FAQs: Sausage Seasoning

How can I get an acidity tang flavor in my sausage?
The addition of encapsulated acids, such as citric or lactic is one fermentation method. These crystals of dry powder acids are encapsulated in partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. The addition of 8 to 16 ounces per 100 pounds of sausage usually will provide an acid flavor. The amount depends on just how much tangy flavor you want. Add the encapsulated acids to the mixer just prior to the end of the mix cycle, stuff as normal sausage, and then cook in the smokehouse; the vegetable oil melts at 135°F. The moisture in the meat rehydrates the acid crystal and you now have pH drop, an acid aroma, and an acid flavor. Direct addition of acid would denature many of the meat proteins and they would be unable to bind, which would cause fatting out, lower yields and a general overall lack of body to the sausage.
Starter Cultures are usually lactic acid bacteria, marketed refrigerated or frozen, which give a processor the best results when producing a fermented sausage, such as summer sausage, snack sticks, pepperoni, or genoa salami. Usually only 10 to 25 grams are needed per 100 pounds of sausage. Add the controlled amount of culture at the time of mixing and ferment in a controlled smokehouse to achieve consistent results, batch after batch, week after week. Add the correct amount of culture to a pint or two of cold, unchlorinated water (the organisms are killed at 117-118°F so do not use warm water), and mix well. Then add this mixture to your mixer approximately 45 seconds before you are finished mixing your sausage. Stuff the product as you normally would and place it in the smokehouse. Ferment at 95° to 98° F for 12 to 16 hours depending on how much tangy flavor you wish to achieve. When the desired pH is reached, turn up the smokehouse temperature and finish off the product according to your normal smokehouse schedule. Starter cultures need dextrose or corn syrup solids to ferment into lactic acid; they will ferment regular sugar, but at a much reduced rate. If you do not get the desired pH, 

A) The organism may have  run out of food; they need a minimum of 0.75 pounds of dextrose, 1.3 pounds of corn syrup solids, or combination thereof.

B) You may have added the starter too soon to the mixer, in an initial high salt concentration. 

C) There may be chlorine in your water.

D) The temperature of the house may be either too high or to low.

E) The starter culture may have been mishandled. Keep the culture frozen.

What is MSG – Monosodium Glutamate? What does it do?

Monosodium Glutamate is a salt of Glutamic Acid production. It stimulates the taste buds on your tongue to be more receptive – hence a flavor enhancer. Studies have shown that several humans are allergic to MSG; therefore it is classified as an allergen. Symptoms of those allergic ranges from experiencing a slight headache to full blown cardiac arrest symptoms causing immediate hospitalization followed by normal life inside of 48 hours. These symptoms are sometimes referred to as the Chinese Food Syndrome, as MSG is used in most oriental foods. There are especially high usages in Korean cuisine.

Taste panels have proven in many studies that Monosodium Glutamate is a flavor enhancer, and in making foods taste better, processors continue to include MSG in their formulations. It should be noted that many acid hydrolyzed cereal grains, which make flavors, contain naturally occurring MSG. One needs to be cautious of the label “ No MSG” or “No MSG added”

Are Peppers fruits or vegetables?

Peppers, although eaten as a vegetable, are a fruit, that material that grows from the flower of a plant. Peppers are classified into two categories – Sweet Bell and Spicy Chilies. The difference is noted as the presence or absence of capsaician. The compound which causes the perception of heat or burning sensation in not only our mouth, but also in some cases, on our skin.

Sweet Bell Peppers all start out green in color and change color as they ripen. Colors may be black, brown, purple, red, orange, yellow, or ivory.

Spicy Chilies are grown in several varieties from mild Paprika type to Jalapeno, Chili or Habenero.

Size, shape, color, and heat vary within the varieties and the soil conditions, rain, or sunshine. Most if not all the heat is located in the white membrane where the seed is attached.

Store peppers in paper bags, refrigerated for up to 5-7 days for Sweet Bell and 3-4 weeks for Spicy Chilies.

By the way, if you eat an unbearably hot one – drink milk, eat yogurt, rice, or bread to ease the pain – water will not help.

What is pulled meat?

What is pulled pork?  Pulled beef?  Pulled chicken?  Pulled turkey?
United States Department of Agriculture regulations define that as meat which has been slow cooked until tender. It may have been seasoned, pumped, or tumbled. The meat, while still warm, is mechanically or by hand “pulled” apart. This can be accomplished by chunking or shredding to retain its natural muscle fiber structure. Regulations state that meat that has been chopped, ground, or comminuted “is not pulled”.

