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I Say Salami, You Say Salumi

Researchers in the college investigate the safety and practice of making dry and semidry sausages.

There is a popular saying that contends, "you don't want to see how the sausage is made." But Jonathan Campbell doesn't buy it.

The assistant professor of animal science has been focusing on making dry, fermented sausages the last few years using a procedure called "salumi" in Italy or "charcuterie" in France--places where these unique meat products have been made the old-fashioned way for centuries. This food trend has become popular among connoisseurs of fine cuisine in the United States, as well as among meat processors who serve them.

Collaborating with Catherine Cutter, extension food safety specialist and professor of food science, Campbell, who is also an extension meat specialist, investigated whether traditional processing would reduce E. coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes, and Salmonella in the production of a traditionally processed snack sausage, landjäger.

Dry or semidry sausages are produced by fermenting a raw-meat batter seasoned with sugar, salt, and various spices, Campbell explains. Following fermentation, sausages may be smoked to enhance the flavor, color, and aroma. Finally, sausages are dried to lower their moisture content.

"Traditionally, fermented dry and semidry sausages have been regarded as safe products, due to their low pH, low water activity, salt content, and the presence of competing microflora," he says. "Combined, these attributes are expected to limit survival and growth of pathogenic bacteria. However, several cases of foodborne illnesses have been associated with these types of products."

In 1994, E. coli O157:H7 was responsible for an outbreak associated with dry-cured salami. More recently, Lebanon bologna was linked to an outbreak of the same pathogen. These outbreaks led USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service to reconsider the safety of these products and establish guidelines to ensure their safety.

Campbell's research confirmed the safety of the dry sausages. "Results obtained in this study indicate that traditional processing of landjäger sausage, coupled with vacuum-packaged storage at ambient temperature, can result in a safe product," he says.

Campbell now leads extension's Italian Processed Meats Workshop, a seminar and workshop combining the art and science of making Italian salumi. He also guides State College-area businesses in creating their own unique salami products. Two local eateries, Otto's Pub and Brewery and Barrel 21 Distillery, feature items that Campbell formulated. He has also worked closely with Happy Valley Winery to formulate and brand a Genoa salami product crafted with the winery's Noiret wine.

--Jeff Mulhollem