How to Tell if Jerky Has Spoiled

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Buffalo or venison jerky was an Old West staple.
Buffalo or venison jerky was an Old West staple. (Image: Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Drying meats is one of the oldest methods of preservation and it is still in use today, despite the widespread availability of fresh meat. Drying meat concentrates its flavors in many unpredictable ways, and the addition of salt and other seasonings makes dried meat, or jerky, a very tasty snack or trail food. Properly dried and stored, jerky remains usable for months, albeit with some loss of flavor. If improperly handled, however, it can spoil.

Examine the package of jerky for condensation or other signs of moisture.

Open the package and remove one or two pieces to examine. They should be uniformly dry and only slightly pliable. Damp spots, or uneven softer and harder spots, are evidence of incomplete drying or moisture absorption. The jerky should not be eaten, as bacteria can grow in the soft spots and not all bacteria announce their presence with bad smells or visual signals.

Smell the jerky. It should have a clean, savory meaty aroma without any "off" smells of fermentation, mold or rancid fat. If any of these are detected, the jerky should be discarded.

Discard any jerky that shows visible mold or discoloration. Jerky that has remained dry enough for food safety cannot support the growth of mold or other microorganisms. If it is moldy or discolored, it is no longer safe to eat.

Tips & Warnings

  • Commercial jerky can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to a year. Homemade jerky should be consumed within a few months, since its packaging is not as airtight. Shelf-life can be extended by refrigerating the jerky.
  • Package your homemade jerky in small packages. That way if one or two pieces spoil, you won't have to discard a large quantity.

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