Dehydrated meats, including beef jerky, only keep for around two weeks in a sealed container stored at room temperature. After that, the National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends refrigerating or freezing it.
Store-bought dehydrated meats are cooked, dehydrated, and treated with preservatives that help them last longer, but even these will go bad within a couple of months if not stored correctly.
Dehydrating meat removes the moisture that would otherwise be a hotbed for bacteria and cause it to go rancid. It’s one of the oldest and most effective methods for preserving meat.
Unfortunately, not even dehydrated meat will last forever and can’t compete with canned meats, some of which can last for years.
Nevertheless, dehydrated meat is an excellent survival food. It’s high in calories and protein, providing a good energy boost while being small, lightweight, and easy to transport.
What Are Dehydrated Meats?
The most common and popular type of dehydrated meat in the US is beef jerky, which is marinated and cured before drying to enhance the flavor and increase its shelf life.
However, you can dehydrate almost any meat, including ground beef, elk, ostrich, and lamb.
Meat with a low-fat content is more suitable for dehydration because the fatty acids in pork and poultry accelerate the degradation process, causing it to go rancid quicker.
What Causes Dehydrated Meat to Spoil?
Several factors cause dehydrated meat to spoil. Exposure to air brings it into contact with oxygen and moisture, which creates the perfect environment for mold and bacteria to grow.
Bacteria and mold need water to flourish, so the higher the humidity, the faster the product deteriorates, losing both nutrition and flavor.
Exposure to heat and light also reduces the shelf life of dehydrated foods, causing fat oxidation and a loss of nutrients.
How to Tell if Your Dehydrated Meat is Safe to Eat
If there are any signs of mold on your dehydrated meat, it’s unfit for human consumption. Similarly, if it looks, tastes, or feels different from usual, it’s best to discard it. A slimy texture, strange odor, or odd taste are all signs your dehydrated meat has spoiled and is unsafe to eat.
Eating rancid dehydrated meat can cause food poisoning, the symptoms of which include nausea, headaches, fever, and abdominal pain.
How to Store Dehydrated Meat
You should store any dehydrated meat as you would beef jerky:
- In an airtight container with an oxygen absorber
- In the fridge
- In the freezer
- Vacuum sealed
Any of these options will extend the shelf life of your dehydrated meat for several months, if not a year.
Read more information on long-term storage options for jerky here.
Is Dehydrated Meat Good For You?
High-protein foods are perfect in a survival situation, but not necessarily in everyday life. Store-bought dehydrated meats are highly processed and high in sodium, too much of which can cause heart problems, high blood pressure, and stroke risk.
Meats dehydrated at home are often healthier as they contain less sodium and fewer preservatives.
On the plus side, dehydrated meat is comparatively low in calories, high in protein, and a source of various minerals, including zinc and iron. This combination makes it a healthy and nutritional snack when eaten in moderation.
When stored correctly, dehydrated meats can last for over 12 months, even though their initial shelf-life is only a couple of weeks. You can get very ill from eating spoiled jerky or other dehydrated meats, so storing them correctly and checking for signs of spoilage are vital.
For more information about different types of dehydrated foods and how long they last, check out our article on how long dehydrated food lasts.
As you should only enjoy small portions of dehydrated meats due to their high sodium content, the longer you can store them, the better. A small daily serving will keep you going longer than anything you can forage and contain fewer calories than many high-protein alternatives.