Jerky is a protein-packed, lightweight snack, especially for those on the go since it can be stored without the need for refrigeration. Through dehydration, the moisture in the meat is removed, turning a pound of meat into just four ounces and eliminating the threat of pathogenic bacteria. But while the meat is marinating, make sure the proper time and temperature controls are in place to prevent food poisoning.
As the world’s oldest and most common method of preserving food, dehydration cooks excess meat without the worry of rotting. Removing the moisture prevents enzymes (bacterial, fungal or natural) in raw food from causing biological reactions that can lead to foodborne illnesses such as Salmonella and E. coli. To eliminate that threat, the USDA advises that all meat be heated prior to drying.
Whether the jerky is for commercial or personal consumption, heating meat to 160 °F and poultry to 165 °F is critical to ensure that any bacteria will be destroyed by wet heat. In dehydrators and low-temperature ovens, evaporating moisture absorbs most of the heat, preventing the meat from reaching those high temperatures. By just drying the meat, it actually allows bacteria to become much more heat resistant.
Once the jerky is heated, it’s best to maintain a constant dehydrating temperature of 130 °F to 140 °F for 4 to 6 hours. Homemade jerky can be stored at room temperature for 1 to 2 months or in the freezer for 6 months, while store bought jerky can be stored for up to 1 year.
Commercially made jerky falls under HACCP regulations and is inspected by the USDA’s FSIS personnel. According to compliance guidelines, humidity must be maintained at >90% while the meat is heated at the specified time and temperature during the lethality treatment. After the jerky is dried, it must meet the moisture protein ration standard to ensure consumer safety.
Data loggers are a popular tool used by meat processors to constantly monitor the temperature and humidity to validate that their product meets HACCP regulations. MadgeTech offers the HiTemp140 series and the wireless RFOT for monitoring meats throughout the entire cooking process. Available in a variety of probe lengths these loggers are built for use in all cuts of meat and withstand the high temperatures in ovens and smokehouses.
For more information about HACCP compliance for meat processors, click here, to download our free guide.