Pastas, casseroles, stuffings, soups and stews are just a few of the dishes that feature the savory flavor of Italian sausage.
Primarily made with ground pork, this fennel and garlic infused meat product is a popular addition to a plethora of meals.
This leads many to question “how long can you freeze Italian sausage”?
Italian sausage is a combination of spices and either ground pork, beef or chicken. When in link and patty form, these all have a shelf life of one to two months in the freezer and one to two days in the fridge. Conversely, ground Italian sausage can last up to four months.
However, these time frames decrease when proper storage is not in place. Optimal storage time can be achieved with prompt freezing and the use of airtight containers. This helps to prevent oxygen and bacteria from spoiling your meat.
Proper Meat Storage
According to the nation’s food safety experts, when stored at a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, raw sausage made from pork, chicken, beef or turkey can be stored in the fridge for up to two days. Conversely, fully cooked options will span up to a week.
Remember that once you open the packaging, the items will spoil much faster so always watch for signs of deterioration.
Moreover, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration advises that you “never allow meat, poultry…or other foods that require refrigeration to sit at room temperature for more than two hours—one hour if the air temperature is above 90° F.”
However, if you do not intend to eat your Italian sausage in this time frame, it is recommended that you freeze it to expand the shelf life.
Additionally, the original packaging is not always best.
According to the American Meat Institute Foundation, “ground beef was packaged in a foam tray with over-wrap film – what many people call “plastic wrap.”
Beef in its natural state is dark bluish-purple. However, oxygen can permeate over wrap film and cause a chemical reaction with the myoglobin in meat, leading to a red color.
Ongoing exposure to oxygen causes “oxidation” – the same process that turns a cut apple brown – and causes red meat to become brown and develop “off” flavors.”
Fresh cuts of meat such as chicken breasts, pork chops and filet mignon can have an exceptional life span in the freezer, safely lasting up to 12 months.
Unfortunately, their ground up counterparts do not fare quite as well.
Unlike solid meats, ground Italian sausage and other meats have a higher surface area of exposed meat.
This leads to increased oxidation. Moreover, most people freeze their Italian sausage products in the original plastic wrap, which does not keep the oxygen out.
Vacuum Sealing Is Best
Conversely, “vacuum, low-oxygen packages stored in optimal refrigeration conditions can have dramatically longer shelf lives”. This same premise applies to ground chicken and pork as well.
What this means is that your Italian pork sausage is prone to go bad much quicker than a pair of pork chops.
Expect sausage patties and links to last for one to two months. This applies to both uncooked and cooked sausage.
Conversely, if the Italian sausage comes as unformed ground sausage, these options can last up to four months when stored properly.
In order to achieve the longer shelf life, it is imperative that you either keep your Italian sausage in the originally sealed packaging (links and patties) or you vacuum pack your ground sausage and homemade products.
Additionally, when making your own Italian sausage from scratch, buy fresh ground meat and then make and freeze the sausage on the same day.
How To Freeze Italian Sausage?
In order to get the optimal shelf life, you must freeze Italian sausage in an airtight container.
Thankfully, when you purchase this meat product at the store, it already comes in the appropriate packaging. However, homemade varieties require some specific guidelines.
Raw Italian Sausage
First, check the expiration dates of the meat and other ingredients prior to use.
Second, make sure to prepare meat based products in less than two hours. This will help to ensure that bacteria does not begin to grow.
Once the meat is prepared, use a vacuum sealer to store the meat products. Then label the container with the preparation date. Finally, freeze the Italian sausage.
If a vacuum sealer is not available, tightly wrap the meat in aluminum foil and then place it in a freezer safe ziplock bag.
Please note that this method will lessen the time that the sausage will stay fresh in the freezer.
The FDA also notes that “food that is properly handled and stored in the freezer at 0° F (-18° C) will remain safe. While freezing does not kill most bacteria, it does stop bacteria from growing.
Though food will be safe indefinitely at 0° F, quality will decrease the longer the food is in the freezer. Tenderness, flavor, aroma, juiciness, and color can all be affected.”
