Several different treatments and combinations of treatments can be applied at end of the fermentation. These include cooking, drying, and smoking. In the United States, fermented sausages are often cooked after fermentation, whereas, in Europe and elsewhere, raw sausages are the norm, and post-fermentation heating steps are rarely applied.
In general, properly made dry, fermented, uncooked sausages, like salami and pepperoni, are still considered to be shelf-stable and ready-to-eat. Cooking, however, does provide important advantages. Cooking not only inactivates the culture and stops the fermentation, but it also kills pathogenic microorganisms that may have been present in the raw meat. Thus, the cooking step, at least in the United States, may be an important component of HACCP programs (Box 6-5) used by sausage manufacturers, since it serves as a terminal process step providing manufacturers (and consumers) with reasonable assurance of product safety.
Furthermore, in the United States, any pork-containing sausage must, by federal regulations, be cooked to destroy Trichinae, a nema-tode that infects swine and that can cause the disease Trichinella in humans. The USDA has developed various time-temperature regimens that are effective (e.g., 58.3°C), and which can easily be implemented as part of the cooking process. Exceptions are allowed if the pork is certified as Trichinae-free or if the pork is frozen according to the USDA guidelines for freeze-inactivation of the Trichinae cysts.
If a cooking step is included, the product can be moved to a separate chamber or, as is more common, the fermentation chamber itself is equipped with heating capability. The temperature is slowly raised until the desired internal temperature (usually 60°C to 62°C) is achieved. Following cooking—or fermentation, if there is no cooking step—the product can be smoked and/or dried. In general, Mediterranean sausages (e.g., Genoa and Milano) are dried, but not smoked, and northern sausages (e.g., German) are smoked, but not dried. In contrast, some semi-dry products, such as summer sausage, are slightly smoked.
If the product is to be dried, the chamber environment is set at about 7°C to 13°C (45°F to 55°F) and 70% to 72% RH. Good air movement is necessary to rapidly remove water vapor and any condensate that collects at the sur-face.The rate of drying is also critical. If the RH is too low and the temperature too high, drying will initially be rapid. However, at these high drying rates, the surface will become dehydrated and form a hard, water-impermeable skin. This phenomenon, called case hardening, results in slower drying and poor product quality, since water molecules are unable to diffuse through the hardened surface and are trapped within the sausage interior.
Drying times depend on product specifications and desired quality characteristics. Obviously, large diameter products require longer drying times than small diameter products.The longer the drying, the more water is lost, and the lower will be the final water activity. Semi-dry products are typically dried to remove about 20% to 30% of the original water and to give a final moisture of about 45% to 50%. The aw of semi-dry products ranges from 0.90 to 0.94. Such products may be stable at ambient temperature, with a shelf-life of about thirty days. Examples include Thuringer, cerve-lat, Lebanon bologna, summer sausage, and semi-dry salami. Dry fermented sausages will lose about 35% water, giving a final moisture of 35% and an aw between 0.85 and 0.91. Dry products can be shelf-stable for seventy-five days or more. Pepperoni and salami, especially the Italian, Mediterranean, and eastern European varieties, are the most common examples.
Most modern facilities are equipped with programmable systems that allow operators to set fermentation and cooking parameters, as well as air movement, smoking, and drying conditions. Recording devices provide a record of these conditions during the manufacturing process. Thus, once the sausages are loaded into the ripening chamber, they can be left on their own, more or less, until the process is completely finished.
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