Jerky is known for its long shelf life, but knowing how long it will stay edible and how long it will taste good are two different things. While theoretically jerky can be edible indefinitely, you don’t want to eat something that doesn’t taste good.
Jerky can last between one week to 2+ years depending on the type and cut of meat. Store-bought jerky is designed to last, and best by dates can be a year. Homemade jerky can last from one to two weeks up to several months. Jerky lasts longer by storing it in air-tight containers in a dark place.
Now, there are obviously scenarios that help extend the shelf-life of jerky, so let’s read on to find out everything you need to know about storing jerky safely for the longest time possible.
How Long Does Dried Jerky Last?
If done correctly, dried jerky lasts from one week up to 2+ years. Dried jerky is a protein snack usually made from meat that has been seasoned, salted, and dried out until almost all the moisture is removed.
When making jerky at home, making sure the meat is properly dried and using salt as a preservative can extend the time it’s safe to eat.
On the subject of how long jerky lasts, we are focusing on the amount of time between creation and consumption that jerky will still be a satisfying snack.
Considering the processes and ingredients used to create jerky can give us an idea of how long it will last. The most important element to longevity is storage. There are several techniques which can create an ideal bacteria-free environment to keep jerky safe and flavorful.
By dehydrating the protein and reducing moisture to low levels, the opportunity for bacteria to grow is massively reduced. For this reason and its high protein content jerky is a popular snack for outdoor types who enjoy hiking, camping or survival excursions.
Pro tip: if you freeze-dry jerky, you can extend its shelf life even more, though it’s usually by a matter of weeks to a few years rather than decades.
Want to read more about freeze-drying jerky? Read my article: Can You Make Jerky In a Freeze Dryer? Spoiler: you can’t, but I cover more about the shelf life, so give it a read.
How Long Does Homemade Jerky Last?
Homemade jerky can last between a week to several months, but this can be increased even further depending on how it is dried and stored.
Jerky can be easily made at home by cutting thin slices of meat, soaking them in a salty marinade and then drying them out in the oven on a wire rack tray.
One of the advantages of making jerky at home is that ingredients such as hot peppers can be included, and the capsaicin will hold off bacteria longer.
Drying out jerky properly will make it last longer. Timing is important when drying jerky. You want to expel as much moisture as possible without impacting the texture of the meat. Once jerky has dried in the oven for 3-4 hours it can be left to air dry until completely cool.
If there is any warmth in the meat this creates condensation within the storage container, which in turn will create a moist environment for bacteria to grow.
When storing jerky use an air-tight container as this will help it last longer. It’s best to keep jerky in a pantry where it can last up to two weeks. It’s also possible to store jerky in a zip-lock bag but it might only taste good for a week.
If you’ve made a large batch, the jerky can be cured and frozen for up to 12 months. Once defrosted it’s best to eat it quickly as some moisture from the icy conditions reduce how long it lasts.
How Long is Store-Bought Jerky Good For?
Unopened store-bought jerky is good for one to two years. Most brands of jerky will have a best before date of around one year but is still good after this date. The best before date refers to when the jerky is at its peak flavor and texture. It is still okay to eat it after the date.
Once a packet of jerky has been opened, the amount of time it should be consumed in is reduced. Exposing jerky to oxygen and moisture means it can start to go bad. When stored properly an open pack of store-bought jerky will still be good for up to 6 months.
Sodium nitrate is used in commercial jerky to cure the meat. This is what creates the recognizable red color and flavor. It also is a great ingredient to prevent bacteria from accumulating on the meat.
Another tool used by commercial jerky producers is blasting nitrogen into the packet before it is air sealed. This pushes out the oxygen and without oxygen, bacteria cannot grow. It’s harmless to the product and means a sealed packet can have a much longer shelf-life.
Personal note: I’m not a slim-jim fan. Sorry. Not sorry.
How Can You Tell if Jerky Has Gone Bad?
Examining the jerky is the best way to tell if jerky has gone bad. Use your sense of smell, sight and touch to look out for some of the following red flags:
- It smells strangely – Is there an odor to the meat? Jerky shouldn’t have an overwhelming smell. If your jerky smells rancid, sour or rotten this is a big indicator it shouldn’t be consumed.
- It’s visually off-putting – Visually inspect the snack for signs of spoilage. A furry growth is a clear sign of mold, but if you notice an unfamiliar substance or powder this could be the beginning of a bacterial growth.
- Visible mold – Mold tends to be gray or green in color. Also, if you notice that a store-bought product has lost some of its red color and is darker, this can be an indicator it has gone bad.
- The touch is wrong – Jerky should feel dry and slightly gummy. If jerky is hard or even worse, mushy this can be a sign it’s no longer good for eating.
