How Long Does It Take For Beef Jerky To Expire?
Beef jerky is well-known for its long-lasting properties, but does it actually expire? The popularity of this question isn't all that surprising considering that beef jerky was used to survive in pretty dire conditions for centuries throughout American history. So, it's normal to be curious about the properties of this nutritious, life-saving snack.
First things first...
Does beef jerky expire? Yes, it does. Beef jerky goes bad after a longer period of time compared to other foods, especially meats, but it does eventually expire and go bad. If well-preserved, commercial beef jerky can last more than two years. Due to the professional manufacturing processes being used, commercial jerky usually lasts longer than homemade varieties, which average at around three months of shelf life.
All foods expire, no matter how well-preserved they are. There are plenty of reasons why beef jerky lasts longer than other foods though, some of which are:
The meat drying process
Curing salt used during manufacturing
All of these add layers of preservation to beef jerky. The entire concept behind the snack was that of making it last as long as possible while providing enough nutritional value for staying out in the countryside . That's what makes it such a unique and special food item.
How Long Does Beef Jerky Last Before It Expires?
As we mentioned, beef jerky can last around two years (or more) if prepared correctly. However, there are plenty of factors that can influence the shelf life of beef jerky. The single most important factor is preparation. If you want your beef jerky to last a long time without expiring, you need to either buy commercial jerky, or get ready for some work.
In the following table, you can see how long beef jerky generally lasts:
Please note that these are assumptions based upon our own experience and information provided by the United States Department of Agriculture and the United States Food & Drug Administration. As you can see in the table, we've divided things up in 4 different categories:
Together with the storage methods (pantry, fridge, and freezer), the table should provide you with a clear understanding of how long beef jerky can last before expiring. Please note also that beef jerky—like other meats—comes with a best before stamp rather than a use by stamp. This is not an expiry date! You can still consume the jerky after that date, it just won't be as fresh as the original manufacturer intended it to be.
How Can You Make Beef Jerky Last Longer?
If you don't want your beef jerky to expire, there are a few tricks to make it last longer. These are our personal recommendations for preserving your beef jerky:
Always keep your beef jerky away from direct sunlight. Especially if you're taking it out with you, you don't want your jerky to be directly exposed to anything that might stimulate bacterial growth. Things like warmth, humidity, and even skin contact could compromise the integrity of your jerky and start spoiling your food.
Always buy from trusted manufacturers. We at Liberty Cattle Company pay extremely close attention to how we prepare our beef jerky, and we don't ship it out to customers before rigorous scrutiny. When you buy commercial beef jerky, either buy it off the shelf, or source it locally from a trusted manufacturer.
Keep it sealed. Even if you open it, it's better to re-seal beef jerky rather than placing it in the original container. The farther away from open air you can keep your jerky, the better the result. This is true for other products as well, but if you want your beef jerky to last for a long time (maybe you're surviving an apocalypse!), then it's the way to go.
Some of these recommendations might sound obvious, but it's good to reiterate the basics: you want your beef jerky to be enclosed and hidden away from external pathogens.
Refrigerating or freezing beef jerky can also make it last longer. As discussed in the previous post, this can be done, but we don't necessarily recommend it as it will compromise the nutritional properties of jerky, as well as its taste. If you're planning to keep a lot of it stored for a long time, freezing it is a good solution. It just won't taste as good!
What's The Difference Between Commercial and Homemade Beef Jerky?
People love to make beef jerky back at home, and we think that's awesome. However, it's also worth noting that homemade practices are sometimes spotty, and not necessarily ideal for preserving a piece of meat for long periods of time. Other than lasting longer, commercial beef jerky is subject to regulation, and it needs to pass rigorous tests before shipping.
That's exactly what we do as well, but it's hard to replicate that level of quality when you only have a few home tools to make jerky. Is it impossible to make homemade beef jerky that lasts a long time? No, but you need to follow the right procedure. Commercial varieties are manufactured with a 5-step process which guarantees a long shelf life and quality results.
