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?
Peter Carenza, Kaiserslautern, Germany
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.
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