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Adapted from Hammes and Knauf, 1994

Adapted from Hammes and Knauf, 1994

Box 6—3. Pathogens, Toxins, and the Safety of Fermented Sausage

Given that fermented sausages are made from raw meat and many are never heat processed or cooked, it is not unreasonable to question the microbiological safety of these products. The emergence of several serious foodborne pathogens in the 1980s, such as enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) O157:H7 and Listeria monocytogenes, has raised additional concerns, since these organisms are frequently present in raw meat, have high mortality rates, and are more hardy than other food borne pathogens.

Of course, if not properly manufactured, even traditional foodborne pathogens, such as Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium botulinum, and Salmonella, can present significant food safety risks in fermented sausages.Finally, there are several food safety hazards other than those caused by bacterial pathogens. Parasites, fungi, viruses, and other agents can potentially contaminate meat and sausage products.In addition, an unusual but not uncommon form of food poisoning is caused by the presence of biogenic amines that are produced by bacteria ordinarily present in fermented sausage.

Despite these concerns, manufacturers of fermented sausages have long considered these products to be safe, and they have generally withstood the test of time. Since 1994, there have been few food poisoning outbreaks associated with fermented meat products (Table 1). Their safety is undoubtedly due to the presence of multiple antimicrobial barriers or hurdles that exist in fermented sausages (Table 2). After all, for a given organism to survive and grow in these products, it would have to overcome each of these individual barriers. That is, at minimum, it would have to be nitrite-resistant, acid-resistant, salt-resistant, and osmotolerant. Moreover, when barriers are combined, there is a synergistic effect, such that the net antimicrobial effect of multiple barriers is greater than would be predicted based on their singular effects. For example, a strain of Salmonella may be fully capable of surviving a pH of 5.2, provided that all other conditions are optimal for growth. But if another hurdle is put in place (e.g.,the water activity is reduced from 0.99 to 0.97), then pH 5.2 may be sufficient to inhibit this organism.

Table 1. Ten-year safety record for fermented meats.

Year

Country

Product

Cases

Organism

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