This information has been reviewed and adapted for use in South Carolina by P.H. Schmutz, HGIC Food Safety Specialist, HGIC E.H. Hoyle, Professor Food Safety Specialist, Clemson University. (New 03/99.)
There are so many varieties of sausages! How long can you store them—and where? Are they fully cooked or not? The following background information will answer these questions and others. Use the storage chart as a guideline for proper handling.
Types of Sausages: Sausages are either ready to eat or not. They can be made from red meat, poultry or a combination. Uncooked sausages include fresh (bulk, patties or links) and smoked sausages. Ready-to-eat sausages are dry, semi-dry and/or cooked. Dry sausages may be smoked, unsmoked or cooked. Semi-dry sausages are usually heated in the smokehouse to fully cook the product and partially dry it.
Sausage Labeling Information: Let the label be your guide to sausage selection, handling and — if applicable — cooking. It will list the safe handling and cooking instructions, the nutrient content and the ingredients. Safe handling instructions are mandatory for all raw or partially cooked meat and poultry products. The label must say "Keep Refrigerated" if the sausage is perishable. Product dating is optional but the manufacturer may have affixed a date.
All ingredients in the product must be listed in the ingredient statement in order of predominance from the one weighing the most listed first to the one weighing the least listed last.
For sausage products packaged under federal inspection, a Nutrition Facts panel is mandatory. If sausages are made and packaged in a local store, the nutrient information on the package is voluntary. The Nutrition Facts information on the label can help consumers compare products and make more informed, healthy food choices.
Fresh Sausages: Fresh sausages are a coarse or finely ground meat food product prepared from one or more kinds of meat, or meat and meat by-products. They may contain water not exceeding 3 percent of the total ingredients in the product. They are usually seasoned, frequently cured and may contain binders and extenders. They must be kept refrigerated and be thoroughly cooked before eating.
Cooked and/or Smoked Sausages: These products are made of one or more different kinds of chopped or ground meats that have been seasoned, cooked and/or smoked. Water can be no more than 10 percent by weight. Meat by-products may be used.
Included in this category are:
Cooked salami (not dry) is made from fresh meats that are cured, stuffed into casings and cooked in a smokehouse at high temperature. It may be air-dried for a short time. It has a softer texture than dry and semi-dry sausages and must be refrigerated.
Meat Specialties: A ready-to-eat sausage product that is made from finely ground meats that are seasoned and usually cooked or baked rather than smoked. They are usually sliced and served cold. Included in this category are:
Dry & Semi-Dry Sausages: Dry sausages may or may not be characterized by a bacterial fermentation. When fermented, the intentional encouragement of a lactic acid bacteria growth is useful as a meat preservative as well as producing the typical tangy flavor. The ingredients are mixed with spices and curing materials, stuffed into casings, and put through a carefully controlled, long, continuous air-drying process.
Dry sausages require more production time than other types of sausage that results in a concentrated form of meat. Medium-dry sausage is about 70 percent of its "green" weight when sold. Green weight is the weight of the raw article before addition of added substances or before cooking. Less-dry and fully-dried sausages range from 80 percent to 60 percent of original weight at completion.
Dry sausages include:
Semi-dry sausages are usually heated in the smokehouse to fully cook the product and partially dry it. Semi-dry sausages are semi-soft sausages with good keeping qualities due to their lactic acid fermentation. "Summer Sausage" (another word for cervelat) is the general classification for mildly seasoned, smoked, semi-dry sausages like Mortadella and Lebanon bologna.
Who Should Avoid Eating Dry Sausages? Because dry sausages are not cooked, the elderly, very young children, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems might want to avoid eating them. The bacterium E. coli O157:H7 has been found to survive the process of dry fermenting, and in 1994, some children and adults became ill after eating dry cured salami containing the bacteria. This is believed to be the first time that this product has been associated with E. coli O157:H7. These illnesses have raised some questions about the effectiveness of processes for producing dry fermented sausage free of this deadly organism.
The USDA is looking at ways to identify and correct potential problems in dry sausage products, and is developing procedures for manufacturers to ensure their processing is adequate to destroy bacteria.
All sausage – except dry sausage – is perishable and therefore should be brought directly home when purchased and refrigerated or frozen. The storage times listed in the table on the last page should be followed for maximum quality if the product has a "sell-by" date or no date. If the product has a "use-by" date, follow that date.
