Visit any farmer’s market in Europe, and you’ll see racks of delicious-looking sausages. The sausage is kept out in the open without any refrigeration. While this might seem scary for many Americans, summer sausage does not need to be refrigerated and has a very long shelf life.
However, the term summer sausage is used loosely today. So, before you leave sausage hanging in your pantry indefinitely, read this guide to summer sausage shelf life.
What Is Summer Sausage?
Before refrigeration was invented, people had to use various preservation methods to keep food safe. For meat, these include salt curing, smoking or drying, and fermenting. Summer sausage traditionally uses all three of these methods.
Some of the most famous types of summer sausage include:
Summer sausage is similar to some other types of sausages, such as salami and pepperoni. However, the main difference is that summer sausage is semi-dry. It only has about 15% of its moisture removed (as opposed to 20-40% with dry sausages), so its easier to slice and chew.
How Long Is Summer Sausage Good For?
Summer sausage was invented to last a long time. Once you cut open the casing, though, the sausage is exposed to air – and any bacteria in the air – and starts to go bad. The hotter the temperatures, the faster the summer sausage will go bad. Slices of summer sausage have a high surface area, so they need to be eaten the same day.
Bear in mind that there are lots of types of summer sausage. Some brands don’t use Lacto-fermentation and will spoil faster. Other brands are so loaded with preservatives that they might last almost indefinitely in the fridge.
Summer Sausage Shelf Life
I have extended family in Eastern Europe who still make their own summer sausage. They don’t refrigerate it and eat it up to a year after making (it usually is gone by then). However, it’s always best to err on the side of caution. Try to eat summer sausage within the given shelf life estimates or by its “best by” date.
- Unopened in the pantry: 3-6 months
- Unopened in the refrigerator: 6+ months
- Opened, refrigerated: 1 month
- Opened, unrefrigerated: 1-4 days
Does summer sausage need to be refrigerated?
Real summer sausage does not need to be refrigerated so long as you don’t open it. Once you slice through the casing, you expose the sausage to contaminants and oxygen in the air. This can cause it to spoil.
For this reason, it’s recommended that you refrigerate summer sausage immediately after opening. Once cut open, it will last approximately one month in the fridge.
NOTE: If the package says “Needs refrigeration,” then it is not real summer sausage. It must be refrigerated and is not shelf-stable.
How Long Will Open Summer Sausage Last Unrefrigerated?
A lot of backpackers take summer sausage on trips. The general consensus is that summer sausage will last about 3 to 4 days without refrigeration so long as the temperatures are mild (under 75℉). In hot weather, though, the summer sausage might only last one day.
How to Tell if Summer Sausage Has Gone Bad
You will know that summer sausage has gone bad if it gets a bad smell or taste. If there is any doubt, don’t eat it. It’s harder to tell whether summer sausage has gone bad by looking at it, though, because it tends to change as it ages.
White Fuzz or Mold on Outside of Summer Sausage
Usually, mold on food is a sign that it has gone bad. This is not the case with summer sausage. It is perfectly normal for summer sausage to develop some fuzzy mold on its casing due to the continuing fermentation process.
Likewise, summer sausage often gets a white salty residue on its exterior as it dries out. In fact, some of the best summer sausages are sold with white salt crystals or mold already growing on their casing.
How to Store Summer Sausage
Summer sausage should be kept unopened in a cool, dark place until you open it. Once you open it, you should keep it refrigerated.
If you won’t eat it right away, wrap it in parchment paper or vacuum seal it before putting it in the refrigerator. This will prevent it from drying out and losing its nice texture.
Just because you don’t have to refrigerate summer sausage, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Hot temperatures will cause the fat in summer sausage to go rancid. While it might still be safe to eat, it will get a gross rancid taste. To play it safe – especially in hot climates – keep the summer sausage in the fridge.
Can You Freeze Summer Sausage?
So long as it hasn’t gone past its expiration date or started to go bad, you can freeze summer sausage. It will last indefinitely in the freezer. However, freezing will cause the texture of summer sausage to change. For this reason, many brands say that you should not freeze summer sausage. If you do, try to eat frozen summer sausage within one year.