Is salami technically raw?

Salami is a type of cured sausage made from raw, ground meat. The curing process used to make salami involves fermentation, air-drying, and sometimes smoking – but does this mean that salami itself is raw? Let’s take a deeper look at how salami is made and examine the evidence to determine if salami is technically a raw meat product.

How Salami is Made

Salami starts with raw meat, usually pork, beef, or a combination of the two. Seasonings like salt, spices, and curing agents are mixed into the raw meat. The meat mixture is then stuffed into casings, leaving the ends open. Once stuffed, the salami logs are hung to ferment and dry, which is where the curing process begins.

Fermentation occurs because the raw meat still contains live bacteria. Sugars are converted to lactic acid by the bacteria, lowering the pH. The drop in pH helps inhibit spoilage and provides tangy flavor notes. This is the same process used to make yogurt, sourdough bread, and other fermented foods.

Air-drying aids preservation by removing moisture from the salami. Drying concentrates flavors and allows beneficial bacteria to thrive on the surface, creating a white film. If smoked, the smoking infuses flavor and dries the sausage further. While flavors develop during the curing steps, the inside of the meat remains uncooked.

Is Salami Raw After Curing?

Since the inside of salami is not exposed to heat during processing, it remains in a raw state throughout curing. The USDA defines raw meat or poultry as any meat or poultry that has not reached an internal temperature of 145°F during processing. Salami does not reach an internal temperature anywhere close to 145°F during fermentation and drying.

While the outside does dry and harden, forming a protective rind, the inside remains moist and raw. Pathogens that may have been present in the raw meat mixture are not destroyed by the curing process alone. Only proper fermentation, drying, and the dry acidic environment work to prevent bacterial growth.

Water Activity and Raw Meat

Water activity or aw refers to the availability of water in a food that supports microbial growth. Fresh meats have a high water activity of around 0.99. As salami cures, the water activity drops below 0.90 due to drying. This helps restrict microbial growth in addition to the acidity.

However, a lower water activity alone does not constitute “cooking.” While salami undergoes physical and biochemical changes during curing, the meat itself does not experience temperatures required to consider it cooked through or ready-to-eat.

Curing vs. Cooking Meat

Curing refers to the use of salt, nitrates, nitrites, and sometimes sugar and spices to preserve meats. Curing extends shelf life and enhances flavor. However, curing does not necessarily involve the application of heat to meats.

Cooking, on the other hand, uses heat to denature proteins, kill pathogens, and alter the meat’s physical and biochemical properties. Cooking makes meat safe to eat with no further preparation required. Roasting, grilling, baking, and boiling are examples of cooking meat.

While the outside of salami dries during curing, the inside does not cook. Salami must still be cooked before eating for food safety reasons. So while the curing steps help preserve the meat and add flavor, salami is not considered pre-cooked or ready-to-eat.

Salmonella and Other Health Risks

Since salami is not actually cooked during processing, raw meat hazards remain. According to the USDA, salami is considered a raw, ready-to-cook product. Some of the pathogens associated with raw meats like salami include:

  • Salmonella
  • E. coli
  • Listeria monocytogenes
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Campylobacter

Along with pathogenic bacteria, raw meats can also harbor parasites like Toxoplasma gondii and Trichinella. Proper handling and cooking help mitigate the risks of consuming contaminated salami.


Salmonella rates as one of the most common and dangerous pathogens associated with raw meat. Symptoms of salmonella poisoning include fever, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, and headache. While most people recover without treatment, salmonella can be life-threatening to infants, elderly, and immunocompromised individuals.

Raw ingredients, inadequate fermentation, and poor sanitation during processing can all lead to salmonella in cured sausages. A study in fermented sausages found salmonella present even after 28 days of curing due to insufficient pathogen reduction during fermentation.

Other Bacteria

In addition to salmonella, E. coli, listeria, staph, and campylobacter are routinely found in raw pork and can be problematic even after curing. Listeria is especially persistent in damp processing environments. And toxin-producing staph can withstand salt and low moisture.

While proper starter cultures can create conditions to limit pathogens, contamination can still occur. The long, slow fermentation of salami creates more opportunities for pathogen survival compared to short-cured sausages like hot dogs.


Parasitic worms like Trichinella spiralis can infest pork and other meat sources. These parasites can survive salting and curing. Freezing or cooking to the proper internal temperature is required to kill these hardy worm cysts before consumption.

Another parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, may contaminate raw or cured pork. Toxoplasmosis typically causes flu-like symptoms in healthy adults but can seriously impact pregnant women and their fetuses.

How to Enjoy Salami Safely

While the curing process adds characteristic flavors and extends shelf life, salami should always be handled as raw meat even after drying:

  • Cook salami thoroughly before eating. Heat to 160°F internally.
  • Prevent cross-contamination by keeping salami and its juices away from other foods.
  • Wash hands, utensils, and surfaces after contact.
  • Store in the refrigerator at 40°F or below.
  • Discard if mold or unpleasant odors develop.
  • Avoid for high-risk groups like children, pregnant women, and the immunocompromised.
  • Purchase pre-cooked, ready-to-eat salami if concerned about raw meat pathogens.

