Project Summary

Validation of Texas Beef Jerky Processing

Principle Investigator(s):
Jeff Savell and Danielle Espitia
Texas A&M University
Completion Date:
May 2006



The concept of drying meat with the application of smoke and heat has been practiced for centuries. The ancient Egyptians were one of the first civilizations credited with applying this concept for further preservation (FSIS, 2006). With time, other cultures began contributing to the development of the product as it is known today. For instance, the North American Indians dried fruit with meat and created a product referred to as “pemmican”. This drying process was originally the result of conservation to preserve large animals such as bear, buffalo, and whales, which were hunted and used for food, clothing, and shelter. Because these animals could not be entirely consumed at once, drying the leftover meat maximized the use of the animal. This was innovative and appealing to the nomadic lifestyle common for that time period (FSIS, 2006). During the period of the western settlement of the United States, the pioneer settlers contributed to the naming of this product. They used the Spanish word “charqui” as the basis for the word jerky in order to describe the dried meat product being made at that time (Nummer, Harrison, Harrison, Kendall, Sofos, & Andress, 2004). Today, marketing niches for jerky have been created making it a convenient product favored by hunters, backpackers, and those who simply enjoy the numerous types available. 

Jerky has been associated with at least nine reported foodborne outbreaks since 1966 from both home dried and commercially manufactured products, which has brought attention to its safety as a food product (Nummer et al., 2004). In 1995, a major incident occurred that linked the illness of 93 persons who consumed jerky with Salmonella in New Mexico. This incident, coupled with the progressive implementation of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point System from 1999 to 2000 for small and very small establishments, resulted in the amendment of federal meat and poultry regulations (Frey, 2004). Federal regulation 9 CFR 318.17 (a)(1) states that the production of cooked beef, roast beef, and cooked corned beef products need to achieve a 6.5 log reduction of Salmonella, or an alternative level of lethality, with an equivalent probability that the final product will be free of any viable Salmonella organisms (USDA, 1996c & 1999). FSIS released Appendix A that provided the necessary time that a product should be held at various internal temperatures in order for the 6.5 log reduction to be met and further discussed the need for applying wet heat during the cooking cycle (USDA, 1999). 

The parameters described in Appendix A were the result of research published by Goodfellow and Brown (1978). This research was in response to USDA’s consideration of amending the regulation that required establishments processing cooked beef and beef roast products to reach a minimum internal temperature of 63 °C. USDA requested research to introduce revised data on D-values for Salmonella serotypes within a meat system, in addition to sound time-temperature processes that would ensure a proper eradication of Salmonella when present on wet or steam cooked and dry roasted beef. Before the publication of this research, beef systems had not been analyzed to adequately determine D-values, and proper time-temperature processes had not been established for the production of Salmonella free “rare” roast beef. It was the objective of the Goodfellow and Brown (1978) study to determine these values and established proper time-temperature processes for “rare” roast beef. 

From the preceding articles, some information has been provided to jerky processors to assist in the production of a safe and high quality product. However, further research is needed to confirm the effectiveness of other processing parameters and to enhance the value of this product. 

The stated objectives for this work were: 

  • To evaluate the thermal drying process commonly used by small and very small operations in order to validate the jerky production process.
  • To determine the impact of relative humidity on the production of beef jerky.
  • To develop documents that could be used by small and very small beef jerky producers to support their Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) programs.

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