Can Babies Eat Jerky or Biltong? [Plus Teething]

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Written by Shandra Williams

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Jerky is a popular snack in most western countries. It is flavorful, filling, and most of all convenient as you can get a good serving of protein in such a small packaging. However, are similar foods safe to serve to your baby?

Jerky contains ingredients not suitable for babies and can also pose a choking hazard. Biltong, as it is uncooked, is more probable to contain listeria, which may cause problems for babies and children.

There are some great choices to choose from to give as the first solid food for your baby. Of course, you start with vegetables, fruits, meats, and everything nutritious to support their healthy growth.

Since jerky is chewy and tasty, it’s no wonder people think it might be suitable for babies – but is it?

Can Babies Have Jerky? Is it Safe?

Before anything else, let’s discuss the safety of giving babies jerky.

Jerky is usually described as a thin strip of meat that has been dehydrated, roasted, or smoked, and in some cases cured with the addition of salt or other marinates to prevent spoilage (Source: Wikipedia).

beef jerky on a white plate

It can be tough and gammy and can be a choking hazard for babies due to its texture. Jerkies also have added preservatives that may be harmful to your baby if taken in excess.

The most common type of jerky is beef jerky, there are multiple brands and different flavors. However, there has also been a rise in the popularity of chicken, duck, and other types of jerky.

The process of making these are all similar. They can be high in preservatives, sugars, and sodium, which in excess can lead to problems for babies and infants. 

Jerkies can also pose as choking hazards for infants who have already developed teeth that may rip a piece of it. As jerky is tough, it can easily cause an obstruction in your child’s airway if a too big of a piece has been bit off. For this reason, it’s best to avoid giving jerky to babies.

Can Babies Eat Biltong? 

If you are not familiar, biltong is a food item similar to jerky, one significant difference between the two is that biltong is usually only cured in salt and other simple ingredients, while jerky is made with more complex ingredients and added sugars.

biltong on a wooden chopping board

Another major difference is the curing process, jerky is usually smoked or roasted, on the other hand, biltong is not cooked whatsoever, it is usually soaked in a salt + water mixture and let to be air dried (Source: SouthAfricanJournalofAnimalScience). 

Looking at it carefully, biltong can be the healthier option between the two. However, as biltong is not cooked, it can be a bit doubtful to serve it to your baby. Even though it was soaked in brine solution and was deemed safe for consumption for adults, it still carries a risk of pathogens like listeria.

It still lacks good bacteria and healthy microbiomes to help them avoid potentially problematic diseases that may come from such food items. 

Uncooked food items such as biltong are more susceptible to carrying harmful bacteria that may lead to problems such as listeria infection. Listeria is a bacteria found in raw, uncooked, and unpasteurized food such as biltong.

This aside, there are also the same issues in that biltong is also high in sodium and can pose a choking risk to babies, and is best avoided.

Is Jerky Bad or Unhealthy for Babies? 

Most jerkies sold in supermarkets have additional chemical preservatives, such as sodium nitrite that may not be the best for your baby. In some studies, compounds such as this can potentially cause stomach and esophageal cancers (Source: EncyclopediaofToxicology).

A big piece of jerky weighing 20g contains 356mg of sodium (Source: USDA), while the recommended sodium intake of infants 7-12 months of age is only 370mg per day, and infants 1-3 years old are recommended to only consume 800mg (Source: GermanNutritionSociety).

Our body needs sodium as it is an important regulator in our system, but excess of this can lead to long-term problems, especially for infants. There have been studies that high intake of sodium early in infancy is linked to increased risk for hypertension, heart diseases and obesity (Source: DRI).

The same amount of jerky contains 6.64g of protein. Children 1-3 years of age are recommended to consume more or less 13g of protein daily (Source: CHOC).

Protein is used by our bodies for the growth and development of our muscles. It is used to provide strength to our tissues and even regulates some hormones (Source: TheAmercalJournalofClinicalNutrition).

When looking at it from the outside, you might think that jerky is a great way to increase your child’s intake of protein, however, we must not forget the importance of all the other considerations, especially the risk of choking.

turkey jerky on the parchment

Jerkies can contain high amounts of sodium that may cause problems for your child in the long run, even low sodium brands still contain chemical preservatives that may also have a negative effect on your baby’s health, and jerkies, due to their tough texture can be a choking hazard for babies with already developed teeth. 

Having said this, there are healthier and safer ways to up your baby’s protein intake. Giving them yogurt is a great example, not to mention it is also high in calcium that benefits your baby’s bone health. You may also opt for home-cooked meals to make sure what you’re giving your baby is safe, clean, and free from any chemical additives. 

Can I Give My Baby Jerky for Teething? 

Teething babies can be fussy and all you want to do is help them ease their pain, but there is a better way than giving them jerky for teething.

As discussed above, jerky can be a choking hazard for babies, and it has ingredients best avoided when feeding your baby. Therefore it might be best to skip giving your baby jerky for teething. Instead,

  • Offer them teething rings, you may also give this to them cold (not frozen) as it is seen to relieve more discomfort. A cold, clean washcloth may also do the trick,
  • Offer them a clean finger to gnaw on,
  • Play with them to put their mind at ease and distract them from the discomfort,
  • And if all else fails, contact your health care provider regarding pain medication (Source: NHS).

Overall, there are better (and safer) options than jerky or biltong for babies, both as a protein source and as a way of solving teething pain.