Cooking Salami to Proper Temperatures

Heating salami to the recommended internal temperatures kills any dangerous pathogens present:

  • Whole cuts: 160°F
  • Ground salami: 160°F
  • Reheating cooked salami: 165°F

Use a food thermometer to verify temperatures. Oven roasting, skillet frying, and grilling are all good cooking methods. Cook sliced salami on pizzas, in casseroles, pasta sauces, or sandwiches until steaming hot.

Ready-to-Eat Options

Look for ready-to-eat salami that has been pre-cooked for safety, including:

  • Cotto salami – Cooked and smoked
  • Hard salami – Fermented and air-dried sufficiently to be shelf-stable
  • Roasted salami – Cooked in an oven until ready-to-eat

For deli-style salami, check if it is considered a ready-to-eat product or if cooking is still required before consumption. Vacuum-sealed salami that has not been cooked should still be handled as raw.

How Professionals Stay Safe Around Salami

Commercial salami makers adhere to strict protocols and regulations during production to help control pathogens. Some of the safeguards include:

  • Testing raw ingredients for pathogens
  • Adding starter cultures to achieve proper acidity
  • Monitoring time, temperature, and humidity during fermentation
  • Testing finished products for pathogens before distribution
  • Sanitizing equipment and facilities regularly
  • Excluding high-risk ingredients like raw milk

However, even with quality controls in place, risks cannot be completely eliminated. Training staff on proper food safety practices and safe ingredient handling is key.

Following USDA Guidelines

Commercial manufacturers in the U.S. follow protocols set out in the USDA FSIS Compliance Guideline for Meat and Poultry Jerky Produced by Small and Very Small Establishments.

Although salami is not the same as jerky, the guidelines provide validated processes for controlling pathogens in cured meat products. This includes processes for whole muscle as well as non-intact meat products like salami:

  • Achieving aw ≤0.85
  • pH ≤4.6
  • Minimum drying times
  • Holding at proper refrigeration temperatures
  • Recording time and temperature during curing
  • Testing finished products for pathogens

The USDA provides training programs, updated research, and resources to producers to assist with compliance.


HACCP or Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points programs are also required for commercial manufacturing. HACCP identifies potential hazards and implements steps for prevention and control during production.

Monitoring procedures at critical control points help minimize hazards like pathogens. Facilities are subject to regulatory inspections and audits to ensure adherence.

Is Salami Ever Considered Cooked?

Salami can only be classified as “cooked” if it has been processed in a manner that heats the meat mixture thoroughly to destroy potential pathogens. Some salami is cooked as part of the production process:

  • Cotto – Cooked to 156°F internally after the curing process
  • Roasted – Oven-roasted before or after curing
  • Smoked – Cooked to at least 140°F while smoking

Cooking gives these salami varieties a ready-to-eat designation. Salami cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F or above for at least 15 seconds meets the USDA definition for cooked, RTE meat.

Most other salami, including Italian-style salami, is classified as uncooked. Even when smoked at low temperatures, uncured salami only reaches about 100°F internally. Without proper cooking, raw meat hazards remain.

Dry Curing Is Not Cooking

Traditional air-dried styles like Genoa salami, Hungarian salami, or hard salami achieve an internal temperature under 100°F during processing. Pathogens are not destroyed at these low temperatures.

Sufficient drying time creates an unfavorable environment for bacteria but does not equate to thorough cooking. Never assume dry-cured salami is free of contaminants.

Fermentation Alone Doesn’t Eliminate Risk

Controlled fermentation produces acids that help suppress bacteria growth. However, many pathogens can survive the acidic conditions. For example, E. coli O157:H7 and salmonella can persist at pH levels below 5.0.

Fermentation alone does not produce high enough temperatures or maintain adequate acidity long enough to eliminate infectious bacteria or parasites.


While the culturing and curing process transforms a raw meat mixture into the delicious deli meat we know as salami, it does not constitute thorough cooking. Pathogens hazardous to human health remain active inside traditionally cured salami.

Heating salami to the recommended internal temperatures is necessary to destroy contamination and make the meat safe to eat. Raw, fermented salami should always be handled with the same precautions as any fresh raw meat product.

Commercial producers take steps to limit risks by monitoring fermentation, drying, and sanitation protocols closely. But even properly manufactured salami carries some level of risk if consumed uncooked.

So is salami technically raw? The answer is yes. Salami does not meet the definition of cooked, ready-to-eat meat until it has been heat processed to eliminate potential pathogens. To stay safe, cook salami thoroughly before eating and choose pre-cooked, shelf-stable varieties when possible.

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