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Does Beef Jerky Go Bad? Storage Tips & More

Does Beef Jerky Go Bad? Storage Tips & More

Did you find a package of beef jerky in the back of your cabinet? Or at the bottom of your backpack stowed in the closet? It’s got you wondering: Does beef jerky go bad?

Yep, beef jerky does go bad. But it can take a really long time. 

Much of the moisture has been removed from beef jerky, and moisture is the enemy of good taste and freshness (at least when it comes to beef jerky).

Check that the beef jerky package has been unopened or is still tightly closed, and then check for signs of mold: any green, white, or black spots? Does it smell sour, rancid, or “off”? Humidity might have made its way into the package; even if it is unopened, maybe the package was compromised and has a cut or tear you didn’t notice at first.

Time has a way of wearing on everything, and plastic packaging is certainly no exception.

For centuries, dehydrated meat was a means for people to be able to incorporate protein into their diets when refrigeration was not available. 

In the cold winter months, beef jerky provided much-needed nutrients and protein, when hunting was not an option. Thanks to its long shelf life, beef jerky became an easily accessible, portable, and tasty food.

Fast forward to today: beef jerky is a high-protein, hearty, chewy, and savory snack made from dried slices of lean meat, not just for hikers, backpackers, and campers. 

This nutrient-dense, long-lasting food has been a grab ’em-and-go treat for many, but does beef jerky go bad

Does beef jerky’s shelf life have an inevitable end? And if it does, how can you tell?

Does Beef Jerky Go Bad?

Yes, but it can take a long time, up to a year if a store-bought package stays closed, or if a vacuum-sealed packet of properly dried homemade jerky remains sealed.

Beef jerky can become tough and almost impossible to chew if it dries out in a package left open too long. Beef jerky can get moldy, too, especially if it gets wet. 

But this is why you often see a white packet of desiccant in store-bought jerky: to help keep any condensation from reaching the beef.

You’re used to the store-bought beef jerky and its seemingly indefinite shelf life, but how to tell if beef jerky has gone bad? 

This may come as a surprise, but homemade beef jerky does go bad. However, due to its dehydrated state and high salt profile, it will last much longer than typical meats. 

Unlike traditional, non-dehydrated meat that when spoiled begins to give off an odor, beef jerky doesn’t. This is due to its low, almost non-existent moisture profile.

There are some guidelines written on the packaging and FAQ sites of many top brands of beef jerky. 

Omaha Steak Snacks reports to refrigerate within three days of opening their package.

In commercially packaged beef jerky, you’ve probably noticed the small white packet clearly marked with DO NOT EAT. This is an oxygen absorber, sometimes called a desiccant, meant to keep the product as dry as possible and preserve a fresh-tasting jerky.

For food to go bad, moisture needs to exist to create a breeding ground for bacteria. This is where the odor comes from. 

Without this moisture content, we’re going to need to rely on some alternative senses to identify bad jerky.

More on that to come. 

Let’s discuss commercial beef jerky, which is the kind found in stores.

How long does beef jerky last?

Believe it or not, it doesn’t go bad in the way that fresh meat will, but it can lose its freshness, which will affect the taste and even texture. 

Unlike some fresh groceries, beef jerky comes with a “best by” date vs. an expiration date. Commercial beef jerky has a shelf life of a year when it’s unopened—a WHOLE year—which is the “best by” date. 

If beef jerky has not been correctly prepared, packaged, and sealed, it can result in issues such as becoming moldy (in the form of white spots) or going rancid.  

With non-dehydrated meats, it’s pretty easy to tell when they’ve gone bad. You open the fridge and notice a pretty intense and putrid smell. That’s your signal to toss that meat. 

It’s gone bad and consuming spoiled or raw meats can lead to potentially serious illness, which is definitely not good to eat. 

Knowing when beef jerky has gone bad is a little trickier. With commercially packaged beef jerky, if it’s gone bad, the beef jerky may have a mild odor, if any. 

You want to look for a change in color and signs of mold. If the color starts to go gray or take on a whitish cast, toss it out. When it comes to mold, the classic signs of mold growth are white, fuzzy, or furry dots. 

The more pronounced and advanced the mold growth is, you may find greenish spots too. Mold can also be in the form of a white powdery substance that may come loose and fall off the beef jerky. It’s no longer safe to consume and pretty far gone at this point. 

If your beef jerky has been purchased at a grocery store, check the best by date, ensure there is no damage to the package such as puncture holes or tears, and when in doubt, consult a professional. 

Common sense is the name of the game; use your senses and your judgment. When in doubt, toss it out!  

