Summer sausage is a cured meat often regarded for its stable shelf-life and delicious flavor, but how long is summer sausage actually good for?
Unopened summer sausage is good for around 3 to 6 months when stored at room temperature and 6+ months when kept in the fridge. However, when you open the casing and packaging, summer sausage will only last 3 to 4 days at room temperature and roughly 3 weeks in the fridge.
After extensively researching food safety protocols, I have gathered enough information to determine how long summer sausage lasts. In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at the shelf-life of summer sausage to help you decide whether this is a suitable product for your food storage needs.
What Is Summer Sausage?
When summer sausage was originally pioneered in Europe, it was a groundbreaking way to store meat safely long-term. Prior to the invention of the refrigerator, keeping food items safely stored and preserved at home was a huge challenge.
Meat products, in particular, were very unstable foods that would perish in just a matter of days. However, summer sausage presented Europeans with a new way to preserve their meats, greatly reducing the chances of foodborne illness and food poisoning.
Summer sausage is a cured meat product with a stable shelf-life. The curing process involves adding meat to a casing where it is then kept at specific temperatures and stuffed with curing agents and spices that reduce the spread of bacteria. Curing the meat also makes it drier and removes some of the fats and moisture that cause contamination.
Types Of Summer Sausage
The name “summer sausage” was given to these products because they proved to be reliable for food storage, even during the intense heat of the summer. The most common types of meats used to make summer sausage are beef, pork, and venison
Given that summer sausage is traditionally European, some of the most classic meat products that we eat fall into this category. These are some of the most popular types of summer sausages available:
Summer Sausage Vs Regular & Dried Sausage
The key difference between summer sausage and other types of sausage is moisture content. The curing process that summer sausage goes through removes about 15% of the total moisture from the product.
This considerably improves the shelf-life, making summer sausage more reliable for long-term storage. Regular sausage may only last for several days to a week in your fridge and will go bad very quickly.
That being said, summer sausage is technically classified as “semi-dry sausages”. There is still enough moisture content inside to keep the texture relatively soft and tender.
On the other hand, dried sausage will have about 40% of its moisture removed, resulting in an even more shelf-stable product, but with more chewiness and an overall tougher texture.
How Long Is Summer Sausage Good For?
Summer sausage should last for roughly 3 to 6 months when stored at room temperature. By keeping summer sausage in a stable environment, the expiration date of the product will be secured for at least 6 months if left unopened.
As part of the curing process, summer sausage is added to a casing along with curing agents and spices. This factor alone greatly reduces the risk of contamination and prevents bacteria from spreading.
Once the summer sausage is cured, it's packaged in plastic and sealed airtight, which also makes the product last considerably longer.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that summer sausage will only retain its quality and shelf-life if the product is left unopened. This is the predicted shelf-life of summer sausage when left unopened:
- Pantry - 3 to 6 months
- Refrigerator - 6+ months
For the best results, I recommend leaving summer sausage sealed in its casing and packaging until you are ready to eat it.
Cooked summer sausages generally last around 1 to 2 weeks in the fridge. If you cook summer sausage, make sure to store it properly afterward, as the shelf-life is not nearly as stable.
How Long Is Summer Sausage Good For After Opening?
As soon as you open up your summer sausage, the product will be exposed to air and moisture. This will greatly reduce its shelf-life and make it more susceptible to contamination.
You can expect uncooked sausages to last less than a week once removed from their package. The spread of bacteria will be accelerated if you leave the summer sausage out in hot weather, especially if the room temperature is above 70F. This is the predicted shelf-life of summer sausage after opening:
- Pantry - 3 to 4 days
- Refrigerator - 3 weeks
How Long Does Summer Sausage Last In The Freezer?
If you want to maximize the shelf-life of your summer sausage, keeping it in the freezer is the best way to do it. Freezing meat is one of the most reliable ways to prevent it from going rancid, which applies to summer sausage as well.
So long as the product is properly sealed, the freezer should extend the shelf-life of summer sausage exponentially. You can count on your summer sausage to retain their flavor and quality for at least 10 months.
