Dehydrated meats, like beef jerky, maintain their quality for approximately two weeks when stored in a sealed container at room temperature. After this period, the National Center for Home Food Preservation advises refrigeration or freezing. Despite the preservatives used in store-bought dehydrated meats, which extend their shelf life, improper storage can still lead to spoilage within a few months.
The process of dehydration eliminates the moisture that serves as a breeding ground for bacteria and spoilage in meat. Dehydrating meat is an ancient and efficient preservation technique, although it doesn’t offer indefinite shelf life like some canned meats that can endure for years.
Nonetheless, dehydrated meat remains a valuable survival food option. Rich in calories and protein, it offers an energy-packed boost while being compact, lightweight, and convenient for transportation. If you want to know how to store lentils then check out my recent article Store Lentils ( 30 Year Shelf Life ).
What Is Dehydrated Meat?
Beef jerky stands as the most prevalent and favored variety of dehydrated meat in the United States. Typically, it’s marinated and cured before the drying process to enrich its taste and extend its shelf life.
While beef jerky is the frontrunner, a broad range of meats can undergo dehydration, including options like ground beef, elk, ostrich, and lamb.
Meats with lower fat content are better suited for dehydration, as the fatty content in pork and poultry can expedite degradation, leading to quicker spoilage.
Dehydrated Meat Shelf Life
Sun dried meat has a shelf life of around 2 months without refrigeration, and if frozen its shelf life is at least a couple of years. Meat that has been cured, smoked or dehydrated has a shelf life anywhere from a couple of days to a few months without refrigeration, it mostly depends on which process you used to dehydrate the meat. Just keep in mind that defrosted dehydrated meat tends to spoil rather quickly.
How To Store Dehydrated Meat
The longevity of dehydrated meat’s shelf life depends on the storage method chosen. All approaches to extend shelf life center on controlling the mentioned factors that contribute to the growth of bacteria.
Pantry Or Basement
Before you move forward with sealing the dehydrated meat, ensure that it has cooled down completely. Allow it to rest overnight before proceeding to the next step. Packing warm meat might lead to moisture droplets forming in the container due to condensation.
For optimal storage, maintain a temperature of no more than 60°F (15°C); the lower the temperature, the better. Storing the meat at high temperatures could result in condensation within the container, fostering bacterial growth.
If maintaining a cool temperature isn’t possible, the next suitable approach is to store your dehydrated meat in an area with a consistent temperature. For instance, consider placing it at the back of a cupboard where the temperature remains steady at room level.
Cupboards offer the advantage of being dark, which is beneficial because exposure to light can accelerate fat oxidation, potentially leading to flavor deterioration and nutrient loss. Ensure the cupboard is situated away from sources of heat, such as the stove, to prevent moisture accumulation through condensation. If you want to know the shelf life of ghee then check out my recent article Shelf Life Ghee ( How To Store It Correctly ).
Air Tight Containers
Vacuum sealing is a straightforward approach to extend the shelf life of dehydrated food. Place the meat in a Ziploc-type bag and use a vacuum sealer to remove air before sealing. The benefit is that you can open the bag to access what you need and reseal it afterward.
Jars are also effective airtight containers. After placing the content inside, use a jar sealer to ensure the lid is tightly secured. Additionally, you can consider using a pressure canner, which uses pressurized steam to create high heat levels that effectively seal the jar.
If a vacuum sealer isn’t available, you can temporarily use specialized freezer bags or butcher’s paper. Wrap the meat tightly and seal it with masking tape or Scotch tape.
The ultimate goal is to eliminate oxygen from the interior to prevent anaerobic bacteria growth, which can occur if the vacuum sealing is not done properly.
Another option to contemplate is storing dehydrated meat in smaller portions. Opening and closing the container can introduce oxygen, potentially encouraging bacterial growth. If feasible, packaging your food per serving can help prevent the reintroduction of oxygen and maintain a consistent container seal. If you want to know how to store beef tallow then check out my recent article Store Beef Tallow ( For Long Shelf Life ).
Use Oxygen Absorbers
Alongside sealing, the utilization of oxygen absorbers could be taken into account. These small packets contain iron powder that absorbs both oxygen and moisture. The packets are securely sealed, making them safe for use with food.
Oxygen absorbers function by replacing the oxygen in a sealed container with a nitrogen environment. This aids in the extended preservation of dried foods, all while maintaining their quality.
Prior to using oxygen absorbers, it’s crucial to ensure that the meat is thoroughly dehydrated. A moisture content exceeding 10 percent increases the risk of botulism poisoning.
Freezing Dehydrated Meat
Storing dehydrated food in the freezer significantly prolongs its shelf life. While it’s often stated that a food’s shelf life is indefinite when frozen, it’s important to note that its quality will gradually decline over time.
For optimal freezer storage, maintain a temperature below 0°F (-18°C). This temperature range is far below the danger zone mentioned earlier, creating an environment where bacterial growth is inhibited.
During a power outage, it’s crucial to keep the doors of your refrigerator and freezer closed to preserve the interior temperature. A freezer can maintain its temperature for approximately 48 hours as long as the door remains shut. If the power outage is expected to last more than 2 days, consider obtaining dry ice or block ice to help sustain the temperature.
Why Does Dehydrated Meat Go Bad?
Various elements contribute to the spoilage of dehydrated meat. When exposed to air, the meat comes into contact with both oxygen and moisture, creating an ideal setting for the proliferation of mold and bacteria.
Bacteria and mold thrive in the presence of moisture, making higher humidity levels accelerate the degradation of the product, leading to a decline in both nutritional value and flavor.
