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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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For Safe Homemade Jerky, Use a Boiling Marinade

LAS CRUCES -- Before popping a batch of homemade jerky into the dehydrator, cooks need to give the meat a blast of heat to prevent foodborne illness.

Unless the meat reaches 160 Fahrenheit--20 to 30 degrees hotter than a typical dehydrator--it won't get hot enough to kill harmful microorganisms, said Willie Fedio, food technology specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service.

"We've got a recommended procedure for making jerky at home that includes putting the sliced meat into a boiling marinade," Fedio said. "In that way, we can ensure that the meat is heat-treated sufficiently to inactivate the problem organisms."

In the past, jerky has been linked to outbreaks of foodborne illness in New Mexico and other western states, Fedio said.

"Periodically, we have had outbreaks of foodborne illness that can be traced back to homemade jerky and organisms like salmonella, E. coli 0157:H7 and Staphylococcus aureus, an organism that originates with people handling the food."

Whether they prefer commercial cuts or game meat, cooks can make safe jerky at home by following basic precautions, Fedio said. Game meat should be cooled as quickly as possible after field-dressing and kept on ice until it can be processed, packaged and frozen, he said.

For easier slicing, Fedio recommends freezing meat used in jerky. Partially thaw the meat in the refrigerator--not at room temperature on the kitchen countertop, which could allow bacteria to multiply.

Slice the meat no more than a quarter-inch thick. "If you cut at the right angle, across the grain of the meat, you generally end up with a more tender jerky," Fedio said.

Prepare a marinade for your jerky and bring it to a boil. A simple yet savory marinade consists of soy sauce, garlic and black pepper.

"Drop a few slices of meat at a time into the boiling marinade and bring it back to a boil," Fedio said. "That way, you can make sure that the meat reached an adequate heat treatment to kill off any pathogenic organisms that might have found their way into the meat."

The heat treatment needs to take place before the jerky is dried in a dehydrator or oven, Fedio said.

"It's essential that the meat reach 160 degrees before the dehydration process because the bacteria are more heat-resistant when they are dry," he said. " If the meat is heat-treated when partially dry, then even 160 degrees Fahrenheit might not be able to kill the bacteria."

After the heat treatment, thoroughly dry the jerky in a dehydrator or oven. The jerky is done when the meat cracks but doesn't break when bent.

Though jerky should be self-stable at room temperature, Fedio recommends storing it in the refrigerator.

"Homemade jerky keeps better if it's refrigerated," he said. "The rule of thumb is that homemade jerky is good for a couple of months, compared with about a year for commercially processed jerky, which contains preservatives."

Using the boiling marinade will make jerky slightly more tender, Fedio said. "The color and texture will be different from conventional jerky, but it's a safe, good-tasting product."

For more information about safe homemade jerky, contact your county Extension office.