When commercial beef jerky has been properly cooked, dehydrated, packaged, and stored, an unopened bag will not go bad. It will, however, gradually lose freshness in texture and flavor. The best-by date on the package indicates the window of peak freshness. As long as it has been stored properly, unopened jerky is safe to consume after the best-by date. But it won’t taste as good as fresh jerky. As a general rule of thumb, commercial beef jerky is best enjoyed within 1 year.
Spoiled jerky versus past-its-prime jerky
Beef jerky does not spoil like eggs, milk, cheese, and bread. It does not have a set expiration date where it is no longer safe to eat. It’s the reason people have loved beef jerky for centuries. It’s a nutrient-dense, high protein snack that can last a long time and does not spoil like other perishable foods.
As long as beef jerky has been produced, packaged, and stored properly, it can be enjoyed indefinitely. That’s not to say it’s immune from mishandling.
If jerky has not been properly dehydrated or packaged, it can lead to issues such as mold and going rancid. The good news is that it’s pretty easy to tell if a bag of beef jerky is still good and when it’s gone bad.
How to tell if beef jerky is still good?
It’s important to use all your senses—sight, smell, and touch—when evaluating a bag of jerky. Your eyes and nose will be your best guide. Common sense is the name of the game. When in doubt, don't be afraid to contact our customer service team who is always happy to help. Doesn't matter if it's our jerky or someone else's!
1. Check for the best-by date.
All beef jerky made in the USA must have a best-by date printed on the package. It’s normally located near the bottom seal of the bag. This is a great place to start to determine if beef jerky is still at peak freshness. Remember, just because jerky is past the best-by date does not mean it’s unsafe to eat.
2. Check for any rips or holes in the packaging.
If the package has been compromised in any way—rips, tears, pinholes, an incorrect seal—it can be an indicator that oxygen and moisture has entered the bag, potentially causing issues. It’s not a guarantee that the jerky has spoiled, but it’s a warning flag to note.
3. Inspect the jerky.
Here’s where your senses come into play.
How does it look? Notice the color. Pay attention to any imperfections. Does it have white spots? What about the smell? It should have a clean, savory meat aroma. How does it feel? It should be firm and pliable but not too soft or mushy.
There are two clear signs that the jerky has spoiled and is not safe to eat—mold and rancidity.
Does the jerky have signs of mold? The clear signs of mold are furry, powdery, or fuzzy foreign substances that are white, green, or grey in color. Mold typically has a spider-web pattern. If it looks like cobwebs, it’s mold. There’s a chance the white material could be fat or salt surfacing. Not sure what the white stuff on your jerky is? Read our guide for identifying mold on beef jerky.
Does the jerky smell? In rare occasions, when there is slightly more fat in beef jerky, it can lead to the fat going rancid. The telltale sign that beef jerky has gone rancid is the smell. It will often have a spoiled, off smell.
If you encounter beef jerky that has either mold or shows signs of rancidity, discard and do not eat.
4. Consult a professional.
If the beef jerky passes these three steps and shows no signs of mold or rancidity, it should be safe to eat. As always, however, if you have any concerns or doubts, consult a professional. You can contact our customer service team with any questions.
Why does beef jerky last so long?
The magic of beef jerky lies in the dehydration process.
By removing all of the moisture, beef jerky is a shelf-stable product. It can be stored without refrigeration. Combine the lack of moisture with air-sealed packaging and you have a recipe for long-term shelf life. There’s a reason that beef jerky makers stamp their product with a best-by date and not an expiration date. When jerky is properly made, packaged, and stored, it does not expire.
How to store beef jerky to extend the shelf life?
Now that we’ve established that beef jerky can last indefinitely with proper storage, what are the best ways to store beef jerky to preserve freshness and prevent spoilage?
1. Keep it cool, but not cold.
Beef jerky does best in ambient, room temperatures—not too hot, not too cold. You could call it the goldilocks of snacks. The back of the pantry or in a cupboard are great locations. Keep it away from the stove or other appliances.
2. The drier the better.
Even though beef jerky is completely packaged and sealed, there is still a microtransfer of oxygen through the barrier. It’s important to keep the jerky in a dry place as well. Regions with strong humidity can cause the bag to sweat, which can lead to issues.
3. Sun is your enemy.
Keep your jerky away from the sun or bright light. Sun can accelerate the degradation process.
4. Minimize the exposure to oxygen.
The best way to store beef jerky is in its original packaging.
5. If you must, freeze it.
For even longer storage, you can freeze your beef jerky until ready to use. We do not recommend freezing beef jerky as it greatly diminishes the flavor, texture, and nutritional properties.
6. Buy from the best.
Buying from trusted sources is the most important factor. You want to start with a jerky that you can trust.
How long does beef jerky last once opened?
Our discussion on does beef jerky go bad has centered around unopened packages of beef jerky. Let’s discuss what happens after the package has been opened. But first, let’s talk about the role of packaging on the shelf life of beef jerky.
There are two important factors that contribute to the long shelf life of beef jerky. Moisture and oxygen. By removing the moisture in the jerky (through the drying process) and reducing the exposure to oxygen (by packaging in a sealed package), beef jerky can last for a long time.
Once a package is opened, however, you introduce beef jerky to both moisture and oxygen. That’s why it’s important to reseal any remaining jerky in an airtight container to reduce the exposure to moisture and air. As long as you can seal beef jerky in an airtight plastic bag or container and keep it in a cool, dry place, it should last indefinitely.
How long does homemade beef jerky last?
Our conversation has centered around commercial beef jerky, but many people enjoy making and enjoying their own jerky at home. As a general rule of thumb, homemade jerky will last from 1 to 2 months. The reason that homemade jerky does not keep as long as commercial jerky is due to the processing techniques. Commercial jerky must meet rigorous cooking and drying standards, as well as packaging. Homemade jerky is perfectly safe to make and eat, but it won’t last as long as commercial jerky.
Beef jerky has been a go-to snack for centuries. It’s beloved by pioneers and backpackers alike. The secret is the shelf life. It will last for a long time.
It’s important to buy from a trusted source. We have been handcrafting beef jerky for over 90 years and four generations. You might say we know a thing or two about jerky.
Shop our artisan beef jerky today!