don’t require much in terms of storage, it’s important to keep them away from hot and sunny places ([LBJ]).
Of course, we’re talking about long-term storage here. A couple of hours on the counter won’t cause the quality of the meat to deteriorate.
When it comes to storing open jerky, it all depends on when you’re going to finish the dried meat.
If within a couple of days, room temperature storage is fine. Just make sure the package is sealed, or transfer yours into a freezer bag.
If you might need more than that, refrigeration is a much better option to retain jerky’s quality. Once again, seal that package if it’s one of those resealable ones, or use a food bag.
As long as you don’t expose jerky to moisture (e.g., via condensation), it should keep decent quality for even a couple of weeks of opening.
Does Beef Jerky Go Bad? How To Tell If Beef Jerky Is Bad?
Unless you expose beef jerky to moisture and bacteria, it won’t go bad in a way that it grows mold or starts to rot. The worst that’s likely to happen is that the quality of the meat deteriorates, and it’s no longer good enough for your liking.
Nevertheless, if your beef jerky smells off or there’s any fuzzy mold on the surface, throw it out.
Other than that, it’s really up to you whether you’re going to eat it or not.
If the meat is slightly darker or seems a bit tougher, it’s still 99 percent fine to eat. Maybe your eating experience won’t be as great as it used to, but that’s about it.
There’s one more thing to cover before we wrap up: white “stuff” on beef jerky.
There are at least three reasons why there might be a patch of white on your jerky:
- Mold. If it’s white and fuzzy, it’s mold, and you should discard it.
- Fat. If it’s greasy, it’s most likely fat from the meat, and it’s fine to eat. You can scrape it off if it grosses you out.
- Salt. If it looks like salt crystals, well, it’s most likely salt from the meat that crystallized. Perfectly okay to eat.
Want to learn more about the white coating on jerky? Here’s a great article about that, along with some photos.
- Unopened beef jerky lasts for months past its date in a cool and dark cupboard.
- Once you open the packet, refrigerate it if you aren’t going to finish the leftovers within a couple of days. Otherwise, it’s fine for it to sit at room temperature.
- Beef jerky doesn’t easily go bad. More often than not you’re going to discard it for quality reasons, not spoilage.