Is it safe to eat cold pepperoni?

Eating cold pepperoni is generally considered safe, as long as it has been properly handled and stored. Pepperoni is made from cured meat, which means it has been seasoned and dried to extend its shelf life. The curing process makes it less hospitable to bacterial growth. However, there are still some risks to consider when eating pepperoni cold.

Is pre-packaged pepperoni safe to eat cold?

Pre-packaged pepperoni that you buy at the grocery store, like the kind you would put on a pizza or in an antipasto platter, is safe to eat cold right out of the package. These products are ready-to-eat and have been processed according to USDA standards to control for pathogens. As long as you have stored the pepperoni properly, keeping it sealed and refrigerated within the use-by date, it poses minimal risk of foodborne illness.

Can I eat homemade or deli pepperoni cold?

Homemade or deli pepperoni that has not been fully cooked poses more risks than pre-packaged pepperoni when eaten cold. Deli pepperoni is essentially fresh sausage that has been seasoned and cured, but not fully cooked. Homemade pepperoni goes through even less processing. So cold cuts of these types of pepperoni may contain active bacteria like Salmonella or E. coli if they have not reached the proper internal temperature during manufacturing. For safety, homemade and deli pepperoni should be thoroughly cooked before serving.

What are the risks of eating pepperoni cold?

If pepperoni has not been handled properly, such as being left out too long at room temperature, there are some risks of eating it cold:

  • Foodborne illness. Pepperoni could harbor Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, or other bacteria if it has been contaminated and not properly refrigerated. These pathogens can lead to illness if the pepperoni is then eaten without further cooking.
  • Spoilage. Pepperoni could become spoiled, grow mold, or develop an off odor, taste, or appearance if left at temperatures above 40°F for too long. Spoiled foods should not be eaten.
  • Nitrates. Pepperoni contains sodium nitrate or nitrite as part of the curing process. In large amounts, these preservatives may be toxic and increase cancer risk.

How can I eat cold pepperoni safely?

To safely eat pepperoni cold, follow these basic food safety guidelines:

  • Purchase pre-packaged, ready-to-eat pepperoni and store it sealed in the refrigerator at 40°F or below. Use within the manufacturer’s use-by date.
  • Do not purchase or eat pepperoni from the deli counter unless you plan to cook it thoroughly before eating.
  • Discard any pepperoni that has an off color or texture, strange odor, or shows signs of mold.
  • Limit your consumption of pepperoni, even pre-cooked kinds, to no more than 2-3 servings per week to reduce nitrate exposure.
  • Consider heating or cooking pepperoni before serving, especially if you are serving it to those more vulnerable to foodborne illnesses like young children, pregnant women, the elderly, or immunocompromised individuals.

What are some safe ways to serve cold pepperoni?

Here are some safe options for serving and eating pepperoni cold:

  • On antipasto or charcuterie plates
  • Rolled up with cheese or other fillings
  • Chopped in salads or pasta dishes
  • Added to sandwiches or pizza that will be thoroughly heated
  • Cooked in appetizers like pepperoni pinwheels or pizza rolls

The key is to ensure pre-packaged pepperoni maintains refrigeration temperature, to heat deli or homemade pepperoni to 165°F before serving, and to follow food safety best practices. This helps minimize the risk of illness.

Can I freeze pepperoni to eat later?

Properly frozen pepperoni remains safe to eat. To freeze pepperoni:

  • Ensure raw pepperoni reaches an internal temperature of 160°F before freezing.
  • Divide pepperoni into portions and wrap tightly in freezer-safe packaging.
  • Date packages and freeze at 0°F or below.
  • Store frozen for no more than 2-3 months for best quality.
  • Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before serving.

Frozen fully-cooked pepperoni can be thawed and eaten cold. Raw or partially cooked pepperoni should be thawed and cooked to 165°F before eating.

Can spoiled pepperoni make you sick?

Yes, consuming spoiled pepperoni can make you ill. Unsafe levels of bacteria like Salmonella, Listeria, Clostridium perfringens, Staphylococcus aureus, and Bacillus cereus can grow in pepperoni if it has been stored incorrectly, especially at temperatures above 40°F.

Signs of spoiled pepperoni include:

  • Mold on the surface
  • Slimy texture or sheen
  • Sour or off smell
  • Discoloration
  • Dry, shriveled appearance

Eating spoiled pepperoni, especially without further cooking, may cause symptoms like:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches

In severe cases, dangerous complications like sepsis are possible. To avoid getting sick, it is important to identify and promptly discard spoiled foods.

Can you eat pepperoni while pregnant?

Pregnant women need to take extra caution with cold cuts like pepperoni. Pepperoni could be a source of the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes, which can cause pregnancy complications like miscarriage, stillbirth, and newborn illness.

To lower risk, pregnant women should:

  • Avoid eating deli and homemade pepperoni unless it is reheated to steaming hot.
  • Only consume pre-packaged pepperoni that has been refrigerated properly.
  • Limit intake to 2-3 small servings per week.
  • Thoroughly heat sandwiches or pizza made with pepperoni.
  • Avoid cross-contamination by keeping uncooked meats like pepperoni away from other foods.

Discuss any other dietary restrictions with your obstetrician. With proper handling and moderation, pre-packaged pepperoni can be safely enjoyed during pregnancy.


Pre-packaged pepperoni that has been stored and handled properly can be safely eaten cold in moderation. For vulnerable groups and homemade or deli pepperoni, heating it thoroughly before serving is the safest option. Follow food safety best practices like refrigeration and avoiding cross-contamination to minimize the risk of illness from cold pepperoni. Limit intake and discard any pepperoni that shows signs of spoilage.

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