What’s that white stuff packed with beef jerky?

A STAFF REPORT FROM THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD

Dear Straight Dope:

I'm a big fan of beef jerky (ignoring my jaw's feeble cries for help), but I've often wondered: what's in that little white pouch with the jerky? I've noticed it says "non-toxic" on one side, but on the other side it says, "Do not eat!" What is this strange substance in the packet, why is it there, and can I eat it or not?

Mac replies:

The packet contains a desiccant (usually silica gel) or an oxygen absorber, or both. The desiccants sop up any moisture in the jerky, which keeps it from going bad, while keeping oxygen levels down inhibits spoilage and flavor changes to fats. The reason why they make a point of telling you not to eat them is that a surprising number of damnfools figure any small packet found in a food container must be some kinda condiment.

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.

STAFF REPORTS ARE WRITTEN BY THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD, CECIL'S ONLINE AUXILIARY. THOUGH THE SDSAB DOES ITS BEST, THESE COLUMNS ARE EDITED BY ED ZOTTI, NOT CECIL, SO ACCURACYWISE YOU'D BETTER KEEP YOUR FINGERS CROSSED.

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