what happens if you eat moldy beef jerky

The Dangers of Eating Moldy Beef Jerky

Beef jerky is a tasty snack loved by many. But with its low moisture content, extended shelf life, and natural ingredients, jerky can sometimes grow mold. You open a bag of jerky eager to enjoy the smoky seasoned meat, only to find fuzzy white or green spots. Yuck! Your first instinct might be to cut off the mold and eat the rest. But is it actually safe to eat moldy beef jerky? Let’s dig into the risks.

What Exactly is Mold?

  • Mold is a type of microscopic fungus that spreads through tiny spores in the air. It grows on organic matter like plants, foods and leather.

  • Mold comes in a variety of colors like black, white, green, gray, or blue. It often appears fuzzy, dusty, or powdery.

  • It spreads thread-like roots invisible to the naked eye into the food it’s growing on, well beyond the parts you can see.

  • Mold spores give it a musty, earthy, or rotten smell. If your jerky smells off, it’s a sign of mold.

  • It grows when conditions are warm, humid, and air is present. Jerky’s low moisture and oxygen exposure normally prevent mold growth.

  • But if jerky is insufficiently dried or stored in humid conditions, mold can still grow.

Health Risks of Ingesting Mold

Mold produces mycotoxins – toxic chemical compounds that can make you sick. Consuming jerky with mold puts you at risk for:

  • Allergic Reactions: Mold allergies cause respiratory issues or skin rashes. The reaction can occur immediately or up to 48 hours after eating moldy food.

  • Gastrointestinal Distress: Abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea from irritation and inflammation in the GI tract.

  • Respiratory Problems: Wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, aggravated asthma. Mold spores are easily inhaled.

  • Headaches & Fatigue: Headaches, brain fog, and chronic fatigue resulting from mold exposure.

  • Liver Damage: Certain molds produce toxins that can injure liver cells and impair function.

  • Cancer Risk: Long-term exposure to specific mold types may increase cancer risk, per some studies.

  • Death: Eating moldy foods leads to dozens of food poisoning deaths each year. At-risk groups like infants or those with comprised immune systems are most vulnerable.

While you may suffer no ill effects from eating a small amount of mold, it’s an unnecessary gamble with your health. Many mold types are benign, but some can be quite dangerous. Play it safe and throw it out!

Should I Cut the Mold Off Jerky?

You open a bag of jerky and notice a small spot of fuzzy green mold on one piece. Can you simply cut off the visibly moldy part and eat the rest? We don’t recommend it!

  • Mold roots penetrate deep into food, so you can’t see the extent of contamination. Mold could lurk in jerky pieces that appear mold-free.

  • Cutting only removes surface mold. Jerky is porous and mold easily spreads beneath the surface. Better to be safe than sorry and discard it all.

  • Mold releases spores that spread to other food. Cutting infested jerky risks contaminating your knife, hands, and anything else it touches. Proceed carefully.

  • The toxins released by mold can’t be removed by cutting or cooking. Toxins persist even in jerky pieces that don’t exhibit mold.

Our advice? If you spot mold on one piece of jerky, throw out the entire package. It’s not worth the risk. Contact the manufacturer – any reputable company will offer to replace moldy jerky.

What If I Accidentally Ate Moldy Jerky?

Okay, we’ve all done it. You’re distracted watching TV and mindlessly munching on jerky until…wait a minute, is this mold?! If you’ve accidentally ingested some moldy jerky, here’s what you need to know:

  • Most people suffer no ill effects from eating a small amount of mold. Healthy adults can typically tolerate it without issues.

  • Minor symptoms like nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea may occur within hours of ingestion and resolve in a day or two. Unpleasant but not dangerous.

  • Serious poisoning is very rare and usually only occurs in vulnerable groups – infants, elderly, those with weakened immune systems or mold allergies.

  • Seek medical care immediately if you experience concerning symptoms like difficulty breathing, chest pain, bloody vomit, or neurological issues.

  • Call your doctor if symptoms persist beyond 48 hours or you develop a rash, headache, or fever. Better to be safe!

  • Pregnant women exposed to mold should contact their OB-GYN. Certain molds increase risk of miscarriage.

For most healthy people who accidentally ingest a small amount of jerky mold, drinking extra fluids and resting should be sufficient. But when in doubt, getting medical guidance is your best bet. Don’t take chances with your health.

Preventing Mold on Beef Jerky

Now that you know the risks of eating moldy jerky, here are some tips to keep your jerky mold-free:

  • Check jerky packages before buying. Avoid torn bags or jerky that looks discolored.

  • Inspect jerky before eating. Examine from all angles to check for any fuzziness, especially around edges.

  • Properly store unopened jerky bags in a cool, dry pantry away from light, moisture and humidity.

  • After opening, reseal jerky in airtight packaging or bags. Limit air exposure.