Cooked Italian Sausage
If you want to freeze cooked italian sausage, follow the first two steps listed above and then proceed to cooking the meat.
Next, give the sausage ample time to cool. This is important because you want the meat to freeze evenly.
This better guarantees that the texture and flavor of the product stays intact.
Additionally, placing hot food in the freezer can also cause the surrounding food to partially thaw, which will cause it to go bad.
Thawing Italian Sausage
There are three ways to thaw out meat — in the fridge, in cold water or in the microwave.
Food safety experts at the University of Illinois note that “after thawing in the refrigerator, ground meat should be used as soon as possible.
Once meat has been frozen and thawed, it will deteriorate more rapidly than if it had never been frozen.”
Additionally, when using the water method, “submerge the bag in cold water, changing water every 30 minutes so that is stays cold.
It is important to keep the meat out of the food spoilage temperature range of 70° to 100°F.
Cooking Italian Sausage After You Freeze It
Fully frozen Italian sausage is safe to cook. Just know that without defrosting it first, you will need to elongate the cook time. This is because it will take longer for the meat to reach the required temperature.
You can also thaw it out prior to your preparation time. Moreover, cook times will vary greatly based on the size, shape and quantity of the frozen products that you are cooking.
Air fryers will tend to cook frozen products faster. This is due to the rapid air circulation supplied by the built in fan.
Expect the air fry method to take anywhere from eight to fifteen minutes to cook most frozen sausage.
In contrast, a pressure cooker will take up to 12 minutes longer to cook the frozen sausage.
This is also the case if you boil frozen sausage. These times will also fluctuate depending on the temperature you set your device at and the amount of food inside.
Remember to always check the internal temperature prior to consumption.
The Importance Of Cooking Meat Properly
Not matter what meat you eat, dangerous bacteria can be lurking. The most common pathogens that can impact your meats are E. coli, salmonella and listeria.
However, when it comes to pork products, you also need to watch out for yersinia enterocolitica.
Consumer Reports conducted a study and the reports are startling. “Our analysis of pork-chop and ground-pork samples from around the U.S. found that yersinia enterocolitica, a bacterium that can cause fever, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, was widespread.
[…] Yersinia enterocolitica was in 69 percent of the tested pork samples. It infects about 100,000 Americans a year, especially children.
[In comparison, they] found salmonella, staphylococcus aureus, or listeria monocytogenes, more common causes of foodborne illness, in 3 to 7 percent of samples.
[…] Ground pork was more likely than pork chops to harbor pathogens. That’s to be expected, since grinding meat provides another opportunity for contamination.”
Thankfully, cooking will easily eradicate these bacteria! The USDA recommends cooking ground beef and pork to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit with no rest time required.
Conversely, ground chicken and turkey needs to reach a temperature of 165 degrees.
This is important whether you choose to cook ground italian sausage or the sausage links.
Moreover, when you freeze Italian sausage and cook from frozen, remember that it will take longer to reach these temperatures.
Remember to always inspect your meat before consumption. Spoilage can occur even in the refrigerator and freezer. Thus, when in doubt, throw it out.
When meat becomes discolored, develops a smell or changes in texture, it is likely not safe to eat.
Also watch out for the prevalence of mold. Even slight temperature fluctuations can ruin meat.
However, food waste is a major problem in this country. Meal planning and proper storage are fantastic and simple methods that can help cut back on this increasing problem. They can also save you time and money in the long run.
Italian sausage is such a versatile ingredient and if you freeze individual or family portions, you can be ready to make dinner on the fly!
Consider investing in a vacuum sealer if you like to buy meat in bulk and always label the items before you place them in the freezer.
My name is Keren Tayler. I am a stay-at-home mama to three lovely girls, Sarah + Rachel + Hannah. Prior to becoming a mom, I had a successful career in the accounting field, steps away from becoming a CPA. I decided to give up on my career in order to raise my own kids (as opposed to letting a nancy do it, no judgment here) I learned a lot and I love sharing it with other moms. Along the way, I also became a Certified Food Handler.