When purchasing store-bought jerky, it’s a good idea to check the packet for any damage. If there are any rips in the packaging, or any holes this could allow air in which can compromise the product.
The jerky may still be edible if when opened there are no other signs of spoilage, but it should be eaten shortly after being purchased.
How Long Do Jerkies Last by Meat?
The type of meat used won’t make any difference in how long the jerky will last. The length of time that jerky stays good is dependent on how it is produced and stored rather than what variety it is.
There are many forms of jerky. Beef is the most popular, but it is possible to buy variations of meat, poultry or fish jerky. There is even meatless jerky, made from seitan, mushroom or soy available for vegetarians.
How Long Does Beef Jerky Last in the Fridge?
Jerky can last 1 to 2 weeks in the fridge in a sealed container such as a zip-lock bag. Keeping jerky in the fridge can make jerky last longer than in the pantry (a colder environment is less suitable for bacteria) but only if it is in an airtight container.
You do not need to keep unopened store-bought jerky in the fridge. Once opened, keeping jerky in the fridge can help preserve its texture.
If vacuum sealing is an option, seal the bag the jerky is in, and keep it in the fridge. Keeping it in the fridge will help keep it fresh for an extra week or two. It’s by no means a requirement to refrigerate jerky, especially if it gets eaten quickly.
How Can You Make Beef Jerky Last Longer?
Jerky can extend its shelf-life by making it with leaner cuts (the fat goes rancid first), removing oxygen from the storage container, storing it in a cool, dark place, vacuum-sealing it, or freeze-drying it.
If you make jerky frequently it can be worth purchasing a vacuum sealer. These suck all the air out of the storage bag before it is sealed. As oxygen reacting with food causes it to go bad, removing oxygen will delay this problem. Freeze-drying it can also help extend the shelf-life.
- Taking the oxygen out of your sealed bag also makes it smaller and takes up less room in your storage.
- You can remove excess oxygen with either a vacuum sealer, an oxygen absorber, or both.
- If you like to prepare your own jerky there are techniques that can be implemented and great technology to make it last longer.
- Freeze-drying jerky will work to extend the shelf-life, but not by 25+ years like it will for other foods.
- If buying ready-made jerky it will last longer by storing it under the right conditions.
Store-bought jerky is designed to last a long time. If you are not planning on consuming your jerky straight away you want to keep it in ambient conditions. A pantry or cupboard is perfect for this.
A commercially sealed product that is kept in warm conditions such as a car during the summer, or on a kitchen counter in the sun, can start to create condensation. This moisture can develop into mold. Proper product storage will make jerky last longer.
When making jerky at home, in the very first stage of preparing the meat, remove as much fat as possible.
Fat that is exposed to oxygen for a long time will go rancid. Trimming the meat as lean as possible will reduce this risk and increase the shelf life of the jerky.
It’s also possible to make jerky in a freeze-dryer and it can last for years! We have a whole article on the process and all the benefits here: Can You Make Jerky In a Freeze Dryer?
Key Takeaways and Next Steps
Homemade or store-bought, there are plenty of ways to make your favorite salty snack last longer. Always store jerky properly and make sure it is eaten shortly after opening it.
I mean, it’s jerky. At our house, the bigger problem is making a freshly-made batch last more than 10 minutes. Or at least it only feels like 10 minutes!
If you’re making it at home, experiment with the best techniques and ingredients to make a tasty treat that will last long enough for the whole family to enjoy.
In the meantime, make sure you give this article a read next, as it’ll help you learn more about other cuts of meats and how to store them, too! That way, even if you run out of jerky, you’ll still have your other favorite cuts. Go read How to Freeze-Dry Meat for Safe Long-Term Storage next!
It’s important to learn from your own experience, but it’s also smart to learn from others. These are the sources used in this article and in our personal research to be more informed as homesteaders.
Cite this article as: “How Long Does Jerky Last? How to Make It Last Longer.” Backyard Homestead HQ, 18 March 2022, backyardhomesteadhq.com/how-long-does-jerky-last-how-to-make-it-last-longer/.
- “How Long Does Jerky Last?” Beef Jerky Hub, beefjerkyhub.com/how-long-does-jerky-last. Accessed 9 Mar. 2022.
- Joseph, Charles. “How Long Does Jerky Last?” Beef Jerky Hub, beefjerkyhub.com/how-long-does-jerky-last. Accessed 9 Mar. 2022.
- Ronan, Shannon. “How Long Does Beef Jerky Last? Shelf Life and Storing Tips.” Two Chicks Jerky, 8 Aug. 2021, www.twochicksjerky.com/blogs/learn/how-long-does-beef-jerky-last.
- Will. “Storing Beef Jerky.” Jerkyholic, 7 Apr. 2021, www.jerkyholic.com/how-long-does-beef-jerky-stay-good.