Refrigerating meat products can help prolong their shelf life, even if they’re cured meats that can be stored at room temperature when they’re unwrapped. But how long can cooked sausage sit out at room temp if it hasn’t been cured?
How Long Can Cooked Sausage Sit Out?
Cooked sausage can sit out at room temperature for up to 2 hours in most weather conditions. If it’s exceptionally hot outside, you should refrigerate the sausage after 1 hour. One exception: Cured meats like summer sausage can be kept at room temperature for several weeks, as long as the package remains unopened.
Why It Matters
When meat is kept at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit for extended periods, it becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. For that reason, this temperature range is commonly referred to as “the danger zone.”
Storing meat in the fridge—that is, at temps between 33 and 39 degrees—will slow bacterial growth. When the meat is kept in the freezer at subzero temps, the bacteria will stop growing entirely, which is why meat doesn’t spoil when it’s frozen.
On the other end of the spectrum, high temperatures kill off many types of hazardous bacteria. Once the meat is heated past 140 degrees, these pathogens can’t survive for very long.
Within the danger zone, though, these bacteria can multiply at a rapid pace. Proper handling and storage is a key factor when it comes to food safety.
How Long Can Cooked Sausage Sit Out?
Whether the sausage is cooked or raw, it should never sit out at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. In fact, when the temperature outside exceeds 80 degrees, you’ll need to refrigerate any meat products within 1 hour.
That might sound like plenty of time, but the hours pass by quickly when you’re entertaining. Be sure not to let your smoked or grilled sausage stay on the buffet table for too long, or you could risk poisoning your guests—not to mention yourself.
Can You Leave Cooked Sausage Out Overnight?
If you forget to refrigerate cooked sausage, it might be tempting to ignore the fact that it was sitting out all night. After all, the meat was already cooked, and reheating it should eradicate any bacteria, right?
The answer to that is no, absolutely not. While certain types of bacteria are eradicated at temperatures exceeding 140 degrees, spoilage bacteria is heat-resistant. Once the meat has gone bad, exposing it to heat won’t help matters in the slightest.
Even more troublesome is the fact that you can’t always detect spoilage bacteria by looking at the food. It might even still smell fine after it’s been sitting out overnight.
If you’ve left meat unrefrigerated for longer than 2 hours, your safest option is to throw it away. It’s disappointing, sure, but preferable to food poisoning. The disappointment might even serve as a reminder to be more vigilant next time around.
What About Summer Sausage?
By definition, summer sausage is meant to be stored at room temperature for long periods. Before it’s opened, it’s shelf-stable, meaning that you don’t need to refrigerate it—although it will keep longer if you do.
Unopened summer sausage doesn’t require refrigeration because it’s been cured. After the ground meat is mixed and seasoned, it’s treated with curing salt, then refrigerated for a while.
Once the curing salt has done its work, the sausage is stuffed into casings and smoked at a low temperature. At this point, it should keep at room temperature for up to 6 weeks, but it can last for 6 months if you store it in the fridge.
Summer sausage isn’t the only type of sausage that’s stable at room temperature. Pepperoni and certain types of salami don’t have to be refrigerated until they’re opened. If you aren’t sure whether the sausage is shelf-stable, keep in in the fridge.
It’s important to note that once you’ve cut into the sausage (or opened the package, if you’re talking about store-bought product), you should keep it in the fridge. The exposure to air will hasten bacterial growth, even though the meat is cured.
On a similar note, the sausage won’t keep as long after it’s been opened. Plan on consuming any leftovers within 3 weeks.
How To Tell if Sausage is Spoiled
As we mentioned, spoilage bacteria don’t always make their presence known. Sausages that have been sitting out on the counter all night might look and smell fine, but that doesn’t mean they’re safe to eat.
However, if you’ve had a batch of sausage in the fridge for a long time and you aren’t sure whether it’s still good, there may be telltale signs of spoilage. Your first step is to sniff it. If it smells sour or off in any way, then it’s probably no longer fresh.
The appearance of the sausage can serve as another clue. Discoloration can indicate spoilage, especially if you notice any white or green fuzzy patches.
Finally, check to see whether the sausage is slimy to the touch. Some store-bought sausage might be packaged in a brine solution, so it might be slightly wet. But a sticky or slimy texture could indicate that bacteria have begun to feed on the meat.
When it comes to checking meat for spoilage, err on the side of caution. In other words, if you think it might be bad, trust your judgment and throw it out.
How Long Does Uncooked Sausage Keep in the Fridge?
The answer to this depends on the type of sausage you’re dealing with.
“Uncooked” can mean two different things, depending on whether the sausage is fresh or merely prepackaged. If the sausage you’ve bought from the store is already cooked—like hot dogs or kielbasa, for example—it can last for up to two weeks in the fridge.
Raw sausage products, meanwhile, don’t keep very long. That’s because they’re made from ground meat, which goes bad relatively quickly.
Fresh sausage will only keep in the fridge for a day or two. Make sure you’re prepared to cook it within that time frame, whether you’ve purchased it from the butcher shop or prepared the mixture yourself.
One final note: Fresh sausage needs to heat to an internal temperature of 160 degrees before it’s safe to eat. Let it rest for at least 5 minutes before serving so that the temperature comes up slightly and the juices will have a chance to redistribute.
Tips On Keeping Cooked Sausage Fresh
—Wrap the sausage tightly in plastic wrap before putting it in the fridge. You can also use zip-top bags or sealed containers. Pack the containers as tightly as possible to eliminate air circulation, and make sure they’re well-sealed.
—Unless the sausage is cured, consume any leftovers within 3 to 4 days. Homemade smoked sausage doesn’t keep as long as the store-bought variety, which has usually been treated with preservatives to increase its shelf life.
—If you aren’t able to enjoy the leftovers within a few days, freeze them instead. Frozen sausage will keep indefinitely, but the texture will be better if you thaw it after a couple of months.
—Defrost frozen sausage slowly, preferably in the fridge. This will help it maintain its original texture, which has an indirect effect on its flavor.
The Bottom Line
Some folks believe that sausage can be left out at room temperature longer than other meat products. That’s true if the meat has been cured, but it’s not always the case.
To ensure that your sausages remain fresh and uncontaminated, be sure to refrigerate any leftovers within a 2-hour time frame. Even unopened cured sausages will keep longer if you put them in the fridge, so this is a good rule to follow.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!