Selecting the best sausages and safe storage

By NANCY HARRISON
Posted 12/8/17

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 questions.

Types of sausages: Sausages are either ready to eat or not. They can be made …

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Selecting the best sausages and safe storage

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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 questions.

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 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.

Sausages Defined

- 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.

- Fresh pork sausages - may not contain pork by-products and no more than 50 percent fat by weight.

- Breakfast sausages - may contain meat and meat by-products and no more than 50 percent fat by weight.

- Whole hog sausage - meat from swine in such proportions as are normal to a single animal and no more than 50 percent fat by weight.

- Italian sausage products - cured or uncured sausages containing at least 85 percent meat, or a combination of meat and fat, with the total fat content constituting not more than 35 percent of the finished product. They contain salt, pepper, fennel and/or anise and no more than 3 percent 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 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:

- Salami

- Bratwurst

- Liverwurst

- Braunschweiger

- Hot dogs

- Blood sausage

- Bologna

- Jellied beef loaf

- Knockwurst Thuringer-style

- 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: chopped ham loaf, luncheon meats, peppered loaf, head, jellied corned beef, ham and cheese loaf, honey loaf, old-fashioned loaf, olive loaf, scrapple, souse and 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 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:

- Chorizo (Spanish, smoked, highly spiced)

- Frizzes (similar to pepperoni but not smoked)

- Lola or Lolita and Lyons sausage (mildly seasoned pork with garlic)

- Genoa salami (Italian, usually made from pork but might 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 because of their lactic acid fermentation. "Summer sausage" (another word for cervelat) is the general classification for mildly seasoned, smoked, semi-dry sausages such as 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.

Storage of Sausage

All sausage except dry sausage is perishable and should be brought directly home when purchased and refrigerated or frozen. If the product has a "use by" date, follow that date.