How can you tell if summer sausage is bad?

Summer sausage, also known as smoke sausage, is a cured sausage that is commonly made from a mixture of beef and pork. It gets its name from the fact that it was traditionally made to last through the summer months when fresh meat was less available. Summer sausage has a tangy, smoky flavor and is often seasoned with garlic and peppercorns. It makes a great snack or addition to a charcuterie board.

Like any type of cured or aged meat, summer sausage does eventually go bad. But its high salt content means that it lasts longer than fresh sausages. An unopened summer sausage can last 2-3 months past its printed expiration date if stored properly in the refrigerator. Once opened, it will stay fresh for about 3-4 weeks.

How to Tell if Summer Sausage is Bad

Here are some signs that your summer sausage has spoiled and should be discarded:


  • Mold – You see fuzzy mold growing on the sausage.
  • Sliminess – The sausage has a slimy or sticky texture.
  • Dry, cracked casing – If the casing is very dry and cracked, this indicates the sausage is dried out.
  • Discoloration – The meat inside the casing looks brown or grey rather than pink or red.


  • Rancid odor – The sausage has a sour, ammonia-like smell.
  • Rotten egg smell – This indicates sulfur gas produced by spoilage bacteria.


  • Slimy – A slippery, slimy texture on the exterior or interior.
  • Sticky – The meat feels very sticky or tacky.
  • Hard – If the interior meat is very hard and dry.

How to Store Summer Sausage Properly

To get the most shelf life out of your summer sausage, proper storage is key. Here are some tips:

  • Keep refrigerated at 40°F or below. The colder the better.
  • Wrap tightly in plastic wrap or foil. Make sure the sausage is not exposed to air.
  • Store away from high-moisture foods like fruits or vegetables that could speed spoilage.
  • Once opened, re-wrap tightly in fresh plastic wrap.
  • Use opened sausage within 3-4 weeks.
  • Look for any mold growth, sliminess, or off-odors before eating.
  • Do not freeze, as this will negatively impact texture.

What Makes Summer Sausage Spoil Faster?

There are a few factors that can accelerate the spoilage process for summer sausage:

  • High temperatures – Heat speeds up bacterial growth and chemical reactions. Store summer sausage below 40°F.
  • Oxygen exposure – Bacteria needs oxygen to multiply. Limit air exposure by tightly wrapping sausage.
  • Light exposure – Light can degrade fats in the sausage. Store in the dark.
  • Cross-contamination – Cooking and handling summer sausage on unclean surfaces can introduce new bacteria.
  • Frequent temperature changes – Repeatedly moving sausage from fridge to countertop speeds up spoilage.

How to Know if Moldy Summer Sausage is Safe to Eat

You open up your summer sausage and notice fuzzy white or greenish mold growing in spots. Should you just cut off the moldy parts and eat the rest? Here’s what you need to know about mold and summer sausage safety:

  • Any mold growth on perishable foods like summer sausage is risky to eat. Some molds produce mycotoxins that can cause illness.
  • Even if you cannot see mold spreading below the surface, the roots may permeate deeper into the food.
  • With semi-soft foods like summer sausage, it’s safest to discard the entire sausage once mold is spotted.
  • If the mold coverage is very minimal, you may be able to cut off at least 1-2 inches around and below the moldy spot.
  • Cutting away mold on harder salami or dry-cured sausages is more accepted, but err on the side of caution.
  • If mold returned after you already cut some away, throw the rest out. The mold likely spread farther than you could see.
  • Do not taste summer sausage if you suspect it may be moldy or spoiled.

What Bacteria Causes Summer Sausage to Spoil?

There are a variety of different bacteria types that could be responsible for spoiling your summer sausage. Here are some of the most common culprits:


Salmonella contamination often occurs when the meat is mixed with infected carrier foods. It can grow even when refrigerated. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps.

Clostridium botulinum

This bacteria produces the neurotoxin that causes botulism poisoning. Toxin production is more likely in improperly handled, canned, or vacuum-packed foods.

Listeria monocytogenes

Listeria can survive refrigeration and thrive at fridge temps. It causes listeriosis which can be serious in pregnant women, the elderly, and those with weak immune systems.