How To Effectively Preserve your Beef Jerky
Beef jerky can be made specifically with preservation in mind. If that's what you're going for, then you're likely going to prefer commercial options, even if they can cost quite a bit compared to preparing your own jerky at home. For bulk production, it might be worth getting it done on your own, but only if you have a process in place. The video below shows you what to do in case you want to preserve your own beef jerky for a long time.
If you can't watch the video, here's a quick rundown of the main points:
Air or sun drying below 160° F will not kill the bacteria. Cooking before drying the meat is still recommended as it will eliminate all bacteria and threats.
Drying in an oven can make the jerky ready to eat fairly quickly. This is a controlled environment that can be set up for ideal jerky consumption.
Open air drying after cooking reduces moisture. This increases the shelf life of the meat while also further decreasing the risk of contracting illnesses.
Smoking helps prevent the surface from coming into contact with air. This also adds flavour to the beef jerky, making it more appealing for later consumption.
Fatty meats turn rancid faster than lean meats. That's why we at Liberty Cattle Co. prefer to manufacture our jerky with lean American Belgian Blue beef.
Please note that—as pointed out in the video—smoking alone is not adequate to preserve the meat. Drying is required. Always cook at temperatures higher than 160° F. You should not make excessive use of preservatives as they can make you sick.
Packaging and Storing Homemade Beef Jerky
If you followed the advice in the previous section, you'll also want to know how to package and store your homemade beef jerky so that it doesn't expire so quickly. When you're done with the process of producing beef jerky, you're going to see different types of strip coming out of the oven: some a bit flexible and some very dry, which is a good thing.
The flexible strips of beef jerky still have some moisture in them, so they won't last as long as the dry ones. However, a good thing to do when you finish the drying procedure is to put the flexible strips in the fridge for about a week so that they stiffen up. Don't freeze them! If you still have moisture in the strip, you risk reducing the quality of the meat significantly.
Once all strips have hardened, and once you're sure of their quality, you can package them into small chunks by using a vacuum sealer. This is, without a doubt, the best way to preserve the nutritional properties of your beef jerky for a long period of time. Make sure to include labels on each pack so that you know when it was sealed!
You can also store air-dried jerky in glass jars and add salt directly inside the jar, which is yet another layer of preservation. Don't overdo it. If you've already used curing salt during the drying process, you might want to seal your jerky instead, otherwise it'll be too savoury.
How Can You Tell When Beef Jerky Has Gone Bad?
There's no clear rule that applies to beef jerky in specific. Generally, you want to avoid keeping any meat-related product exposed to air and sun for long periods of time. With jerky, the question of time is usually solved by the fact that small packs are consumed fairly quickly, but if you're buying (or producing) your jerky in bulk, you should closely inspect your storage room once in a while, just to make sure that none of your jerky is going bad.
Here are a few things to check for:
Look for mold on your beef jerky. Mold requires moisture and oxygen to form. The first one is removed during the drying process while the second one is avoided thanks to our vacuum-sealed packages. This is why jerky lasts a long time.
Does your jerky smell bad? Then it has probably gone bad. Don't risk it. Many times, common sense works better than any advanced methodology you can apply.
Look for changes in color and texture. If your beef jerky is predominantly green, or white-ish, you know you have something bad going on.
Another thing to remember is that quality matters. If you rush the production of your jerky, it'll likely go bad faster than commercial-grade products. That's why we always recommend to buy from trusted sources if you're not sure about the procedure. If you do want to produce your own jerky, allow some time (weeks or months) to fully understand the process.
Don't feel like waiting that long? We at Liberty Cattle Co. work hard to produce amazing beef jerky at the right price. Check it out in our store. If you need any help, or if you have any further question, feel free to drop us a comment down below. We're passionate about beef jerky, and we definitely don't want yours to expire sooner than you expect!