FDA and Nitrate Usage
Many preservatives are regulated under the Food Additives Amendment, added to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1958. The amendment strengthened the law to ensure the safety of all new ingredients that manufacturers add to foods. Under these rules, a food manufacturer must get FDA approval before using a new preservative, or before using a previously approved preservative in a new way or in a different amount. Food law says preservatives must be listed by their common or usual names on ingredient labels of all foods that contain them.
Manufacturers add preservatives mostly to prevent spoilage during the time it takes to transport foods over long distances to stores. Without such preservatives, food safety problems would get out of hand.
Preservatives serve as either antimicrobials or antioxidants—or both. As antimicrobials, they prevent the growth of molds, yeasts, and bacteria. As antioxidants, they keep foods from becoming rancid, browning, or developing black spots. Rancid foods may not make a person sick, but they smell and taste bad. Antioxidants suppress the reaction that occurs when foods combine with oxygen in the presence of light, heat, and some metals. Antioxidants also minimize the damage to some essential amino acids—the building blocks of proteins—and the loss of some vitamins.
Preservatives may not be used to deceive a consumer by changing the food to make it appear other than what it is. For example, preservatives that contain sulfites are prohibited on meats because they restore the red color, giving meat a false appearance of freshness. The food additive regulations require the preservative to be of food grade and be prepared and handled as a food ingredient. The quantity added to food must not exceed the amount needed to achieve the manufacturer’s intended effect.
Regulations about the use of nitrites demonstrate the scrutiny given to the use of additives. Nitrites, are used in combination with salt, and serve as antimicrobials in meat to inhibit the growth of bacterial spores that cause botulism, a deadly food-borne illness. Nitrites are also used as preservatives, for flavoring and fixing color in a number of red meat, poultry, and fish products.
Since the original approvals were granted for specific uses of sodium nitrite, safety concerns have arisen. Nitrite salts can react with certain amines (derivatives of ammonia) in food to produce nitrosamines, many of which are known to cause cancer. A food manufacturer wanting to use sodium nitrites must show that nitrosamines will not form in hazardous amounts in the product under the additive’s intended conditions of use. In addition, other antioxidants, such as sodium ascorbate or sodium erythorbate, may be added to inhibit the formation of nitrosamines.
Sodium nitrite and nitrate are listed as approved prior-sanctioned food ingredients in FDA’s regulations based on their documented use for curing meat. This determination was made prior to 1958 where “meat” was defined as being from cattle, sheep, swine, goats, and equines. Because exotic or game species were not included in the definition, nitrites and nitrates cannot be used to manufacture products prepared only from non-amenable species. If a product made from non-amenable meat were to include more than 2% of a listed species (for example 2% pork fat) from an inspected and approved source, then the use of nitrites/nitrates would be allowed for that product and it would be required to be manufactured under an inspected process.
Sausages, Smoked Meats and Dried Meats
A fresh sausage is lean ground meat combined with fat or lard or other binding agent and seasonings such as herbs and spices. Fresh sausage can be packed in bulk, formed into patties, or put into a casing and sold as links. Fresh sausage must be kept under refrigeration and cooked before being eaten.
Fresh red meat sausage may be prepared at a USDA inspected facility or at a 20-C licensed commercial kitchen. Fresh game and poultry sausage may be prepared at a USDA inspected facility, at a 5-A facility or at a 20-C commercial kitchen.
Cooked Smoked Sausages
Cooked smoked sausages include products such as hotdogs and bologna. It is advised to keep these products under refrigeration and to thoroughly heat before being eaten.
Fermented Sausages are a class of chopped or ground meat products that, because of microbial fermentation of a sugar, have reached a PH of 5.3 and have undergone a drying/aging process to remove up to 25% of the moisture. These products are typically cured but are not necessarily cooked or smoked. The USDA regulates the moisture-to-protein ratio but does not formally define semi-dry or dry sausages.
Semi-dry sausages such as summer sausage, thuringer, cervelat, and landjaegar have a higher moisture content and should be refrigerated. They are generally cooked or smoked prior to sale or consumption. Dry sausages such as pepperoni or salami are generally shelf stable and may be consumed without additional heating.
Below is a partial list of fermented sausages:
- Alpina Salami: A spicy Italian-style sausage that originated in the US.
- BC Salami: Beef case Italian-style salami
- Blockwurst: A semi-dry sausage.
- Caserta Pepperoni: A southern Italian product generally 75% pork and 25% beef, linked in pairs much like landjaegar.
- Cervelat: This is a general class of semi-dry sausages, generally Swiss style, and includes Farm style, (summer sausage), Goettinger, Goteborg, Holsteiner, Landjaegar, and Thuringer.
- Cacciatore: This is a dry sausage historically prepared with wild game.
- Calabrese: An Italian Salami highly seasoned with hot peppers.
- Cotto Salami: This salami is not fermented or acidified, but rather cooked.
- D’Arles Salami; This is French salami stuffed in hog bungs and corded to show a distinct diamond pattern.
- Frizzes: A rough chopped, highly seasoned, dry sausage.
- Genoa Salami: This is primarily pork product that is not smoked, originating from Genoa, Italy.
- German Salami: This German style salami is heavily smoked, traditionally stuffed into calf bladders and corded with twine.
- Italian Salami: Regional differences result from the seasonings, stuffings and cording designs.
- Lola and Lolita: Dry garlic-seasoned sausage of Swiss origin. Lola is roughly one pound, and Lolita is two and a half pounds.
