Pepperoni, Salami, Sopresseta, and many other charcuterie sausages are made by combining curing, fermentation, and drying of meats into a highly desirable final product. These sausages have been made for many hundreds of years.
- sporeforming pathogens (Clostridium botulinum, and C. perfringens)
- toxins from sporeformers and Staphylococcus aureus
- naturally present vegetative pathogens (e.g. E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, and Listeria monocytogenes)
- environmental pathogens (post processing contamination (e.g. L. monocytogenes).
The following CCPs are designed to control the above hazards.
CCP1 – Curing salts addition inhibits sporeforming pathogen growth: The USDA requires both a minimum and maximum level of curing salts (either sodium nitrite or sodium nitrate) be used.
CCP2 – a fermentation pH of 5.3 or less prevents growth and toxin production by S. aureus. The industry calls this “degree-hours”.
CCP3 – A thermal process eliminates any vegetative pathogens that might be present. Typically a low cook temperature is used for one to several hours to affect pathogen lethality.
CCP4 – If an operator desires the sausage be shelf stable, then the product must also be dried to a suitable water activity (≤ 0.90). Doing so prevents the outgrowth of any pathogens that might have been acquired post thermal processing. The alternative is simply to refrigerate the sausage. L. monocytogenes (the psychrotroph) cannot grow at ≤ 41F at any pH ≤ 5.
Note that the CCPs match the hazards by number. This is not always the case, but it helps illustrate that for every hazard there is a control. While the above is a simplified overview, the specifics can be found in USDA FSIS sample HACCP plans.
A few Q&As
Q1: Is vacuum packaging (ROP) the final product safe?
A1: Assessing the hazards shows that with all four of the above CCPs met, the sausage is safe whether held aerobically or under reduced oxygen. In fact it is safer. Staphylococcus aureus cannot grow anaerobically below Aw 0.90. No growth = no toxin potential. And, as a packaged food, it is protected from post-processing contamination.
Q2: Are the molds safe that develop on the surfaces of many cured, fermented, and dried meats?
A2: Yes. While a few molds produce mycotoxins, these are generally not the molds that grow on meats. For some products, the mold is desired. It protects the surface from possible bacterial growth and can contribute to flavor development.