Although dating is a voluntary program and not mandated by the federal government, if a date is used it must state what the date means. Since none is a safety date, the product can be used after the date, provided it was stored safely. Follow the guidelines, in the table at the end of this fact sheet, for maximum quality in sausage products.
Types of Hot Dogs: Whether you call it a frankfurter, hot dog, wiener or bologna, it’s a cooked sausage and a summertime favorite. They can be made from beef, pork, turkey or chicken – the label must specify which. All ingredients in the product must be listed in the ingredient statement in order of predominance from the one weighing the most listed first to the one weighing the least listed last. And there are federal standards for their content (Code of Federal Regulations, Volume 9 Section 319.180).
Smoking and curing ingredients contribute to flavor, color and preservation of the product. They come in all shapes and sizes – short, long, thin and chubby. The most popular of all categories, the skinless varieties, have been stripped of their casings after cooking. Water or ice may be used to facilitate chopping or mixing or to dissolve curing ingredients. Sausages may contain no more than 10 percent water and 30 percent fat or a combination of 40 percent fat and added water. Up to 3.5 percent nonmeat binders and extenders such as nonfat dry milk, cereal, dried whole milk or 2 percent isolated soy protein may be used, but must be shown in the ingredient statement by its common name.
By-products, Variety Meats: Frankfurters, hot dogs, wieners or bologna "with by-products" or "with variety meats" are made according to the specifications for cooked smoked sausages except they consist of not less than 15 percent of one or more kinds of raw skeletal muscle meat with raw meat by-products. The by-products (heart, kidney or liver) must be accompanied by the name of the species from which it was derived and must be individually named in the ingredient statement.
Species: Beef franks or pork franks are cooked, smoked sausage products made according to the specifications above, but with meat from a single species and do not include by-products. Turkey franks or chicken franks contain turkey or chicken skin and fat in natural proportions of that found on a turkey or chicken carcass.
Mechanically Separated Meat or Poultry: Carcass parts from which most of the meat has been removed still have usable meat attached. These parts are pushed under high pressure through equipment with openings so fine that a small amount of powdered bone the size of a grain of sand may pass through along with the remaining muscle meat and other soft tissue. This is called "mechanically separated" meat, and if used in a product, the label must state it.
If a serving contains 20 mg or more of calcium from the finely powdered bone, the label must give the calcium content as a percentage of the US RDAs.
Mechanically Deboned Poultry: This does not have the same requirements as mechanically separated meat and is simply listed in the ingredients statement as "chicken" or "turkey."
Handling of Hot Dogs: When you leave the grocery store with any kind of sausage, head straight home and refrigerate or freeze it immediately. If there is a date on the package, follow those guidelines for use. If there is no date, hot dogs can be safely stored unopened in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Once opened, they are safe in the refrigerator for only one week. (See table below.) For maximum quality, freeze hot dogs no longer than one to two months. Never leave hot dogs at room temperature for more than two hours, or in the hot summer months when the temperature rises to 90 °F or above, for more than one hour. Finally, even though hot dogs are fully cooked, if you choose to reheat them, make sure that they are steamy hot throughout.
|Type of Sausage||Refrigerator Storage-Unopened||Refrigerator Storage-After Opening|
|Freeze the product if you cannot use it within the times recommended above for refrigerator storage. Once frozen, it does not matter if the date expires, because all foods kept frozen continuously are safe indefinitely. However, for best quality, use within 1 to 2 months.|
|Fresh Sausage, uncooked||1 to 2 Days||1 to 2 Days|
|Fresh Sausage, after cooking by the consumer||(Not Applicable)||3 to 4 Days|
|Hard/Dry Sausage||Indefinitely in Refrigerator;
6 Weeks in Pantry
|3 Weeks in Refrigerator,
or Until It Turns Rancid
|Hot Dogs and Other Cooked Sausage||2 Weeks but No Longer than
1 Week After the "Sell-by" Date
|Summer Sausage (Semi-dry)||3 Months||3 Weeks|
FSIS/USDA Consumer Publication, Focus on Sausages. June 1995.FSIS/USDA Consumer Publication, Fact Sheet on Hot Dogs. June 1994.
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This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.