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Dehydrating food as a preservation method has been around for centuries. It helps to prolong the lifespan of foods without the need for refrigeration, and it is a very inexpensive process to complete. It is ideal for food that will be transported, as most of the water weight will be removed, making your package lighter.
The dehydration process can reduce the moisture content of your food to between 5 and 20%. This helps to preserve your food as it limits the number of bacteria that can survive. So the short answer is yes, dehydrating meat can kill bacteria and make your dehydrated food healthier.
How Does Dehydrating Meat Kill Bacteria?
Meat is much more dangerous from a food hygiene perspective than other food types. There are many different kinds of bacteria that can live on meat which can cause you to become very unwell. As we mentioned above, reducing the moisture content of your food drastically inhibits bacterial growth.
For many people, this is not enough of a guarantee that your food will not make you sick. The USDA recommends that you heat raw meat to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit prior to dehydration.
The dehydration process should be conducted at a consistent temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the best way to kill off bacteria and ensure your safety.
Jerky is an incredibly popular snack, and you may be wondering how to make it at home. Despite the dangers of dehydrating meat, if it is done correctly then dehydrated jerky will be perfectly safe to consume.
What Bacteria is Found in Meat?
Game meat is the riskiest to make jerky from. Wild animals may be carrying the Trichinella parasite, which can cause gastrointestinal upset when ingested. It may also be contaminated with fecal bacteria.
Never ever allow meat to thaw at room temperature as this is the perfect environment for bacteria to grow.
If your meat is ground or is poultry, you will need to dehydrate it within 2 days of thawing. For whole meats, you should dehydrate them within 3 to 5 days.
What Are the Different Methods for Dehydrating Meat?
This is one of the most ancient methods of dehydration. The food to be dried is placed in a shaded area and left exposed to the air. This is ideal for foods that need to be protected from the UV rays of the sun. This method works well for herbs, herbal teas, and delicate greens.
This is a modern method that involves the use of an electronic jerky dehydrator to do the work for you. This is a machine that uses heated elements and fans to gently and evenly remove the moisture from the food of your choice. They will have temperature dials meaning that the conditions can be properly controlled.
This often requires an oven temperature of around 140 degrees Fahrenheit. You will need to leave the oven door slightly ajar to allow the moisture to leave.
This is arguably the oldest method of dehydrating food out there. It has been documented as being performed for at least 12,000 years and the Ancient Romans were known to love raisins and dried figs.
In order to sundry effectively, you will need a minimum ambient temperature of 86 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity of 60%. Leave the food outside in the sunshine for a few days on a mesh screen to allow the moisture to evaporate.
How to Minimize Bacterial Growth
It is vital that you follow good food hygiene practices when preparing your meat. This means that you should have your hair tied back and preferentially covered with a hairnet. Your hands must be properly sanitized with an antibacterial soap. Any utensils that you will be using will need to be sanitized too.
As jerky has such a long shelf life there are plenty of opportunities for bacterial growth, so do not slack on any of these steps.
It is a good idea to use meats with as little fat content as possible. This does not dehydrate well and can lead to your jerky becoming rancid in storage.
The thinner that you cut your meat, the more effectively it will become dehydrated. This means that there is less opportunity for bacterial growth and the dehydration process will be completed faster. Your meat should be able to bend but not break when dehydrated.
If you are planning on marinating your meat, this should be done at a consistently low temperature. We recommend placing it in the refrigerator set to between 36 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. You should never ever reuse a marinade.
We mentioned earlier the importance of pre-cooking your meat. The internal temperature must reach at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit (or 165 for poultry meat). This will kill off a high portion of the bacteria, making it much safer once it has been dehydrated.
We also recommend using curing salt on your meat. This is salt with sodium nitrite added. It can help to prevent botulinum toxin bacteria from growing in your meat.
After you have dehydrated your meat, we recommend placing it on a sheet of kitchen paper. Lay another sheet on top and gently press down to absorb any excess fat. Leave the jerky on a countertop to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, place the jerky into an airtight container for storage.
The jerky can be stored in these containers for 2 weeks at an ambient temperature. If you place your jerky into the refrigerator, it can last for up to 6 months.