Does Beef Jerky Need to Be Refrigerated? Here’s Your Guide
Beef jerky has been a mainstay of American snacks for centuries. The snack was mainly designed to last while traveling for days or weeks in the open countryside. But what about storing or refrigerating beef jerky in modern times? In this article, we’re going to answer your questions on whether beef jerky needs to be refrigerated or not!
Before we get into the details, here’s a quick takeaway answer:
Does beef jerky need to be refrigerated? Unopened beef jerky is sealed in a vacuum pack and will last for up to 1 year in a dry and dark pantry at normal room temperature. Refrigerating beef jerky after opening is optional but advisable. Beef jerky left open and exposed to warm, moist or sunlit conditions will reduce its consumption time.
So it depends on the situation. What about if you want to freeze jerky? Now that we know the quick answer, let's talk through some scenarios that will help you in storing your beef jerky properly, or any jerky for that matter! It’s probably useful to understand why we refrigerate food in general first...
Why Do We Refrigerate Food?
Refrigerating food is a way of maintaining a slow bacterial growth level, thereby preserving food for longer periods and extending its life for later consumption. Usually, we do this once food has been opened and exposed to the environment. Some food products are more prone to quick bacteria growth than others. So, let’s see how that reflects on our beef jerky.
When Should You Refrigerate Beef Jerky?
Because of the way beef jerky has been cooked, most of the moisture content has been taken out. Bacteria requires moisture to grow, so unless it’s kept within a humid environment where condensation and other moisture particles can gather on it, then the life of jerky is hugely extended, even when taken out of the packet!
To be on the safe side, opened beef jerky, like many foodstuffs, should ideally be refrigerated—based on when you intend to consume the remainder. Usually, something as quick and snack-like as beef jerky doesn’t often get a chance to sit around for long without being eaten—at least mine doesn’t!
Remember that beef jerky has been designed to last for long periods when traveling on horseback! So it has been proven to last for weeks. But, if you intend to consume it within a few days of opening, then beef jerky will almost certainly be fine to eat—providing the environment it was kept in was reasonable, i.e. without excessive water or moisture content.
However, if we choose to adhere to manufacturers' guidelines, then the advice is always to refrigerate your opened jerky as a matter of precaution—and we’d have to agree. For unopened jerky, most manufacturers extend their product to last up to one year.
Why Does Beef Jerky Last Longer Than Other Meat?
Raw meat is already contaminated with microorganisms that facilitate bacteria growth, and also for the reasons mentioned above raw meat contains greater moisture content and is more prone to bacterial growth. This is why any raw meat is always recommended to be refrigerated; we all know how quickly it goes rancid!
In fact, jerky lasts longer when compared to any standard cooked meat! This is because the fat content is also a factor. If any fat remains on cooked meat it will go off faster and spoil. Beef jerky doesn’t contain any fat that has the ability to go rancid.
Not only that, but beef jerky is also cured, mostly with added sodium nitrite—especially by mass-produced Jerky manufacturers, and is an option for home-cooked jerky too.
Also, beef jerky manufacturers ensure their beef jerky lasts longer as they ensure there is no oxygen left in the packaging—another component that helps meat go off. Instead, they inject nitrogen into their packaging to replace any oxygen content, and then air seal the packaging.
This salt content acts as a further barrier to bacteria—which simply means bacteria cannot take hold and won’t be able to for a much longer time. This is what enables beef jerky to last up to a year—in the right conditions. In addition, the longer you leave beef jerky to dry during the cooking process, the longer it will last.
So Where Should You Store Beef Jerky?
If you're looking for a definitive answer, then we can confidently say—you do not need to refrigerate unopened beef jerky. It’s vacuum-packed anyway so it's sealed from any outside exposure. So, where should unopened beef jerky be stored? Store unopened beef jerky in the following conditions:
Cool storage - not above average room temperature
Reasonably dark - no exposure to sunlight or bright light.
Dry - the less moisture the better
Ideally - a pantry or similar food storage cupboard.
And where should opened beef jerky be stored?
Opened beef jerky will still last a fair while even when exposed to the elements, provided you don’t leave it in humid, hot, bright, or sunlit conditions. But for optimum storage time (and where you intend to keep it for more than a few days), store opened beef jerky in the refrigerator.
For the best results possible, try to put your jerky in a sealed bag, remove the air and then put it into the refrigerator. This is likely to extend the life of your jerky a week or two longer.
Why You Shouldn’t Leave Beef Jerky Out
Most of the time beef jerky gets eaten pretty quickly, but if you’re the kind of person who eats your jerky more slowly, you might think it’s ok to leave out for a while. And for the most part, you’d be right. The correct answer depends mainly on how long and where you leave it out.
To be safe, it’s better to follow the guidelines above and store your jerky properly rather than run the risk of any illness. Plus it’s better to do that to maintain the taste. You can usually tell if jerky is starting to go off anyway as you’ll notice it just doesn’t quite taste the same, but check out our quick guide on that below.
Should You Freeze Beef Jerky?
Freezing beef jerky is a good idea. It can add another 12 months to the shelf life of any jerky. But when you do, similar to refrigerating, put it into a ziplock or other sealed bag, squeeze the air from the bag and add to the freezer. We always think it probably won’t be there long, but just in case, it’s a good idea to add a date to the bag to monitor how long it’s kept for.
How Can You Tell if Beef Jerky is Spoiled?
If you’re not sure if your beef jerky has been stored correctly, or refrigerated sufficiently, then there are a few ways you can tell if your jerky is still edible. But exercise caution, if in doubt, do not eat the jerky—it’s just not worth the risk. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Look for signs of condensation or moisture on the packaging or jerky surface
Closely examine some pieces of jerky, check for dryness and that they’ve maintained some flexibility
Test it further by smelling it, you can often tell when any meat is going off
Look for signs of discoloration, mold or other strange residues
If in doubt about one or more pieces, then dispose of all the jerky in the pack
We can all push the boundaries of food storage on occasion, and with jerky we kind of know that it lasts a long time; that’s why it was developed in the first place. But it’s best to check, and we hope this article has been useful for you in understanding more about how to store your jerky safely and whether it can be refrigerated or not.
Did you find this article helpful? Let us know what you think in the comments. We at Liberty Cattle Company are happy to give you direct insights on beef jerky, and how to preserve it correctly. And, by the way, did you know that we sell delicious, grass-fed beef jerky? Check it out in our store. If you follow the tips in this article, it can last you up to one year!