Spoiled sausages don’t just taste bad. They are unsafe to eat. Here’s how to tell when a package has gone bad.
A package of sausages is lying around in your fridge or freezer, but you’re unsure of its freshness? We’re about to cover the fool-proof ways to tell when sausages have gone bad.
Food safety is one of the most important—and underappreciated—aspects of home cooking. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 million Americans get food poisoning every year. Of them, 128,000 get hospitalized, and 3,000 die.
The topic of food safety becomes especially important when we talk about raw sausage, which harbors pathogenic bacteria that can make you sick and spoil when left out or refrigerated for a long time.
Fresh sausages should be pinkish on the inside and taste herby when cooked. When sausages smell sour, feel slimy to the touch, and display a grayish or greenish color, they’ve most probably gone bad—and should be discarded immediately.
The slime and the color are the more obvious tells. Numerous readers reached out to me to share that they ate sausage that smelled or tasted sour. Shortly after, as their stories go, their stomachs made them regret it.
That’s the thing about eating spoiled food, you know. More often than not, it won’t work out well for you (and anyone else who’s eating your food at the table).
My two cents, then?
Do what’s right—and don’t risk it. The odds are not in your favor, and food-borne illness is no devil to play with. At best, you can get a case of it with diarrhea or vomiting. At worst, you can wound up in a hospital bed.
If you suspect that uncooked sausages have gone off, err on the side of caution and toss them. Don’t postpone it, as other members of your household may make the mistake of trying to cook and eat them.
Contrary to popular belief, cooking spoiled sausages won’t make them safe to eat. Though temperatures of 140°F or higher will kill pathogenic bacteria, the toxins produced by these bacteria will remain inside the meat.
Sausage Shelf Life
|Food Item||Room Temperature||Refrigerated||Frozen|
|Uncooked sausage||1-2 hours||1-2 days||Up to 2 months|
|Cooked sausage||1-2 hours||3-4 days||Up to 3 months|
|Dry sausage||1-2 hours||6 weeks unopened,|
3 weeks once opened
Always refrigerate or freeze sausages, and don’t leave them out for longer than a couple of hours.
Raw sausages have the shortest shelf life and should be cooked within a couple of days, whereas dry sausages last the longest and can be stored for weeks.
How Long Can Sausages Sit Out?
Sausages are not a type of food that can sit out for prolonged periods of time. Once they come off the heat, don’t wait to eat all of them up. Any leftovers should be cooled to room temperature and refrigerated.
Sausages, whether raw or cooked, shouldn’t be left to sit out at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. On sultry summer days, when it’s 90°F or hotter outside, that time is reduced to 1 hour.
If sausages, opened or unopened, raw or prepared, have sat out for longer than 1-2 hours, throw them away and don’t try to cook or eat them, as they’re no longer safe to eat.
When you leave sausages out, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service explains on its website, the pathogenic bacteria will roughly double in count inside them and/or on them every 20 minutes.
Under “pathogenic” bacteria, I mean bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella Enteritidis, Escherichia coli, and Campylobacter, which are not only commonly found in food but known to cause severe cases of food poisoning when ingested.
Past a certain threshold, the sausages become so saturated with pathogenic bacteria—and the toxins those bacteria produce—that they can make you sick.
How Long Do Uncooked Sausages Last?
Raw, uncooked sausages are a perishable food and should therefore be kept refrigerated or frozen.
Kept in their original packaging or wrapped in butcher paper, raw sausages will stay good for 1-2 days in your fridge. Store them on the lower shelves where it’s the coldest.
Unopened sausages can be frozen in their original packaging, whereas opened sausages must be transferred to a freezer bag. Frozen at 0°F (-17.8°C) or below, sausages will keep their best quality for up to 2 months.
According to the USDA, frozen foods stay safe to eat indefinitely. However, the sausages will eventually dry out and start suffering from freezer burn, and it’s best to use them up while they’re still in their prime.
How Long Are Cooked Sausages Good For?
Did you cook up more sausages than your family and you can eat?
Cool the sausages down to room temperature, then transfer them to an airtight food storage container and put them on the lower shelves of your fridge, where it is coldest. They will stay good for 3-4 days.
Cooked sausages will freeze well. Let them cool down, seal them in a freezer bag, and pop them in the freezer, where they will keep their best quality for up to 3 months. They will stay safe to eat after that time but will continually dry out.
Thawing Sausages Safely
Whether you’re planning to boil, fry, grill, or roast sausages, always thaw them before cooking.
The safest way to thaw sausages is to plan ahead and transfer them from your freezer to the bottom drawer of your fridge overnight. Place the links on a plate or inside a food storage container to collect leaking juices.
A quicker method is to put the sausages in a ziplock bag and submerge them in a bowl filled with cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the links are no longer frozen and stiff, and cook immediately after thawing.
To thaw sausages in the microwave, remove the outer wrapping, place them in a microwave-safe container, and defrost for 2-3 minutes. If they need more time, defrost in 30-second sessions until done, then cook them immediately after.
Thawed sausages can be refrozen as long as they haven’t sat out for longer than 1-2 hours. (If so, they should be thrown away.)
Can Sausages Spoil in the Freezer?
“I bought discounted sausages from the store and froze them straight away,” a reader asked in the feedback form below this article. “But when I thawed and cooked them, they smelled and tasted sour. Did the sausages spoil in my freezer?”
Unless your freezer is broken—and it isn’t freezing your food to a temperature of 0°F (-17.8°C) or below, in which case you need to fix it straight away—the sausages can’t have spoiled inside it.
The sausages may have spoiled because of improper transportation, handling, and storage before or after they got to the grocery store. In such a case, the sell-by date won’t matter.
Or they may have spoiled during thawing in your home. Before I got into food safety and started learning about all of this, I used to thaw meats by leaving them out on the counter for a few hours before cooking.
If you’re making the same mistake, too, I recommend that you adopt one of the safe defrosting methods described above.
For your information
We originally published this article on December 20, 2020. We updated it on November 1, 2021, to include additional tips for storing sausage as well as to answer a reader’s question.