Is dried meat safe to eat? (How dried meat spoil)

In this brief article, we are going to answer the question “Is dried meat safe to eat?”. We will also look into what can make dried meat unsafe to eat and how to properly store it.

Is dried meat safe to eat?

Yes, dried meat, jerky and other dried foods are safe without refrigeration. Dried meat undergoes a dehydration process that removes moisture from the meat. These products come in the form of whole muscle cuts or are processed into crushed and formed meat products.

Moisture reduction inhibits the growth of microbial and biochemical reactions, ultimately extending the shelf life and enhancing the overall quality of the meat. Examples of air-dried meat products commonly found today include cured ham, biltong, beef jerky, and pastirma.

Throughout history, various methods of dehydration have been employed for preserving foods, including meats. The conventional and widely adopted approach to drying, known as natural sun drying, has gradually given way to mechanical drying methods. (1)

Can dried meat go bad?

Yes. Despite the meticulous drying process designed to inhibit the growth of microorganisms, there is a potential for the meat to gradually reabsorb moisture. This reintroduction of moisture could create an environment conducive to the proliferation of microorganisms.

While dried meat and similar processed meat products are often classified as pre-prepared, which might lead to the assumption of their pathogen-free nature, they can still become contaminated by microorganisms capable of causing food poisoning.

These microorganisms can enter the food supply chain through direct transmission from animals or via contamination at various stages during meat handling, processing, and distribution. Frequently, these issues arise due to insufficient personal hygiene practices and unsanitary conditions. (2-5)

Can dried meat get moldy?

Yes,  mold with cotony or colored spots are all signs of spoilage. Fresh dried meat should be free of any visible mold or growth. Dried meat can be vulnerable to mold growth, with spoilage primarily attributed to the proliferation of fungi, notably Penicillium and Aspergillus flavus. These fungi exhibit a particular susceptibility to hypertonic conditions and tend to thrive on dehydrated surfaces.

They can also multiply in environments with extremely low water activity, albeit at a slower pace. Importantly, it should be noted that these fungi produce mycotoxins, which are secondary metabolites capable of contaminating food.

This contamination presents a significant risk to both food safety and the health of humans and animals, potentially resulting in substantial economic consequences. (6)

How to prolong dry meat shelf life?

To extend the shelf life of dried meat, it is advisable to store open dried beef in glass jars or durable plastic bags. Both the refrigerator and the freezer are suitable options for storing dried meat, as it tends to reabsorb moisture. Many packaging choices for dried meat available in the market include food desiccants to prolong the product’s shelf life.

These food desiccants typically contain components such as calcium chloride and silica gel, which are generally considered low-risk substances. It’s important to note that these components are primarily proficient at absorbing moisture rather than providing direct antioxidant preservation. Despite these efforts, dried meat can still absorb moisture. (2, 3)

How to tell if dried meat is bad?

Spoiled drie­d meat can be identifie­d through certain signs. One of the initial indications is a strong, rancid odor. A clear indicator that the drie­d meat has gone bad is an off, rancid or sour taste. If the taste is unappetizing in any way, it is advisable to dispose­ of it. In addition, discoloration or slimine­ss on the surface of the drie­d meat may indicate spoilage.

Unusually hard, dry, or unusual te­xture could also suggest dete­rioration. These changes in te­xture can occur due to improper storage­, exposure to air, or natural degradation over time.

These spoilage indicators typically arise from various mechanisms. Intrinsic processes within the meat, such as lipid oxidation or enzymatic reactions occurring within muscle cells, can play a role in spoilage. (7)

Can you get sick from spoiled dried meat?

Yes, consuming spoiled dried meat can lead to illness. The main symptoms include nausea vomiting abdominal cramps and diarrhea. These reactions are the result of ingesting food compromised by either chemical substances or microorganisms and the toxins they produce.

Mold presence on dried meat has the potential to induce allergic reactions, particularly in individuals with weakened immune systems, which could result in harmful infections.

Furthermore, mold can impart an undesirable taste to the meat, and in some cases, mold on dried meat may contain mycotoxins. The consumption of elevated mycotoxin levels could potentially result in food poisoning. Historically, outbreaks of gastroenteritis linked to the consumption of dried meat have been documented.

The primary culprits in these outbreaks were S. aureus and Salmonella contaminations in dried meat, leading to significant illness characterized by symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. (8-10)


In this brief article, we answered the question “Is dried meat safe to eat?”. We also looked into what can make dried meat unsafe to eat and how to properly store it. Through my research, I was able to attest that despite dried meat being a very safe product with a somewhat stable shelf life it can absorb water and become prone to spoilage.

In my experience, proper storage and attention to the signs of spoilage are essential to avoid any food poisoning from dried meat 

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