Do You Have to Refrigerate Jerky After Opening? (& How to Store)

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Jerky doesn’t necessarily hang around for very long, because once you’ve started snacking, it’s pretty hard to stop. But if you do find yourself with leftover jerky, you may not be sure how to store it.

Jerky isn’t quite like other cooked meats, due to the way it’s processed. However, the best place to keep jerky after opening is in the refrigerator.

Do you need to refrigerate jerky after opening?

Yes, you should refrigerate jerky after opening – generally speaking. This reduces the chance of bacteria growing, and increases the shelf life of the jerky. Once jerky has been opened, keeping it sealed in the refrigerator is the best way to ensure it tastes good for as long as possible.

Jerky is known for having a pretty long shelf life – this was actually the reasoning behind its original creation.

Dried jerky lasts for significantly more time than cooked meats, so it could be taken on days out, for long journeys, and traveling across the country. Taking jerky on a trip meant you could get a good, hearty meal, with a much lowered risk of food poisoning.

So what is it about jerky that keeps it good for so long? There’s actually a lot that goes into the creation of jerky that aids the shelf life.

Firstly, the moisture content is low. In the past, jerky would be essentially bone dry. Bacteria – the thing that turns food bad – loves moisture. On dry jerky, it struggles to grow. There also isn’t the same level of fat in jerky, because of the drying and curing process. Even on cooked meats, fat can turn rancid quickly.

The curing process also contributes to the long life of jerky. Curing uses salt to essentially create a barrier around the meat. This stops the bacteria from getting hold. Salt also removes moisture, and as we know, bacteria needs moisture.

Finally, modern jerky is kept in vacuum sealed packaging, with the oxygen removed and replaced with nitrogen. Bacteria need oxygen to survive, and sealed jerky has none.

However, once the packet is opened, moisture and oxygen can get in. Modern jerky tends to retain more moisture than the type that used to be carried cross-country, meaning its shelf life is shorter. But when it goes in the refrigerator, the cool conditions slow down the growth of bacteria, so your food lasts longer.

The best way to store open jerky is in the refrigerator, in an airtight container. Once the jerky has been opened, air, oxygen, and moisture can all start to cause problems. Put your jerky into a sealed container, and it will taste better, and last longer. An airtight container can also stop other food smells from contaminating your jerky.

For the best storage options, place your leftover jerky into a zip lock bag. Press and squeeze as much of the air out as you can, and then seal. Place this bag in the refrigerator, and enjoy your jerky for weeks.

Some bags of homemade jerky will insist that refrigeration isn’t necessary. In that case, they can be kept in a cool, dry, and dark place. However, the best place is still the refrigerator.

All beef jerky will probably be fine left out in a reasonable environment (not too cold, not too bright, not too moist), for a couple of days.

And let’s be honest, jerky doesn’t often stick around for more than a few days anyway. But with all food, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Keeping it in the refrigerator is an easy way to ensure that your jerky stays at its best.

How to store homemade jerky?

If you’ve chosen to make your own jerky (check out our list of the best beef for jerky), then it should be refrigerated right away. Although much of the jerky dehydrating process is similar, at home we don’t have quite the same equipment to ensure that all the bacteria is completely eliminated.

By keeping homemade jerky in the refrigerator, it stays safe to eat, and it tastes better. Homemade jerky will generally last for around 1 to 2 months when kept in the refrigerator.

One of the big advantages for refrigerating is you can control the settings. In the fridge, you know the jerky is kept cool, it can be sealed, and left in the dark. It’s the easiest way to achieve all three conditions, and you only need to open the door to grab a quick bite.

Can you freeze jerky?

Yes, you can freeze jerky. If you’ve opened a large packet of jerky, you might not be sure if you’ll get a chance to eat it (yes, that can happen). While refrigeration will extend the shelf life, it won’t last forever. Freezing jerky can keep it good for 7 to 12 months, so you can snack on jerky year round.

Where to store unopened jerky?

Unopened jerky has a pretty spectacular shelf life. To keep it at its best condition, store unopened packers of jerky in a cool, dark, and dry place. In the pantry, or in a food cupboard, is the best place for it.

Does jerky go bad? How to tell

Jerky can go bad, even if it may take it a while to get there. The best way to tell is using sight and smell. If the jerky seems to be discolored, or you can spot mold growing on it, then throw it away. If you’ve just opened a pack, you may be able to tell if it’s gone bad by the presence of moisture on the jerky.

You can often smell if jerky has gone bad because it won’t smell pleasant. Give it a quick sniff, and you should know whether it’s worth eating.

If jerky had gone bad, it may have lost some flexibility, and become dry. Test to see how easily it bends.

If you think your jerky has gone off, the best thing to do is throw the whole pack away. If one piece has gone noticeably bad, it’s likely the rest are starting to grow bacteria.

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