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