Beef jerky is one of the greatest snacks available. It has all of the healthy benefits of beef — such as protein, zinc, iron, vitamin B12, and phosphorus — but is dried, so it lasts longer and is easier to eat on the go.
However, the fact that beef jerky is dehydrated doesn’t mean that it lasts forever. Beef jerky has a shelf life and should be eaten before then to ensure you’re getting the most benefits from the snack without getting sick.
Does Beef Jerky Go Bad? Does Beef Jerky Expire?
Like most things, beef jerky will eventually expire.
However, when properly sealed, beef jerky can be good for up to a year in the pantry or fridge and up to two years in the freezer.
If kept in the pantry, you should eat unsealed beef jerky within the first few months. You should eat opened jerky in the fridge before the four-month mark, and freezer jerky can be good for up to two years.
Unlike other products like eggs, deli meat, and sausage, jerky has an extremely long shelf life. This is due to the way it’s dehydrated and preserved and comes from a long line of methods used throughout food history to sustain other cultures worldwide.
[Related: Is Beef Jerky Healthy?]
How Long Does Beef Jerky Last? — Frequently Asked Questions
Use this as your quick-reference guide to how long beef jerky lasts.
How Long Does Unopened Beef Jerky Last?
Unopened, properly sealed beef jerky can last for up to a year in the pantry or fridge and up to two years in the freezer.
How Long Does Open Beef Jerky Last?
An open package of jerky has a much shorter lifespan.
You should enjoy unsealed jerky when stored in the pantry within the first few weeks of opening it. Any opened beef jerky can be good for up to three weeks in the fridge and two months in the freezer.
How Long Does Homemade Beef Jerky Last?
Any jerky you make yourself or buy homemade should be enjoyed within one to two months of making it when stored in the pantry. Homemade beef jerky can be good for up to three months in the fridge and six to eight months in the freezer.
How Long Does Beef Jerky Last in the Fridge?
How long beef jerky lasts in the fridge depends on whether it’s open or unopened, or homemade:
- Unopened, properly sealed beef jerky → up to a year in the fridge
- Opened beef jerky → up to three weeks in the fridge
- Homemade beef jerky → up to three months in the fridge
How Long Does Beef Jerky Last in the Freezer?
Beef jerky can last up to two years in the freezer.
Can You Eat Expired Beef Jerky?
When the jerky is unopened and stored properly, you can eat it past its expiration or best-by date by a few months. However, if your jerky has been exposed to moisture, extreme heat, air, or other similar elements, it’s likely that it’s already spoiled.
Signs of Jerky Spoilage
Bad beef jerky doesn’t always show signs of spoilage like regular cooked meat. Yet, there are a few distinct ways to tell if your beef jerky is past its prime. In the end, you need to use your best judgment to determine whether your jerky is good to eat or not.
If it smells off or rancid in any way, that’s a major sign that it’s spoiled. It’s best to do a sniff test to see if you smell anything odd. If you have a poor sense of smell, it helps to have someone else check it for you.
Another sign is if there’s any obvious mold or other types of bacteria growing on your jerky. Definitely throw it away if you see either, and do not take a chance by scraping off the bad parts and eating the rest.
Lastly, you want to check for your jerky’s coloration and feel. For example, if it looks darker or feels harder, it could be bad. Even if you want to continue eating it, the flavor and texture will be unpleasant as they will taste different and be really tough to chew.
You want to eat jerky that’s dried but not solid as a rock. You also want the flavors to be fresh enough to enjoy without tasting the after-effects of spoiled ingredients.
How to Store Beef Jerky Properly to Make it Last
As mentioned previously, there are a few ways to store your beef jerky.
Beef jerky can last up to a year or more when you vacuum seal it. But that’s not all.
You need to store your vacuum-sealed jerky in a cool, dry place away from sunlight and moisture. Most people opt for a pantry or kitchen drawer to store their packaged jerky. The ideal temperature for jerky is between 40 and 75℉.
Does Beef Jerky Need to Be Refrigerated?
You do not normally need to refrigerate jerky. If moisture has entered a torn bag, it may be smart to either throw it away or see if you can salvage it. If you think the jerky itself is untouched by moisture, you might want to repackage it with Tupperware or a plastic bag. You can also use a vacuum sealing device to seal it again with as little moisture and air as possible.
Some jerky brands might have a “Refrigerate After Opening” statement. Any jerky without this statement is shelf-stable after opening and does not require refrigeration.
Can You Freeze Beef Jerky?
It’s possible to have too much jerky, not enough storage room, or another reason you don’t want to eat all of your beef jerky right away.
Consider freezing your jerky if you’re trying to store it for longer. Freezing will cause your jerky to lose texture, flavor, and freshness, but it adds a shelf life of six to 12 months.
If you label the container with a date for future reference, you won’t need to guess when it goes bad. Place the expiration date in a visible spot on its container and try not to push it all the way to the bottom or back of your freezer.
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