April 19, 2024

Learn About Sausages and Food Safety From the USDA

Learn about sausages and food safety from the USDA, with tips on buying, storing, and cooking this type of meat product. Sausages are sold either uncooked or ready-to-eat. This information will be clearly marked on the product package.

Learn About Sausages and Food Safety From the USDA

Types of Sausages

There are two broad categories of sausage: ready to eat and uncooked. Ready to eat sausages are dry, semi-dry, and/or cooked. Dry sausages can be smoked, unsmoked, or cooked. Semi-dry sausages are typically heated in the smokehouse to partially dry and fully cook the product. Cooked sausages, such as bologna and frankfurters, are cooked and may also be smoked. Uncooked sausages are raw and must be cooked to a safe final internal temperature before eating.

Deciphering the Label

The label on all sausage products will give you  the information you need to know to prepare them safely. The label must have the product name; an ingredient statement; the name and place of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor; an accurate statement of the quantity of the contents; the inspection legend and USDA establishment number; a safe handling statement for perishable products (such as “Keep Refrigerated”); safe handling instructions if the sausage is not ready to eat; and nutrition facts.

For not ready to eat sausages and food safety, the label must have safe handling instructions. When the sausage is partially cooked or seems cooked but needs to be fully cooked by the consumer, more labeling features must be included. For instance, the principle display panel should have statements such as “Uncooked, Ready to cook, Cook before Eating, Cook and serve, Needs to be fully cooked.” Cooking directions should be clear, and the manufacturer has to validate that the directions are enough to destroy any pathogens.

For perishable sausages, the label must state, “Keep Refrigerated.” Some shelf-stable sausages are not ready to eat. If so, they will be labeled with cooking instructions but will not have “Keep Refrigerated” on the label.

Food Safety

Sausages can be made from red meat, poultry, or a combination. Uncooked sausages that contain ground red meat, including beef, pork, lamb, or veal, should be cooked to 160°F; while any uncooked sausages that are made with poultry, including chicken and turkey, must be cooked to 165°F. And check that temperature with a reliable food thermometer.

Because dry sausages aren’t cooked, people who are at higher risk for food poisoning complications should consider not eating them. In 1994, some children got sick after eating dry cured salami containing E. coli O157:H7. After this outbreak, the USDA developed specific processing rules for making dry sausages.

Dates and Storage

Dating is a voluntary program and is not required. If a date is used it must state what the date means. The product can be used after that date as long as it was properly stored. The “sell by” date includes how long the store should display the product for sale. The “best if used by” date indicates when the sausage should be consumed for best flavor and quality; it is not a safety issue. And the “Use by” date is the last date recommended for use while at peak quality.

Fresh sausages should be stored in the refrigerated for one to two days, whether the package is opened or unopened. After fresh sausage is cooked, it can be kept in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. Hard or dry sausages can be kept for 6 weeks in the pantry or indefinitely in the fridge as long as the package is unopened. If the package is opened, keep it for 3 weeks in the refrigerator.

Hot dogs and other cooked sausages can be kept in the fridge in an unopened package for 2 weeks, or 7 days if the package is opened. Luncheon meats can be refrigerated for 2 weeks if the package is not opened, or 3 to 5 days if the package is opened. Finally, semi-dry summer sausage can be refrigerated for 3 months in an unopened package, or 3 weeks if the package is open.

If you can’t use sausage within the recommended time for refrigerate storage, freeze it. Once frozen, the expiration date doesn’t matter because foods that are kept frozen continuously are safe indefinitely, although the quality may decline.

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