Beef jerky is the ultimate survival food as it can easily last for several years under proper conditions. Most commercial beef jerky already has a shelf-life of one year, but if you’re looking to make jerky last even longer, start with a well-made beef jerky, seal it in an airtight container, and freeze it.
Beef jerky is non-perishable. Unlike perishable food products that have an expiration date, jerky has a best-by date that refers to the period of peak freshness. Once you get past the best date, usually one year from the production date, it begins to lose flavor, texture, and freshness. That doesn’t mean it's unsafe to consume, it just won’t be as tasty. Which might be totally fine, if flavor and freshness are not your primary goal.
Maybe you’re preparing for worst case scenarios or like to have an emergency food supply on hand for disasters. Either way, you can make beef jerky last several years by following these tips and tricks.
1. Start with a well-made, high quality jerky.
Whether you plan to make your own jerky or purchase a commercial jerky, there are a few things to look out for when looking at a jerky that will last.
The leaner the meat the better. Most beef jerky is very lean, meaning it has a low fat content. The reason is spoilage. Fat cannot be properly dried and after time will go rancid. Most commercial beef jerky is made with lean meat, but to be safe, avoid any beef jerky made with brisket or other fatty cuts.
The use of a cure, either artificial or natural, can extend the shelf life of a beef jerky past the standard one year. The cure prevents the growth of bacteria which can cause the jerky to spoil. Common cures are sodium nitrate, Prague Powder, and celery powder. All natural beef jerky that does not have any cure is a great option for everyday snacking, but if you’re looking for a jerky that can last for a long time, use a jerky that has been cured.
The moisture level of a beef jerky is directly correlated to the shelf life. The drier the jerky the longer it will last. Some jerky producers recommend refrigerating their jerky after three days. The reason? It will begin to spoil after a few days.
Opt for a jerky that is labelled Old Fashioned as this will have the longest shelf life. Our Old Fashioned Original beef jerky is a great option. It requires no special handling, storage, or refrigeration, which is perfect for those looking for a jerky with a long shelf life. We recently tried a jerky that was frozen for 2 years and it stood the test of time.
2. Seal the beef jerky in an air-tight container.
Air is the enemy of jerky preservation, especially in a deep freeze.
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.
For unopened packages of beef jerky, it’s best to transfer the jerky into an air-tight container. Try to remove as much oxygen as possible from the package. Vacuum-sealed packaging is ideal when freezing beef jerky.
Use the zip lock closing trick to remove as much oxygen as possible. 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.
Use a freezer-safe container.
Extended time in the freezer can lead to freezer burn. Make sure to use sufficient packaging that will insulate the beef jerky. If you are repackaging an open package, we recommend wrapping the jerky in aluminum foil, butcher paper, or wax paper, in addition to the plastic bag. The extra layer will prevent excessive freezing, maintaining the quality of the beef jerky for longer.
3. Get the jerky into the freezer.
Now that you have the airtight and insulated package ready, the last step is to get the beef jerky into the freezer. Freezing foods keeps them fresher for longer by slowing the movement of molecules, causing microbes to go into a dormant state. This prevents the growth of microorganisms that reduce freshness and cause spoilage.
Here are a couple of quick tips before the freezer.
Label the container with a date for future reference.
Don’t forget to label the container with the date that the beef jerky went into the freezer. This way you can know how long it has been saved. This is especially helpful when you have multiple batches of frozen jerky in the freezer.
Never place warm beef jerky directly into the freezer.
Large fluctuations in temperature, especially from warm to cold, can lead to condensation and “sweating.” This causes ice crystals to form on the jerky which results in freezer burn. You’re left with a jerky that is tough and flavorless. Let the beef jerky rest in a cool place or even the refrigerator for a few minutes before freezing.
Beef jerky can last a long time, no doubt about it. But you have to take a few key steps to ensure it will last without any problems. Freezing beef jerky is a viable option when trying to preserve jerky beyond a year. Make sure to only freeze room-temperature beef jerky in an air-tight container that has been insulated.
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