Although sausage contains salt and other seasonings that can act as preservatives, it will go bad if you hang on to it long enough. Here’s how to tell if sausage is spoiled—whether it’s raw or already cooked.
How To Tell if Sausage is Spoiled
When meat goes bad, you can usually tell by smelling it. Fresh raw meat, including sausage, doesn’t smell like much of anything. Other telltale signs of spoilage include a slimy texture, discoloration, or patches of white or blue mold.
What Happens If You Eat Bad Sausage?
Consuming spoiled meat is a bad idea on several levels.
For one thing, it probably won’t taste good in the first place, so there’s no reason to eat it. As you’ll come to learn, even the smell is likely to be off-putting.
More importantly, though, eating spoiled meat can make you sick. The toxins that are present in rancid meat are heat-resistant, so cooking it or reheating it won’t help.
Some common symptoms of food poisoning include nausea, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. You may also experience headaches, muscle spasms, or troubling neurological symptoms.
Most of the time, these symptoms will resolve themselves within a few days. In more severe cases, though, they can persist for weeks, sometimes even requiring hospitalization.
As you can see, there’s no benefit to consuming sausage if you suspect it might no longer be fresh. “When in doubt, throw it out” is a good mantra to recite when you’re checking meat for spoilage.
How To Tell if Sausage is Spoiled
Hazardous bacteria might be invisible to the naked eye, but when meat has been around long enough, the signs of spoilage become more evident. In most cases, you can rely on your senses to alert you as to whether the sausage is still relatively fresh.
Your first step should be to take a good whiff of the sausage. What does it smell like? Are you getting subtle hints of spices and herbs, or does it have a very strong odor reminiscent of sulfur?
If it’s the latter, don’t eat the sausage. Fresh meat doesn’t have much of a scent on its own. The seasonings are all you should be able to smell, and in some cases, even those will be subtle enough to go unnoticed.
This rule applies whether the sausage is raw or cooked. Basically, if it has a scent that’s strong enough for you to notice it, that’s a huge red flag.
Raw pork sausage is generally pink in color. If it’s made from beef, it will be a darker red shade. Chicken and turkey sausage, as you might imagine, are a pale peach color.
Fresh sausage should not be gray or brown before it’s cooked. A few brown spots don’t necessarily indicate spoilage, but there’s a good chance that the sausage has outlasted its best days. This will be reflected in the flavor and texture of the cooked meat.
After cooking, the sausage loses its translucent quality and turns opaque. The color may range from ivory to dark pink to brown, depending on what type of meat it is. Any gray or green spots indicate that the meat has begun to spoil, as do patches of mold.
Run your finger along the length of a sausage link to test the texture. It might be slightly damp to the touch, but a slimy coating indicates the presence of spoilage bacteria.
If you’re testing loose bulk sausage instead of links, you’ll notice that the meat starts to feel limp and soggy when it should be springy to the touch. Don’t be tempted to cook the sausage to see what happens in this case—just throw it out.
What if the meat is already cooked? Again, it will feel firm and only a bit moist when it’s still fresh. When bacteria start to feed on the surface, the meat gains a slimy texture. It’s better to err on the side of caution and discard it.
Sell By Dates
These dates are in place to give the retailers a general idea of how long the product has been available for sale. A sell by date that’s already gone by isn’t indicative of spoilage, but it can serve as a useful guide.
Check the date on the package if you’re on the fence about whether the meat is fresh or not. If it was several days ago, you’re probably better off discarding the sausage.
On the other hand, if the sausage smells and looks okay and the sell by date is still a couple of days off, then it should be fine.
Can You Tell if Sausage is Spoiled By The Flavor?
Most likely. If you’re unfortunate enough to bite into sausage that’s gone bad, you’re bound to notice something off about the taste.
That said, it’s best not to let it go that far. Don’t cook and eat the sausage if you have the slightest suspicion that it might not be fresh. It’s always disappointing to throw food away, but food poisoning is even less pleasant.
How Long Does Fresh Sausage Keep in the Fridge?
All ground meat products, including fresh sausage, should keep in the fridge for 1 to 2 days. If the raw meat has been treated with curing salt (as with summer sausage), it can keep for up to 3 days, but it’s better to cook it off within a 2-day window.
After the sausage is cooked, it should keep for up to 4 days. Note that cured dry sausages are stable at room temperature and can last for several weeks or even months before they’re opened. When kept in the fridge, they might keep for up to 6 months.
What about prepackaged and precooked sausages like hot dogs? An unopened package should keep for up to 2 weeks. Once you’ve opened them, you should either finish them off or freeze them within a week.
Storage and Handling
Unless you’re dealing with a cured dry sausage, don’t leave the sausage unrefrigerated for longer than 2 hours.
When meat is kept at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees for too long, it attracts bacteria that multiply rapidly. Room temperature falls within this window, which is known as the “danger zone.”
Note that if the weather is especially hot—over 85 degrees—you should refrigerate any raw or cooked meat within just 1 hour. The warmer it is outside, the faster the meat will spoil.
Also, be aware that the sausage might not be displaying any of the signs of spoilage we discussed earlier. It can sit out all night and still look and smell fine, but you should still throw it out just to be sure.
Freeze the sausage if you’re not able to cook and/or consume it within the prescribed time frame. When frozen, fresh sausages should maintain their quality for up to 6 months. Cooked leftovers should be thawed and reheated within 2 months.
It’s true that the sausage won’t technically spoil as long as it’s properly stored in the freezer. However, long exposure to subzero temps causes the meat to dry out, so it won’t be as appealing once you finally have a chance to thaw it.
Before freezing sausage, ensure that it’s tightly wrapped or kept in an airtight container. This will help to stave off freezer burn and prevent cross-contamination with other ingredients.
The Bottom Line
Try not to buy or make fresh sausage unless you know you’ll be cooking it off within the next couple of days. You can always freeze it if you have to, but the texture and flavor will be much better if you cook the sausage right away.
Also, take care when selecting prepackaged fresh sausage. If the meat is already starting to deteriorate before you even get it home, it might spoil before you have a chance to cook it.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!