  • Refrigerate opened jerky if you won’t finish within 2 weeks. Freezing extends shelf life even longer.

  • Examine refrigerated jerky periodically for signs of moisture or mold. Don’t let it sit ignored!

  • Clean storage areas thoroughly before storing jerky to remove any mold spores.

  • Use jerky within 2 weeks of opening for highest quality and safety. Discard if you see any mold.

  • Buy jerky from reputable producers who use mold inhibitors and preservatives to prevent spoilage.

Following basic food safety practices will keep your jerky fresh and mold-free. But if mold does develop, don’t take any chances. Protect your health by throwing out any jerky with even the smallest speck of mold.

FAQs About Moldy Beef Jerky

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about moldy beef jerky:

Is it safe to eat jerky with a little mold?
No, it’s best to discard any jerky showing signs of mold, even small spots. Mold can spread unseen beneath the surface. Don’t risk your health.

What happens if you eat old jerky?
Beyond just mold risk, very old jerky may just taste stale, dried out, and unappealing. Rancid old jerky could potentially cause upset stomach, but it’s not inherently unsafe to eat like mold is. Use your judgment.

Can you microwave jerky to kill mold?
No, microwaving is ineffective at killing mold or neutralizing mycotoxins. Discard moldy jerky – microwaving cannot make it safe to eat.

What if there’s mold on only part of the jerky?
Our recommendation is to discard the entire package if any piece shows mold. Mold can spread between pieces through contact or spores. Don’t take chances.

Is white mold on jerky dangerous?
Yes, all types of mold on jerky should be avoided, regardless of color. Some black or green molds are more hazardous, but white mold still poses health risks.

Can you get sick from smelling moldy jerky?
It’s unlikely. However, mold spores can be inhaled from close contact and cause respiratory issues in sensitive individuals. Mold should not be smelled closely.

Does freezing jerky prevent mold growth?
Yes, freezing is an effective way to stop mold growth and extend jerky’s shelf life. Refrigeration can slow mold but may not stop it fully.

Should jerky be refrigerated after opening?
Refrigeration isn’t mandatory but helps extend freshness. For long-term storage, the freezer is best. Keep refrigerated jerky tightly sealed.

The Bottom Line

Finding mold on your beef jerky can be disappointing but don’t take chances with your health. Inspect jerky closely before eating and discard at first signs of mold. If you’ve accidentally ingested some moldy jerky, chances are you’ll be fine but seek medical advice if you have any concerning symptoms arise. Be diligent about safe jerky storage conditions and expiration dates to keep your snacks mold-free. With sound precautions, you can safely enjoy delicious jerky without worries. Happy and healthy snacking!

What Happens If You Eat Mold?


Can I get food poisoning from beef jerky?

Therefore, when the dried meat temperature finally begins to rise, the bacteria have become more heat resistant and are more likely to survive. If these surviving bacteria are pathogenic, they can cause foodborne illness to those consuming the jerky.

What happens if you eat moldy beef?

“You’re not just eating mold — you’re eating bacteria.” Bacteria can cause serious foodborne illnesses such as listeria, which commonly grows on lunch meat and cheese, even in the refrigerator. The potential for hidden bacteria is why adjacent mold can also be harmful.

Can you wash mold off beef jerky?

Consequently, it’s always safer to discard any beef jerky that you suspect may be moldy, rather than risk your health.

What should I do if I accidentally ate mold?

Most of the time, bad mold isn’t going to do much, but when it’s bad, it’s bad. So don’t eat mold that wasn’t put there on purpose, and if you do eat mold by accident, see a doctor if it makes you puke (or makes your body revolt against you in any other way).

What does mold on jerky look like?

Mold on jerky looks a lot like mold on any other food; that means you should look for colorful (primarily white and green), disgustingly looking stains. While we’re talking about jerky, though, it is highly possible that there’ll be white stains (and they may look hideously as well) that aren’t a mold. But we yet have to get into that.

What happens if you eat moldy jerky?

The consequences of eating moldy jerky depend on the exact type of mold, the amount you consumed, and your overall health. Some types of mold will cause only minor symptoms, like brief queasiness or stomach discomfort. If you only ate a tiny bit, you might not have any symptoms at all.

Does beef jerky mold?

Beef jerky should be dried to a sufficient level. This will ensure that the jerky is shelf-stable and less likely to mold. If the jerky is completely dried and properly packaged with minimal oxygen exposure, then mold will not grow. Proper packaging is critical to preventing mold. Mold will not grow without oxygen.

How do you know if beef jerky is moldy?

Your jerky should be flexible and firm, but not mushy or overly soft. Furry, chalky, or squishy contaminants that are white, green, or gray are obvious signs of mold. Another sign of mold is its odor. An “off smell” in the jerky may also indicate the presence of mold. How can you prevent mold on beef jerky?

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