A selection of various cured meats, including cut salami, at a market, with a sign indicating the brand "bertolotti.

Why is Salami Not Refrigerated?

Share this:

Writer / Enthusiast / Meat Curer / Forager / Harvester | About Tom

For decades, immersed in studying, working, learning, and teaching in the craft of meat curing, now sharing his passion with you through eat cured meat online resource.

It can serve as a delicious treat, but why is salami not refrigerated – it’s meat, right?! There is a little more to it since some salami can be salt-preserved and dried rather than smoked/cooked.

After reading books, learning, teaching and visiting salami factories, I’ve noticed this question gets asked a lot, so here is the short and long answer.

I’ve made salami, salumi, and charcuterie at home, and this site is all about insights and articles relating to salami and charcuterie.

Salami is a centuries-old style of meat that continues to rise in modern popularity, especially with the increase in charcuterie boards popping up on menus worldwide. But, this dry-cured meat differs from many other types of meat as its refrigeration requirements vary.

Salami TypeRefrigeration Needed
Dry-Cured SalamiNo
Cooked/Smoked SalamiYes

Why is Salami not Refrigerated? Certain dry-cured salami often do not require refrigeration if uncut and left whole. Tools used to preserve the salami may include starter cultures to increase acidity, cold smoking, salt inhibition, and nitrates to minimize unwanted bacteria.

Commerical salami often has fast applied acidity increases to preserve; also, it’s not properly using the preserved method for long-term storage.

Some hot smoked salamis are cooked and smoked at low cooking temperatures. These are a form of cooked rather then dried and preserved salami.

This is why it needs clarification; most humans are unaware of the variations in salami across this planet.

For dry-cured salami:

Once the casing of the salami has been broken, as in when you cut into the salami, several of these protective factors are no longer in place. Since the casing can be a barrier to harmful bacteria, you must closely monitor your storage processes and consumption dates. 

Dry cured salami 1 large
Proper homemade salami, it’s more advanced meat curing – but worth it – Hungarian Paprika style and a classic slow fermented pepperoni!

Still, dry-cured whole salami can be left unrefrigerated for up to 6 weeks, but cut salami will need to be refrigerated due to exposure to oxygen which speeds deterioration and drying.

Dry-cured vs. Cooked Salami

Refrigeration of your salami is generally done to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria and preserve the meat.

Of course, meat can still go bad, so it is important to watch for signs of this.

Either way, there are a few differences between the storage and refrigeration needs of dry-cured salami and cooked salami (including mortadella emulsified styles).

Dry-Cured Salami

Dry-cured salami is traditionally cured with a mixture of salt, spices, and natural or commercially added nitrate sources.

This curation process enhances its longevity and allows the salami to sit seemingly endlessly on the shelf. However, this curation process generally yields the same effectiveness in the meat’s unrefrigerated longevity as long as the meat’s casing remains intact.

Once the seal/casing of the salami is broken into (as when you slice a piece off), the protective barrier will no longer function in the same way.

This is precisely when unwanted bacteria can enter the meat’s realm and cause spoilage. However, before the dry-cured salami is cut into, it can last for months without going bad, especially if it is left to “breathe” with butcher’s paper wrapping instead of being entirely opened or closed off in a storage container.

What you really want to pay attention to with dry-cured salami is when it is exposed to oxygen.

This will allow the permeation of harmful bacteria and discoloration of the meat. So, if you are not planning on eating the salami for weeks to come, then be sure to cut open the link you plan to consume. 

Cooked Salami

Compared with dry-cured salami, cooked salami plays by a few different rules.

When the salami is cooked (or hot smoked), this, in essence, eliminates the effects of curation on the meat. The casing will have been fringed, and the meat will have withstood high temperatures that should eliminate any harmful associated bacteria.

In this case, the meat should be treated just like any other meat regarding refrigeration. Though the cooked salami would have likely been prepared the same way as traditionally cured salami, this cooking process will strip the salami of its enhanced curation effects. 

Thus, the meat will need to be refrigerated (though it will likely be able to withstand a few hours outside of the fridge while you are serving it- comparable with other meats).

You will, of course, be able to serve this to your guests without worrying about refrigeration during your gathering, but you should store what is left in the fridge.

Dry-cured salami is Preserved Cured, Dried Meat

The curation process for dry-cured salami preserves it for a prolonged period. This is why this protein source has become a backpacker’s dream- it can be carried for a long time without refrigeration to prevent it from spoiling.

Being dry-cured is not an overly complicated process to understand, but it is a precisely formulated process that continues to be perfected by artisans worldwide.

Dry-curing meat must be done thoroughly to ensure that the meat is preserved and safe to consume. 

The preservation takes place mainly with the salt used to cure it. When the salt (and other spices) are added to the meat, its flavor is enhanced, but it is cured and preserved to last much longer than it otherwise would. 

The salt creates an inhospitable environment for the meat. This restricts the environment in which harmful bacteria can grow, so the meat is able to flourish for much longer. 

Additionally, nitrates are added through natural or artificial sources that act to preserve the meat as well. These allow the cured meat to sit on the store’s shelf and on your own for much longer than traditional meat can. Cold smoking also can provide anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.

Curing, Salt, Mold Cultures, Nitrates

Supermarket salami in italy medium
In Italy, you find salami on tables and hanging in delis and restaurants ALL the time! I miss this 3-month road trip

What do curing, salt, mold cultures, and nitrates share? These four components enable dry-cured meat to last (when not exposed to oxygen) unrefrigerated on your shelf.

This gives the dry-cured salami its place on a modern charcuterie board.

Of course, when applied in the case of salami, the curation and preservation process allows you to leave the pork-based dish in a cool environment without the need for refrigeration or alternative storage procedures. 

Be mindful that this applies to whole salami and not cut salami, as the cut to salami will break its casing and allow harmful bacteria to enter when it otherwise could not.

So how do these four relate to one another, exactly? Let’s take a closer look:

Curing

It is the process by which salt and other spices are added to the meat (in this case, salami) to inhibit and reduce unwanted bacteria and prolong the life of the meat. Salt acts as an agent. 

Thus, the meat is protected from otherwise harmful bacteria that would cause it to be unsafe to eat. Most dry-cured meats can be consumed without being cooked, but be sure to pay attention to recommendations for the specific meat you are planning to consume. Prosciutto Parma ham, for instance, has two ingredients: quality pork and salt (& 12 months of curing/drying).

Salt

It is the curing agent that allows the curing process to take place. It is, by far, the most important component used in the curing process.

If left out, the water activity (awwe are getting technical now) would still remain in the meat, and harmful bacteria would grow, leaving meat unsafe to consume without being properly stored and cooked.

Starter Cultures

Mold and starter cultures protect the meat; they are safe and promote the healthy aging process with dry-cured meat. The strains of mold cultures permitted in salami help to fight other harmful bacteria from penetrating the meat by increasing the acidic environment (therefore decreasing the pH).

They can often seen externally on the dry cured salami, in white or blue/green cultures, but they should not have a strong or foul ammoniated odor. They often have a mushroomy/umami-type scent to them. They smell good to the olfactory system.

Nitrates

It can be present in the salt and even other natural components like celery and is used to help preserve the meat. When used in curing, the nitrates will reduce to nitrites during long-term drying of more than 30 days. 


Share this:

Leave a Comment