Sausages Facts Focus on: Sausages

Sausages Facts

Summer sausage, kielbasa, bologna, bratwurst: The list goes on and on. There are so many varieties of sausage. 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. Uncooked smoked sausages containing pork must be treated for trichinae.

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.

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What's on the Label?

Let the label be your guide to sausage selection and handling. It will tell you if the product must be kept refrigerated, the nutrient content and the ingredients. All ingredients in the product must be listed by weight in descending order in the ingredient statement.

Safe handling instructions are mandatory for all raw or partially cooked meat and poultry products.

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 or it may be at the point of purchase.

The Nutrition Facts information on the label can help consumers compare products and make more informed, healthy food choices.

The label must say "Keep Refrigerated" if the sausage is perishable. Product dating is optional but the manufacturer may have affixed a date.

Definition of Fresh Sausages

Fresh sausages are a coarse or finely comminuted meat food product prepared from one or more kinds of meat, or meat and meat byproducts. They may contain water not exceeding 3% 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 thoroughly cooked before eating.

Content of Fresh Sausages

  • Fresh Pork Sausages - May not contain pork byproducts and no more than 50% fat by weight.
  • Fresh Beef Sausages - May not include beef byproducts and no more than 30% fat by weight.
  • Breakfast Sausages - May contain meat and meat byproducts and no more than 50% fat by weight.
  • Whole Hog Sausage - Meat from swine in such proportions as are normal to a single animal and no more than 50% fat by weight.
  • Italian Sausage Products - Cured or uncured sausages containing at least 85% meat, or a combination of meat and fat, with the total fat content constituting not more than 35% of the finished product. It contains salt, pepper, fennel and/or anise and no more than 3% water. Optional ingredients permitted in Italian Sausages are spices (including paprika) and flavorings, red or green peppers, onions, garlic and parsley, sugar, dextrose and corn syrup.

Cooked and/ or Smoked Sausages

These products are made of one or more different kinds of chopped or ground meats which have been seasoned, cooked and/or smoked. Water can be no more than 10% by weight. Meat byproducts may be used. Included in this category are:
  • salami
  • liverwurst
  • hot dogs
  • bologna
  • knockwurst
  • bratwurst
  • braunschweiger
  • blood sausage
  • jellied beef loaf
  • thuringer-style.
  • Cooked Salami (not dry) is made from fresh meats which 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. It is made from comminuted meats that are seasoned and usually cooked or baked rather than smoked. They are usually sliced and served cold. Included in this category are:
  • chopped ham loaf
  • luncheon meat
  • peppered loaf
  • head cheese
  • jellied corned beef
  • ham and cheese loaf
  • honey loaf
  • old fashioned loaf
  • olive loaf
  • pickle and pimento loaf
  • scrapple
  • souse
  • veal loaf.
  • Dry and 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 sausages and results in a concentrated form of meat. Medium-dry sausage is about 70% 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% to 60% of original weight at completion.

    Dry sausages include:

    • chorizo (Spanish, smoked, highly spiced)
    • Frizzes (similar to pepperoni but not smoked)
    • pepperoni (not cooked, air dried)
    • Lola or Lolita and Lyons sausage (mildly seasoned pork with garlic)
    • Genoa Salami (Italian, usually made from pork but may have a small amount of beef; it is moistened with wine or grape juice and seasoned with garlic.

    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.

    Should People "At Risk" Eat Dry Sausages?

    Because dry sausages are not cooked, people "at risk" (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 can survive the process of dry fermenting, and recently some children became ill after eating dry cured salami containing the bacteria.***

    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.

    Date on Package of Processed Meats

    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 on the following page for maximum quality in sausage products.

    • "Sell By" date - tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.
    • "Best if Used By" date - Date by which product should be used for best flavor and quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
    • "Use-By" date - the last date recommended for use of the product while at peak quality.


    All sausage -- except dry sausage -- is perishable and therefore must be kept refrigerated. The following storage times should be followed for maximum quality.


    • If the sausage has a "use-by" date, follow that date. It is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.
    • If the sausage has a "sell-by" date, or no date, store it for the times recommended below.
    Fresh Sausage, uncooked 1 to 2 days (included in unopened storage)
    Fresh Sausage, after cooking by 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 7 days
    Summer Sausage (Semi-dry) 3 months 3 weeks

    Freeze if you can't use within times recommended above for refrigerator storage. Once frozen it doesn't matter if the date expires because foods kept frozen continuously are safe indefinitely. However, for best quality use within 1-2 months.

    * ADDENDUM TO "Focus on: Sausage"
    USDA and Dry Sausage Industry Act to Reduce Bacterial Risk

    Fermentation is one of the oldest methods of preserving meats. In this procedure, a mixture of curing ingredients, such as salt and sodium nitrite, and a "starter" culture of acid-bacteria, is mixed with chopped and ground meat, placed in casings, fermented and then dried. The amount of acid produced during fermentation and the lack of moisture in the finished product after drying typically have been shown to cause pathogenic bacteria to die.

    Dry sausages -- such as pepperoni, Lebanon bologna and summer sausage, have had a good safety record for hundreds of years. But in December 1994, some children and adults became ill after eating dry cured salami and sausages from a California plant. Illnesses reported from this outbreak are believed to represent the first time 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.

    However, it is too early to suggest changes to basic handling recommendations for consumers since a complete scientific evaluation is not yet available. The presence of E. coli O157:H7 bacteria or a possible new strain of the bacteria could be due to continued survival during processing methods or contamination after the sausages were cured.

    USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has developed a specific protocol to identify problems, which encompasses options to correct them. This protocol must be followed or the product must be heat treated. These products will also be included in the FSIS microbial sampling program for E. coli O157:H7.

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