Unopened beef jerky does not require refrigeration.
Once a package has been opened, however, the moisture level of the jerky determines if refrigeration is required. Jerky with a high moisture level is not shelf-stable when exposed to oxygen and requires refrigeration.
This jerky will have a “Refrigerate After Opening” statement on the package. Any jerky without this statement is 100% shelf-stable after opening and does not require refrigeration.
How to Store Beef Jerky
The ideal way to store beef jerky is an air-tight container saved in a cool, dry place such as a pantry or kitchen cabinet.
Beef jerky, as a fully-cooked, shelf-stable food, is very durable and can withstand most conditions. But to maintain peak flavor and freshness, it’s important to store beef jerky properly. The optimal conditions to store beef jerky are dry, cool, and free from direct sunlight.
Here are a few things to keep in mind to make beef jerky last.
1. Store your beef jerky in an air-tight container.
Oxygen is the enemy of fresh beef jerky.
Minimizing contact with air will improve the shelf life and freshness of the jerky. It will also remove any variables in the environment that the jerky might come into contact with such as humidity, heat, and other gases.
For Unopened Packages
The original packaging is your best bet when it comes to commercial beef jerky. During the packaging process in a commercial facility, nearly all of the oxygen is removed from the inside of the package. That little white packet in the bag? That’s an oxygen absorber which scavenges and removes all free oxygen from the bag.
One of the main differences between commercial jerky and homemade jerky is the packaging quality. Commercial jerky lasts longer because of the quality of packaging. Commercial jerky is also made to specific dryness parameters that will ensure shelf life.
For Opened Packages
Once a package is open, it’s even more important to keep the jerky away from air. Most jerky bags will come with a resealable enclosure. This makes things easy. If the package does not come with a zipper, we recommend transferring the jerky to a ziplock bag. Don’t forget to remove as much air as possible.
Use the zip lock closing trick to remove as much oxygen as possible. Here’s how: seal the bag except for a small amount in the middle. Suck as much air as possible with your mouth and seal the bag quickly. You’ll be amazed with how much air you can remove.
2. Keep your air-tight container of beef jerky at ambient temperature.
Temperature can also negatively affect beef jerky. High heat can cause condensation within the bag of jerky, both opened and unopened, which can cause mold. It’s not just heat, though. Fluctuations in temperature, from hot to cold and cold to hot, can also negatively impact the jerky. These rapid changes can negatively impact the taste, texture, and color.
Are you worried about mold? Read our Guide to Mold on Beef Jerky.
Ideal temperature conditions for beef jerky storage are between 40°F and 75°F. Sustained time above or below these temperatures can have negative effects on the texture and freshness of the jerky. The ideal storage location, when it comes to temperature, is a pantry or kitchen drawer.
If you’re trying to store your beef jerky for longer, you can freeze your beef jerky. Freezing is a great option to keep jerky longer than one year, but keep in mind, the jerky will lose texture, flavor, and freshness once frozen.
Learn more about Freezing Beef Jerky.
3. Keep your beef jerky out of the sun.
Beef jerky does not like direct sunlight, especially for a long period of time.
First, sunlight causes heat damage. The increased temperature of being in the sun can cause mold on a beef jerky. Secondly, the sunlight can denature the jerky causing it to lose color and freshness. A little exposure to the sun is not a problem, but extended time in direct sunlight will damage the jerky.
Why doesn't unopened beef jerky need to be refrigerated?
The secret is in the dehydration.
During the cooking and drying process, moisture is removed from the meat. This makes beef jerky lightweight, nutrient dense, and shelf stable. The term shelf stable means that the product does not require refrigeration and can be safely stored at room temperature in a sealed container.
From a scientific perspective. Different types of enzymes—bacterial, fungal, or naturally occurring in the meat—require water to survive and replicate on food. Through the removal of moisture, these enzymes are unable to grow and contaminate the food, thus preserving the food.
So why does some jerky require refrigeration after opening?
The advent of modern food packaging—specifically, vacuum sealing, nitrogen flushing, and oxygen absorber—allows jerky makers to create a style of jerky that contains more moisture. The oxygen free environment of the packaging prevents any potential issues that come along with additional water activity. This changes, however, when the package has been opened and exposed to the ambient air. At this point, due to the level of moisture, it must be refrigerated.
The good news is that any packaging that requires refrigeration will be clearly labelled. If the jerky package does not have any language around refrigeration, it does not require cool storage and can be stored in the ambient temperature.
What about homemade jerky?
Our discussion has focused primarily on store-bought jerky.
Homemade jerky is different from commercial jerky in both the processing and the packaging. It is recommended to store homemade jerky in the refrigerator from the beginning.
Unless you are able to measure the water activity of the jerky and determine it to be at an acceptable level of under 0.85, then it is best to keep homemade jerky in the refrigerator.
As a general rule of thumb, homemade jerky will last between 1-2 months in the refrigerator.
Here is a deep dive into How to Store Homemade Beef Jerky.
Storing Beef Jerky in Mason Jars
Mason jars are a great way to preserve a variety of foods from pickles, jams, jellies, and grains. It’s not ideal, however, for beef jerky. It’s difficult to remove all of the oxygen from a mason jar. The air that occupies the space around the jerky can cause the jerky to lose freshness and flavor.
Mason jars are a creative and fun way to serve beef jerky. When it comes to storing beef jerky, stick to plastic bags and other containers that can remove more oxygen.
Dehydration is one of the world’s oldest and most common methods of preserving food. Drying was a method to keep food for future consumption in pre-refrigeration days. From the ancient Egyptians to Native Americans, jerky has been enjoyed for centuries. Traditional jerky is dried to such a level that it does not require refrigeration or special packaging.
The shelf stability of beef jerky has made it a favorite snack of backpackers, campers, and outdoor sports enthusiasts alike. Unopened jerky requires no refrigeration, lasts a long time, and boasts nutritional density.
Once a package has been opened, make sure to check for any statements that indicate “refrigerate after opening.” If you see this statement, and the package has been left without refrigeration for more than three days, we recommend throwing it out.
If you’re unsure if your beef jerky is still safe to eat, check out our guide Does Beef Jerky Go Bad.
Looking for a new beef jerky?
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