Pulled meat is usually combined with a sauce of some type – Barbeque, Oriental, Thai, Italian, or the like. The percentage of meat will influence how the product is labeled. More than 50%, the meat is listed first; less than 50% the sauce is listed first.

What are shelf stable meat products and how do I make them?

Shelf Stable meat products are those which do not require refrigeration for preservation.  Those ingredients added to or processes used to extend the shelf life of products

  1. Drying – Physical removing of moisture from the product
  2. Salt – Addition of salt to inhibit microbiological growth
  3. pH – Starter Cultures pf Acidulants
  4. Preservatives – Mold inhibitors, Sodium or Potassium Lactates, Acid Salts or Citrates

Drying isn’t all that is necessary; we need to achieve a certain reduction in water activity or Aw.  Water activity is the measurement of available water to support microbiological growth.  An item may be “dry” but still have sufficient available water to support spoilage organism growth.  Flour may have a moisture content of 14% but have a water activity, Aw of 0.73.

  Food    Aw
  Water 1.00
  Fresh Meat 0.95-1.00
  Bread  0.94-0.97
  Cured Meat   0.87-0.95
  Flour 0.67-0.80
  Cereals 0.10-0.20
  Sugar 0.10

A meat product with Aw of less than 0.85 is considered shelf stable.  USDA says Aw of Jerky at or less than 0.70 is the critical limit and would not, at this level, support mold growth.  Most bacteria do not grow at an Aw 0.91 or lower and most molds do not grow at an Aw of 0.80 or lower.

pH or acidity of a product can influence a microbiological growth.  The lower the pH or more acid in the product, the less likely spoilage or pathogenic bacteria will grow.

  Food Aw
  Limes 1.8-2.0
  Apples 2.9-3.3
  Summer Sausage  4.3-5.0
  Watermelon 5.2-5.6
  Ground Beef   5.1-6.2
  Chicken 6.2-6.4
  Milk 6.3-6.5
  Sweet Corn 7.3

A reduction in pH can be achieved by use of starter cultures, fermenting dextrose to acid or using encapsulated acids which require cooking to 140 °F to activate.

Results necessary to achieve control:

    Aw pH
  Campylobacter - 4.00
  Clostridium perfringens 0.93 5.00
  E. coli O157:H7 0.95 4.40
  Listeria monocytogenes 0.92 4.39
  Salmonella 0.94 3.80
  Stah. Aureus 0.85 4.00

The USDA defines “Potentially Hazardous Food” as that which has a pH of greater than 4.60 and water activity of 0.85 or higher.  “intermediate-Moisture Food” is a food with 15-50 percent moisture and a water activity of 0.60 -0.85.  These foods require additional pH control, refrigeration, preservatives, and/or pasteurization to produce a stable product.   

What Does It Take To Be “Shelf Stable”?

Meat inspection regulations prescribe product conditions necessary for a dried and/or acidified products to be marketed as shelf stable (can be marketed at room temperature – needs no handling statement such as “keep refrigerated” on the label). The two principle conditions are:

a) MPR of < 3.1 and pH of < 5.0
b) MPR of < 1.9 (no pH requirement)

MPR is the moisture-to-protein ration of the product.  This is obtained by dividing the % water by the % protein in the product. Fresh raw meat has an MPR of about 3.5, so drying to 3.1 is not a lot of drying. Attaining an MPR of 1.9 would involve considerable drying.  MPR has also long been used in the standard of identity of a number of products. For example, to be called jerky the product must attain an MPR of 0.75, or to be called pepperoni, the product must reach an MPR of 1.6.  In the past we have always assumed if a product satisfied these labeling standards, they could be safely marketed without refrigeration (and we still believe that is the case). However, recently the USDA has “uncoupled” the labeling standard from the safety aspect. We have had many calls from processors whose inspectors have said of such products: “Your product has met the labeling standard, but can you prove it is safe if marketed out of refrigeration?”  Fortunately Steve Ingham (U of Wisconsin) has tested the growth of Listeria monocytogenes and Staph aureus on a wide range of dried and/or acidified products (these two bugs are of most concern in shelf-stable RTE products). To date none of such products tested has allowed either bug to grow at room temperature (should they contaminate the product after cooking), and in every case the pathogens die off slowly during room temperature storage.  Today food safety specialists regard water activity (Aw) as a better indicator of shelf stability/control of pathogen growth than MPR. It is possible that some of these standards in the future may abandon MPR in favor of water activity.

–Dennis Buege – University of Wisconsin, Madison
–Reprinted from Wisconsin Association of Meat Processors News & Vies, 3/05