However, frozen summer sausage can potentially last indefinitely. Store unopened summer sausage below 0F to keep it safe from bacteria and contamination.
Is It Safe To Eat Expired Summer Sausage?
Although just about every type of summer sausage features an expiration date, this is not always a reliable way to determine when the product will actually go bad.
So long as the packaging is unopened and the food has been stored properly, it should be safe to eat summer sausage past its expiration date and it generally tastes fine. The expiration date on summer sausage may indicate when the quality will start to diminish but the product often lasts longer than the printed date on the packaging.
That said, you need to watch out for certain telltale signs to determine if old summer sausage is safe to eat. Always inspect expired summer sausage carefully to ensure that it has not been contaminated. If you notice any contamination, do not eat the expired summer sausage.
What Are The Risks Of Eating Rancid Summer Sausage?
Eating summer sausage that has gone bad poses some serious safety risks. Meat products are particularly known for being dangerous to eat after they have become rancid, which applies to summer sausage as well.
Despite the stable shelf-life, summer sausage will go bad eventually, and eating it can cause food poisoning or foodborne illness. In most cases, this will result in the following symptoms:
- Upset Stomach
For severe food poisoning, medical treatment and hospitalization may be required. If you ate rancid summer sausage that is making you ill, you should seek medical help urgently.
Do You Need To Refrigerate Summer Sausage?
One of the best things about summer sausage is that it does not need to be refrigerated. This cured meat product was designed to last and it can handle stable room temperatures quite well.
For this reason, you do not need to refrigerate your unopened summer sausage. It’s important to leave summer sausage in its original casing and packaging, as this will prevent the spread of contamination.
As soon as you open your summer sausage, it can become easily contaminated by air and moisture. To secure the shelf-life of the product, you should always refrigerate summer sausage once it's been opened.
How To Tell If Summer Sausage Has Gone Bad
Although summer sausage is a relatively stable food, compared to other meat products, it will eventually go bad.
Observing food safety is essential to prevent foodborne illness, which is why you need to keep an eye out for the following symptoms when determining if your summer sausage has gone bad.
One of the first things that you will likely notice when summer sausage starts to go bad is the product will begin to smell. If the summer sausage has recently expired, you may notice a slightly funky odor.
That said, as soon as summer sausage goes rancid there should be a foul smell that will be hard to miss.
Summer sausage is a delicious product and should be flavorful. If your first bite of summer sausage was unappetizing and felt off, the product may be bad.
In general, if you notice the flavor of the product is not right, play it safe and don’t eat it.
Any changes in appearance should raise some red flags. Summer sausage that becomes rancid will often lose its original appearance and become discolored. I suggest tossing it in the garbage if you notice any discoloration.
How To Store Summer Sausage
Summer sausage is very easy to store and you do not necessarily need to refrigerate the product to secure its shelf life. You should be okay with storing summer sausage just about anywhere in your home so long as the environment is stable.
I recommend choosing a storage location that is dry, cool, dark, and away from direct sunlight. The following storage locations will be ideal for keeping summer sausage:
Always remember, the shelf-life of summer sausage is only reliable if the casing and packaging are unopened. As soon as you open the product, store it in the fridge or freezer.
Is Summer Sausage A Good Emergency Food?
I would not recommend using summer sausage as an emergency good. This cured meat product has a long shelf life, but even in ideal storage conditions, summer sausage generally only lasts around 3 to 6 months.
For emergency food stockpiles, you should try to select products that will last for years, not months. Unless you plan on keeping a frozen supply of summer sausage, this is not a food item that you can count on for the long haul.
Alternatives To Summer Sausage
While this product can last for months, it is not the most shelf-stable food around. There are plenty of other meat products worth considering as an alternative solution to summer sausage, such as:
- Dried Meat
- Canned Meat
About THE AUTHOR
I have over a decade of experience in food and beverage management, including a ServSafe food safety qualification. As part of this qualification, I have been professionally trained in safe food storage.Read More About Mark Walker