- Lombardia Salami: This salami has higher fat content and incorporates brandy into the recipe.
- Milano Salami: This sausage has an intricate cording pattern.
- Lyons Sausage: This is a French style using pork and pork fat seasoned with garlic.
- Metz Sausage: Made with beef, pork, and bacon.
- Pepperoni: This class of sausage must be treated and certified Trichina Free. Generally, it is not smoked or cooked.
- Salami: There are hundreds of types of salamis, usually made from pork and seasoned with garlic. Extenders and binders are permitted, and the product may or may not be cooked.
- Sopressata: A fermented sausage stuffed into hog casings with a wrinkled appearance.
- Soudjouk: A dry sausage of Turkish origin. Made from beef, water buffalo, and or mutton, usually containing 10% sheep fat.
- Summer Sausage: A farmer-style Cervelat, produced in the cooler months for summer eating.
- Touristenwurst: A semi-dry sausage.
- Ukrainian Sausage: A dry sausage containing pork and veal chunks, heavily seasoned with garlic, cooked and air-dried.
Smoked Meats and Sausages
Smoking adds desirable color, flavor, and aroma to fresh or fermented meats. Smoking may also a method of preserving meat but it should not be the only method employed, as any disruption to the smoked surface will destroy the preservation. Approved woods for smoking include hickory, oak, apple cherry (and other fruitwoods), mesquite, redwood and even corncobs. Liquid smoke may be substituted for the actual smoking process. Products may be hot smoked or cold smoked. Products are cooked during the early stages of a hot-smoke process. Cold smoking at temperatures below 41°F is generally reserved for hams. Smoked meats should be kept refrigerated and thoroughly cooked before being consumed.
Jerky and Dried Meat
People have made jerky for hundreds of years. Native Americans combined jerky with animal fat to create Pemmican, a product know for it high energy qualities. Early European explorers prepared dried meats such as Charqui or Xarque. Biltong, an African version, was often produced using ostrich meat. Many of these early versions used salts and seasonings as rubs. Today’s jerky is often prepared using marinades instead.
In general, jerky is prepared using lean muscle meats, cut with the grain of the muscle fiber. All visible fat must be removed to prevent rancidity. Jerky has a very low moisture level and may be cured, non-cured, smoked, non-smoked, rubbed, or marinated. Jerky can be made from amenable or non-amenable meat or poultry. Jerky may also be made from ground meat into a jerky-like product known as “formed jerky”.
Kippered meats are similar to jerky but are allowed to have a higher moisture to protein level. Kippered meats are not shelf stable, and may need further heat processing and vacuum packaging to retain product integrity.
Snack sticks are generally made with shredded or ground meat, seasonings, and a cure. The mixture is stuffed into small diameter casings and hot smoked (cooked and dried). Because they may contain fat, they require antioxidants to control rancidity and vacuum packaging to limit oxygen exposure. Their tangy taste is usually attributed to lactic acid (or other organic acids) to help prolong shelf life.
USDA has a quick guide on jerky manufacturing for small and very small plants available at:http://www.fsis.usda.gov/pdf/compliance_guideline_jerky.pdf
Recipe Development and Considerations
Developing a great recipe takes time. Different ingredients, different fermentation, and drying techniques all add to the uniqueness of the end product. Spices, seasonings and other ingredients add additional interest. It helps to understand the sausage process when looking to experiment.
The usual procedure in the making of a sausage is to grind the various meats coarsely and then add the rest of the ingredients, mixing thoroughly. Generally, the other ingredients (spices and seasonings) are first made into a slurry using a small amount of water before being mixed into the ground meat. The product is then ground again to the desired consistency. Small batches (up to 25 pounds) are recommended so the cure and seasoning can be more evenly distributed.
It is not necessary to stuff fresh sausage meat. It can be left in bulk form or made into patties. Most sausage, however, is made by placing the ground ingredients in some type of forming device to give them shape and hold them together for thermal (heat) processing. The casing materials may be natural or manufactured. Natural casings are often the gastrointestinal tracts of cattle, sheep, and hogs. They are digestible and are very permeable to moisture and smoke. Fibrous casings are more suitable for summer sausage and similar products because of their greater strength and the variety of sizes available. They are permeable to smoke and moisture and can easily be removed from the finished product. Collagen casingscontain the attributes of both natural and fibrous casings. They have been developed primarily for use in products such as fresh pork sausage and pepperoni sticks. They are uniform in size, relatively strong and easy to handle. These casings also are used for the manufacture of dry sausages, because they are permeable and will shrink. For products that are water-cooked plastic casings impermeable to water are used.
The success or failure of a value added meat product may be dependent upon the selection and combination of spices and seasonings used. Typical beef spices include: basil, bay leaves, chervil, coriander, cumin, dill, garlic, lovage, marjoram, parsley, sage, savory, shallot, tarragon, and thyme. Spices that compliment lamb include: basil, bay, dill, garlic, mint, marjoram, rosemary, parsley, savory, tarragon, and thyme. Pork is often seasoned with: anise, basil, bay, caraway, coriander, cumin, fennel, garlic, rosemary, sage, and thyme. Poultry seasonings include: basil, bay, burnet, caraway, chervil, chives, cumin, dill, garlic, marjoram, parsley, rosemary, sage, savory, shallots, tarragon, and thyme. Dried fruits such as cranberries, apples apricots, and tomatoes can also be considered. Various chilies, onions, and peppers can also add distinct flavors. Combinations of spices, seasoning and additions provide unique interest and lend to consumer appeal.