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.
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.
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.
We craft a traditional jerky that is dried to a level that does not require refrigeration. We believe this is true, authentic jerky.