As you’re roaming through the packaged food section of your local grocery store, looking for a snack, thinking that beef jerky looks good, but does beef jerky go bad? 

How to store beef jerky

Grocery store beef jerky should be tightly closed and kept in the packaging it came in. You’ve probably noticed the small, white packet marked with DO NOT EAT in commercially packaged beef jerky. 

This is an oxygen absorber, sometimes called a desiccant, meant to keep the product as dry as possible and preserve a fresh-tasting jerky. 

It’s best to keep this packet in the package, even after you’ve opened the package, as it will continue to do its job as long as the package is sealed properly after you’ve taken out some jerky to eat.

Place your beef jerky package (remember, keep the nontoxic desiccant packet, just don’t eat it) in a cool, dry location, such as the refrigerator or a cabinet, away from the sun and the warmth of the stove. 

Tillamook Jerky packaging and SlimJim Steak Strips recommend refrigerating or eating their jerky within three days AFTER opening.

Amazingly, unopened commercial beef jerky has a shelf life of one year! But if you spent all this time making your beef jerky and want it to last, let’s be sure it’s stored correctly! 

Properly dried homemade beef jerky can stay fresh for up to 2 weeks at room temperature in an airtight container. 

It’s important to ensure your beef jerky is dehydrated correctly. If not properly dehydrated, moisture in the beef jerky can lead to spoilage. 

Vacuum sealer bags are a great way to store beef jerky, especially if there’s more beef jerky on hand than can be consumed in the recommended 2-week shelf life. They remove all access air, making a tight seal around the beef jerky. 

This will promote optimal freshness, but we will get into that shortly!

Can you freeze beef jerky?

Brands like JackLinks don’t recommend freezing because the texture may change—and not necessarily for the better. 

That said, Mountain America Jerky reports that beef jerky IS a freezer-friendly food, and freezing it will lengthen its shelf life by 7 to 12 months if properly frozen in its original packaging (or vacuum-sealed). 

This highly reviewed recipe for homemade beef jerky mentions that “properly dried beef jerky can be kept at room temperature for up to a week.”

To ensure optimal freshness, make sure your beef jerky is at room temperature before putting it in the freezer. 

While not complicated, there are some important steps you should take to ensure your beef jerky is freezer ready. Taking these steps will protect the flavor and texture profile of your beef jerky, even after being frozen.

  • Make sure your beef jerky is at room temperature before freezing. So if you’ve been keeping it in the refrigerator, leave it out to come to room temp first.
  • Use a vacuum sealer. These gadgets will remove all air from the bag and create an airtight seal around the beef jerky, while also better preserving it, eliminating chances for freezer burn, which alters the flavor of foods.
  • Freezer Bags: if you don’t have a vacuum seal bag, a freezer bag is your next best option. Just make sure you take out as much air as you can. Make sure you’re using a freezer bag, as they are thicker and meant to go in the freezer.
  • Wrap It! When using a freezer bag, wrap your beef jerky in plastic wrap. This helps protect the beef jerky from freezer burn, which in turn protects the flavor and texture of the frozen beef jerky.

It’s believed that beef jerky, when prepared correctly, can survive the freezer for up to 10 years! 

I suggest using your judgment as always, but it’s essential to know the longevity beef jerky has when prepared correctly. 

The bottom line

Beef jerky is a versatile and portable snack. Because of its long shelf life, it makes a great snack for camping, computers, or those who may not have a refrigerator when on the go.

If you’re purchasing your beef jerky, buy from a retailer you know and trust, check the packaging, and store out of the sun, in a cool location. Use your senses and common sense, check your beef jerky for spoilage. Look for signs of mold or foul odors, and remember, when in doubt, just throw it out! Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or cooking enthusiast, beer jerky makes a protein-packed snack, full of flavor in every bite!

How To Store Beef Jerky

How To Store Beef Jerky

Here’s the best way to keep beef jerky as tender and flavorful as possible.


  • Store-bought or homemade beef jerky
  • Original package and included desiccant packet
  • OR
  • Zipper Baggie


  1. If your beef jerky is in an opened package, transfer the beef jerky AND the packet of desiccant to a zipper baggie and close tightly. Return to the climate-controlled pantry if it will be eaten within seven days. 
  2. If you want to keep beef jerky for up to three weeks, transfer the beef jerky and dessicant into a zipper bag and keep in the back of your refrigerator.
  3. If you want to keep your beef jerky up to a year, move to a freezer zipper bag and transfer to the freezer. Label with the date.
  4. If your store-bought beef jerky is in an UNOPENED, original package, leave it unopened and move it to the pantry, refrigerator or freezer for up to a year.

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