What's the shelf-life of your breakfast sausage? Well, it really depends on what type of sausage you have on hand. It makes sense that fresh bangers that would be served up as part of a full English fry-up will have a shorter shelf life than dried and cured chorizo—but how much longer are we talking here? To find out the real shelf life of sausages, once and for all, we scoured the files of the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, the public health agency responsible for keeping our food supplies safe and correctly labeled.
So learn how to store your sausage correctly, no matter what type of breakfast meat you're handling, below.
Fresh sausages are legally defined by the US government as, "a coarse or finely 'comminuted' (reduced to minute particles) meat food product prepared from one or more kinds of meat, or meat and meat 'byproducts,'" and they are sold raw. As such, you should treat these fresh sausages as you would any perishable food item. Store fresh sausages in the fridge, and if the links are left out, unrefrigerated for more than two hours, you should probably toss them.
You also only want to buy as much raw sausage as you can reasonably eat in a couple of days. According to guidelines from the USDA FSIS, a pack of fresh sausages will last only between one and two days in your fridge, whether the package is opened or not. You can slightly extend the shelf-life of fresh sausages to three to four days by cooking them before storing them in your fridge. To store cooked sausage safely, the experts at the FSIS recommend putting the meat "in shallow containers for quick cooling," then refrigerating within two hours.
Sometimes, you want something quick and easy—like precooked sausage. These are the sausages that are ready-to-eat once you heat, like hot dogs or some packaged breakfast sausages. You can confirm that your sausage is pre-cooked by reading the label on the packaging. Since they've already been cooked, their shelf life is much longer than that of fresh sausage. An unopened package will be fresh in your fridge for up to two weeks, though you should use an opened package within a week, according to guidelines from the USDA FSIS.
The last category of sausage is dried sausage, like pepperoni, and according to the USDA FSIS, "They are, with a few exceptions, cooked." So you don't have to refrigerate them if you've gotten them whole; they'll last for up to six weeks in a cool pantry. But if you do refrigerate these dried sausages, they'll last indefinitely before they're open, and up to three weeks once open. Some dry sausages are shelf stable (in other words, they do not need to be refrigerated or frozen to be stored safely)," note the experts at the FSIS, but be sure to read the label before you just leave out a hunk of sausage at room temperature, assuming it'll be OK.