The Shelf Life of Dry Sausages

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dry sausages

Notice all the non refrigerated meats hanging up.

There is a deli not to far from me that stocks nice Italian style dry sausages.  They look and taste delicious.  I have noticed that he always has them hanging up without refrigeration.  I have not been able to get a straight answer as to how long the sausage will store.  But I have talked to people who claim it will store for several years.

Now dry sausage has been used for thousands of years as a way to preserve meat.  The problem is that we don’t always know what changes have been made in the recipes in the name of quicker and easier production.  Many of our food processers have modified their recipes so that the sausages have shorter shelf lives.

I have been doing some research on this subject but have not come up with anything firm that I am willing to bet my family on.  The United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) puts out the following information.
“Dry and semi-dry sausages are possibly the largest category of dried meats, particularly in the United States. These products can be fermented by bacterial growth for preservation and to produce the typical tangy flavor. Alternatively, they may be cultured with lactic acid — much as cheese, pickle, and yogurt makers do — to eliminate the fermentation phase and shorten the process. They are, with a few exceptions, cooked.

Fermentation is one of the oldest methods of preserving meats. Dry sausages — such as pepperoni, and semi-dry sausages such as Lebanon bologna and summer sausage, have had a good safety record for hundreds of years.

In this procedure, a mixture of curing ingredients, such as salt and sodium nitrite, and a “starter” culture of lactic acid-bacteria, is mixed with chopped and ground meat, placed in casings, fermented and then dried by a carefully controlled, long, continuous air-drying process. 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 require more time to make than other types of sausages and are a more concentrated form of meat. Dried sausages range from 60% to 80% of their original weight before drying.

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 and sometimes heavy application of smoke. Some are mildly seasoned and some are quite spicy and strongly flavored.

What are examples of dry and semi-dry sausages?
Dry sausages include:

  • Sopressata (a name of a salami)
  • pepperoni (not cooked, air dried)
  • 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 include:
  • summer sausage
  • Lebanon bologna
  • Cervelat
  • Thuringer

Are any Sausages Shelf Stable?
Some dry sausages are shelf stable (in other words, they do not need to be refrigerated or frozen to be stored safely). Dry sausages require more production time than other types of sausage and result in a concentrated form of meat. If the product is shelf stable and ready to eat, the product is not required to have a safe handling statement, cooking directions or a “Keep Refrigerated” statement. (this is an indicator to watch for, Howard)

Should people “At Risk” eat dry sausages?

Because dry sausages are not cooked, people “at risk” (older adults, very young children, pregnant women and those with immune systems weakened by disease or organ transplants) might want to avoid eating them. The bacterium E. coli O157:H7 can survive the process of dry fermenting, and in 1994, some children became ill after eating dry cured salami containing the bacteria.

After the outbreak, FSIS developed specific processing rules for making dry sausages that must be followed or the product must be heat treated. These products are included in the FSIS microbial sampling program for E. coli O157:H7, and in 1997, FSIS began to test fermented sausages for Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes.

Dates on Packaged Sausages
Although dating is a voluntary program and not required by the Federal government, if a date is used it must state what the date means. The product can be used after the date, provided it was stored safely.

“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.”

FSIS says that whole hard/dry sausages may be stored 6 weeks in your pantry and indefinitely in the refrigerator.  After opening, they should be used in 3 weeks even if stored in the refrigerator.

Now I am looking for more and better information on this subject.  Do any of you have information or experience with storing dry sausages?  If so would you be willing to share the information with us?



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