If you regularly eat beef jerky, you’ve undoubtedly noticed a little white packet in the package. Those packets, usually labeled “DO NOT EAT,” probably seem out of place next to your delicious snack. You may have wondered whether they’re dangerous or poisonous.
Those sinister-seeming packets actually show up in a lot of places — in Amazon orders, food containers and more. All sorts of industries rely on them to perform a simple function — keeping moisture away from products.
What Is the Little Packet in Beef Jerky?
The little white packets in beef jerky contain silica gel. In fact, “silica gel” might be printed on the packet. It may seem odd, but beef jerky manufacturers include these packets to help protect their customers’ health.
Anyone who’s ever made beef jerky knows that keeping it dry is essential for maintaining its long shelf life. If any moisture enters a container of beef jerky, the meat can spoil early. Spoiled beef jerky can cause a variety of unpleasant symptoms, like stomach pain, headache, nausea and fever.
So, silica gel packets play a key role in the entire food industry, including the beef jerky industry.
How Do the Silica Gel Packets in Beef Jerky Work?
If you opened one of the white packets, you’d likely find a few dozen clear gel beads containing silica gel, a desiccant formed from silica and water.
If you’ve ever dropped your phone in the sink, you might have used rice, a natural desiccant, to absorb the water trapped in the device’s cracks and crevices.
Silica packets perform this task superbly.
Silica gel is excellent at maintaining a level of dryness. If the air surrounding a silica gel packet becomes too dry, the packet releases moisture back into the air. This action makes silica packets the ideal solution for keeping beef jerky fresh over long distances and time periods.
Can I Eat a Silica Gel Packet?
We don’t recommend it. They’re labeled “DO NOT EAT” for a reason.
Although silica gel is nontoxic, we advise not eating the beads. Silica gel is so good at soaking up moisture that it can cause dehydration and irritation when ingested.
Plus, small silica gel packets pose a choking hazard for young children. Keep any packet far away from the kids in your household, and properly dispose of it after you’ve eaten the beef jerky.
What Happens if You Eat the Packet in Beef Jerky?
If curiosity gets the better of you (please don’t let it) or you accidentally eat silica gel, watch for symptoms like stomach ache, vomiting, nausea and constipation.
If you vomit repeatedly or can’t hold down food, seek immediate medical attention.
If the packet contains pink or blue silica gel beads, there’s a much higher risk of danger. These silica gel beads are treated in cobalt chloride, which is toxic when eaten.
Manufacturers should never package beef jerky or any food product with silica gel packets containing pink or blue beads, so please be vigilant, and don’t eat beef jerky that’s packaged incorrectly.
Explore the Jerky Universe
Have more questions about how jerky might affect your health or diet? Read our Is Beef Jerky Healthy? blog for more information.
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