Staphylococcus aureus

Staph bacteria are common on human skin. They produce toxins that can cause food poisoning. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.


Molds are fungi that grow fuzzy filaments on foods. Inhaling or eating certain molds can cause allergic reactions. Mycotoxins from some molds can cause illness.


Yeasts are single-cell fungi that causes fermentation. Too much yeast growth can break down summer sausage proteins and fats leading to off-flavors and odor.

Can Eating Spoiled Summer Sausage Make You Sick?

Yes, consuming summer sausage that has spoiled can definitely make you sick. Here are some potential illnesses:

Food poisoning

Staph, salmonella, listeria and other bacteria can all cause symptoms like nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea, fever, and chills.


Botulinum toxin causes paralysis, blurred vision, trouble breathing and swallowing, and even death in severe cases.

Allergic reactions

Some molds release allergy-provoking spores into the air when you cut into them. Inhaling may cause coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.

Mycotoxin poisoning

Toxins from mold growth on summer sausage can cause symptoms like numbness, tremors, nausea, or liver and kidney damage when ingested.

How to Dispose of Spoiled Summer Sausage

If your summer sausage shows signs of spoilage, it’s important to properly dispose of it to prevent foodborne illness. Here are some safe ways to get rid of bad summer sausage:

  • Place the sausage in a sealed bag and dispose in the outside garbage bin, not your indoor trash can.
  • Throw away any platter, plate or utensils that came in contact with spoiled sausage.
  • Wash your hands with warm soapy water after handling.
  • Clean any surfaces or containers that stored the bad sausage with hot soapy water.
  • Disinfect area with diluted bleach solution.
  • If a large portion of sausage was moldy, you may want to double bag to contain spores.
  • Remove trash bags containing spoiled foods from your home quickly.

Typical Shelf Life of Summer Sausage

When properly stored, summer sausage can typically be kept for:

  • Unopened, shelf life is 2-3 months past the “best by” date.
  • Opened, lasts 3-4 weeks in the fridge.
  • Deli-style summer sausage sold loose typically lasts about 7 days.
  • Homemade summer sausage lasts 1-4 weeks in fridge depending on recipe.

Note that sausage with a higher fat content, like a beef summer sausage, tends to have a shorter shelf life than low-fat varieties like chicken or turkey.

The printed expiration date can be a good reference point, but it’s also important to rely on visual and smell checks to determine if your opened sausage is still safe and fresh.

How to Tell When Leftover Cooked Summer Sausage is Bad

Cooked summer sausage that’s been previously opened also has a shorter shelf life. Here’s how to tell if leftover cooked summer sausage has gone bad:

  • There is mold growth either on the exterior or inside the sausage.
  • The texture is very slimy.
  • You detect a sour, rancid, or rotten smell.
  • The color has darkened or grayed.
  • It feels very dry and hard.
  • You see a lot of liquid in the packaging.

In general, opened, pre-cooked summer sausage will stay fresh about 3-5 days if refrigerated. Cut away any moldy sections or discard at the first signs of spoilage.

Can You Freeze Summer Sausage?

You can freeze summer sausage to extend its shelf life, but freezing and thawing does impact the texture.

Here are some tips for freezing summer sausage:

  • Freeze sausages as soon as possible after opening.
  • Double wrap tightly in plastic wrap then foil to prevent freezer burn.
  • Place sausages in air-tight freezer bags.
  • Leave no headspace at the top and squeeze out excess air.
  • Freeze sausages flat to maximize space.
  • Add freezer labels with date and contents.
  • Avoid repeated freeze/thaw cycles which impact quality.
  • Once thawed, use within 3-5 days.

The freezer storage time for summer sausage is 2-3 months. Thawed and refrigerated, it lasts around 1 week.


The key signs that summer sausage has spoiled are mold growth, slimy texture, foul sour or rancid smells, dried out appearance, or unnatural colors. Consuming bad summer sausage can cause food poisoning. Always store summer sausage sealed in the refrigerator at 40°F or below. Use opened packages within 3-4 weeks and check for signs of spoilage before eating. With proper refrigerated storage, an unopened summer sausage can last 2-3 months past the printed date. Freezing can extend shelf life but will change the texture.

Leave a Comment