Moreover, exposure to heat and light contributes to the reduced shelf life of dehydrated foods by promoting fat oxidation and the degradation of nutrients.
How to Determine if Your Dehydrated Meat is Safe for Consumption
If you notice any mold on your dehydrated meat, it should not be consumed. Likewise, if the appearance, taste, or texture seems unusual, it’s advisable to discard it. A slimy consistency, strange smell, or unfamiliar flavor are all indicators that your dehydrated meat has gone bad and should not be ingested.
Consuming rancid dehydrated meat can lead to food poisoning, characterized by symptoms such as nausea, headaches, fever, and abdominal discomfort.
Is Dehydrated Meat A Good Survival Food?
High-protein foods are invaluable in survival scenarios, yet they might not be ideal for daily consumption. Commercially available dehydrated meats are extensively processed and often contain excessive sodium, which can contribute to heart issues, high blood pressure, and an elevated risk of stroke.
Homemade dehydrated meats, on the other hand, tend to be healthier as they usually contain less sodium and fewer additives. On a positive note, dehydrated meat is relatively low in calories, rich in protein, and a source of essential minerals such as zinc and iron. This combination renders it a nutritious snack when enjoyed moderately.
How To Prepare Meat To Dehydrate
Bacteria, mold, and yeast thrive in moist environments, underscoring the necessity of food preparation methods such as dehydration for extended preservation. It’s vital to maintain cleanliness and dryness across all stages, including preparation, cooking, and storage, and to consistently wash your hands after handling raw meat.
As the term implies, meat dehydration involves the extraction of water content. The notable advantage of dehydrating meat is its preparation for prolonged storage while retaining nutritional value. However, during meat dehydration, attaining the internal kill step temperature of 165°F (73.9°C) is pivotal. This temperature ensures the eradication of harmful bacteria, forestalling potential illnesses, and enhancing the meat’s shelf life.
To prepare the meat, segment it according to your storage and culinary requirements. This might involve larger cuts suitable for hearty dishes like soups and stews that demand substantial meat portions. For recipes such as curries and stir-fries, uniform-sized pieces could be more appropriate. If crafting jerky, it’s crucial to thinly slice the meat before dehydration. Properly marinating the meat plays a pivotal role in achieving an exceptional flavor profile for your jerky.
Commonly used marinades and seasonings include soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, and hickory smoke. Taking the extra time to allow the meat to absorb these delightful flavors is well worth it, as it can substantially elevate the final outcome.
It’s important to emphasize that when incorporating pork into your jerky, a pre-treatment step is essential to eradicate trichinella, the parasite responsible for trichinosis. This procedure entails cutting the meat into sections no thicker than 6 inches and freezing it at a temperature of 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius) for a period of 30 days. Adhering to these precautions guarantees the meat’s safety, enabling you to relish your delectable jerky without any health-related worries.
How To Dehydrate Meat
Ensure that meats requiring similar temperatures and dehydration times are dehydrated together in the same batches. Additionally, strive to maintain uniformity in the size of pieces within each batch. To simplify this process, consider grouping meats based on their intended dishes, such as those for stews and soups, stir-fries and curries, or snacking purposes like jerkies.
Below, you’ll find the optimal temperatures and dehydration durations for preserving various meat types. These timeframes pertain to jerky cut at a thickness of ¼-½”; add 2 extra hours per ¼” thickness or until the desired consistency is achieved. It’s noteworthy that attaining the critical kill step temperature of 165°F (73.9°C) is crucial during meat dehydration. To ensure the elimination of all bacteria, initiate the dehydration by elevating the dehydrator’s temperature for a few hours, allowing the meat’s internal temperature to reach 165°F. After reaching this kill step, adjust the temperature to the recommended levels outlined in the table below and continue the dehydration process until the meat is thoroughly dried.
With proper storage, dehydrated meats can remain edible for more than 12 months, despite their original shelf-life being only a few weeks. Consuming spoiled jerky or other dehydrated meats can lead to serious illness, underscoring the importance of correct storage practices and vigilant monitoring for any signs of spoilage.
Considering the high sodium content of dehydrated meats, it’s advisable to consume them in moderation. Extending their storage duration becomes advantageous in this context. A modest daily portion can provide sustained sustenance compared to foraging and offers a lower calorie content than several other high-protein options.
How long can I store dehydrated meat?
Make sure the container is tightly sealed and place it in a cool, dim location like a pantry or refrigerator. By following this approach, your meat can maintain its quality for about 2 months. Adding the date of dehydration to the container is a wise practice, helping you keep track of the remaining time before consumption.
How long will vacuum-sealed dehydrated meat last?
When stored in a cool and dry pantry, dehydrated foods can remain usable for up to five years. However, if the food is vacuum sealed in mylar bags along with oxygen absorbers, its shelf life can extend from 10 to 25 years or even longer. The duration is influenced by factors such as the specific type of food, storage temperature, levels of oxygen and moisture, as well as the effectiveness of the packaging.
Why does dehydrated meat last longer?
Dehydrated meat can maintain its quality for approximately one year when securely stored in an airtight container. This extended shelf life is a result of the meat’s low moisture content, which inhibits the growth of microorganisms and the onset of spoilage. Additionally, the minimal water content hinders the oxidation process, thereby diminishing rancidity and preserving the meat’s flavor.
Is dehydrated chicken shelf stable?
For optimal storage of dehydrated meat, including chicken, it’s recommended to place it in a tightly sealed airtight container or sealed bag and keep it in the freezer until you’re ready to use it or pack it for a journey. Aim to consume your dehydrated chicken within six months of the dehydration process and within a week of opening the container or Ziploc bag.