Be sure to keep a logbook!
Record everything you do. Write down dates, times, measurements, etc. Write down your successes and your failures – and the reasons you believe caused either. Believe me, you’ll refer back to it several times during the project. Save your notes for the next batch. They will be invaluable. Please don’t ignore this step. It only takes a few seconds to write down the information you may really need later on.
Some items such as a grinder and a stuffer are necessary to make sausage. Is the grinder’s knife sharp? Make sure they are clean and in good working order. The time for lubricating the gears on your stuffer is NOT while you are making sausage. Other items may be ordinary kitchen utensils. Then there are the tools that make the process much easier but are not absolutely necessary. Let’s look at some basic equipment.
- a. brine pump (will be needed later for turkeys and hams)
- b. brining lugs (food-grade plastic meat tubs)
- c. cutting board (cleaned and sterilized)
- d. grinder (clean and in good working order?)
- e. grinding plates and knives (was the grinder’s knife last sharpened in 1952?)
- f. hang sticks (for drying) Do not use painted or treated wood dowels.
- g. hog rings and casing clips
- h. kitchen knives (sharp as a marble?)
- i. mixer (inspect the working condition)
- j. refrigerator (make room)
- k. stuffer (clean and lubricate)
- l. scales (nice to have for spices)
- m. “skin” bucket (clean plastic bucket for casings)
- n. smokehouse (ready?)
- o. string (cotton, heavyweight)
- p. thermometers (“Baby-dial” is cheap)
This is the part where most folks say, “Yeah, yeah… we already know about that”, but perhaps you should give this topic just one more consideration before moving on. Why? …because your sausage or meat product may be responsible for injuring yourself or someone else if it’s not properly made. Each year in the United States alone, food borne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses and 325,000 hospitalizations. Of this number, more than 5,000 Americans painfully suffer the clearly evident indications and symptoms of preventable food contamination, breathe their last breath, and agonizingly die! Food-borne illness is caused by three contaminants:
a. microbiological organisms – bacteria, parasites, etc.
b. chemicals accidentally introduced into foods – pesticides, fungicides, fumigants, cleaning fluids, etc.
c. physical objects – metal shavings, glass fragments etc.
What can you do to keep from becoming a statistic? Learn all you can about food contamination and observe the rules. I’d even go so far as to suggest taking a “certification class” for food handlers. Foodservice sanitation classes are offered at technical schools everywhere. Sometimes “certification” can be accomplished in just a matter of hours and days. These classes are fun and a good way to meet other people. In any event, please maintain a high standard of personal hygiene while making sausage. Wear a hair net or cap and for goodness sakes, wash those hands every chance you get – with bacterial soap. Keep your equipment clean and sanitary. Always store food items in correct containers at proper temperatures. Cool down prep-cooked sausage quickly for storage and protect them from vermin and insects.
The Major Causes Of Food Poisoning
1. Pathogenic Bacteria. Sausage makers and food handlers , must be aware of the strains of (a.) food spoilage bacteria, (b.) pathogenic bacteria, and (c.) beneficial bacteria. Millions of microbes may be found on unwashed hands and dirty utensils and under the right conditions, multiply at an alarmingly incredible rate. Of the three microorganisms affecting food (bacteria, yeasts, and molds), pathogenic bacteria, existing virtually everywhere in our environment, remain the greatest cause of food poisoning. As sausage makers, we must constantly be aware of the primary factors necessary for bacterial growth. We must also know how to change any dangerous circumstances immediately. Bacteria need merely four elements for growth:
(1.) moisture- Did you ever imagine that meat is comprised of three-quarters water? If we freeze the water in meat, we give it temporary defense against bacteria by “binding” the moisture. Moisture is the primary reason meat spoils. Will dehydrating meat preserve it? We’ve been doing just that for thousands of years!
(2.) nutrient- Meat, (mammalian muscle) consists of roughly 75% water, 19 % protein, 2.5% fat, 1.2% carbohydrates, and 2.3% non-protein substances such as amino acids and minerals. Exposed to the atmosphere, meat becomes a virtual feast for bacteria.
(3.) warm temperature- Bacteria thrive at body-temperature! Called the “danger zone”, the range from 40°F. (4°C.) to 140°F. (60°C.) is the optimum temperature periphery for bacteria to multiply. It is interesting to note that bacteria are restricted from growing at 130°F. (54°C.) but actually start to die at 140°F. (60°C.).
(4.) lack of oxygen- Aerobic bacteria need oxygen; anaerobic bacteria do not. Certain pathogenic bacteria in sausage being smoked certainly present a risk. Casings also cut off a certain volume of oxygen as does the “overnight curing” covered with plastic wrap inside a refrigerator. Remember the first rule of sausage making: Don’t smoke it if you can’t cure it! (meaning the use of actual cures of sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite).
Bacteria, have been named mostly in Latin or Greek, for their shape. Spherical bacteria are called cocci. Rod-shaped bacteria are known as bacilli. Curved bacilli (resembling a comma), are called vibrio. If they are spiral-shaped, the are called spirilla, and if the bacilli is tightly coiled, it is called spirochaetes. Many bacteria exist simply as single cells. If they are found in pairs, they are neisseria. The streptococcus form chains while the staphylococcus group together in clusters resembling grapes.
If a specific bacterium is facultative anaerobic, it is most active in oxygen but can survive without it. On the other hand, an obligate anaerobe cannot grow in the presence of oxygen. Bacteria do not grow in size – they multiply in number. And they do it very quickly! Without oxygen, the addition of sodium nitrates or sodium nitrites is necessary to prevent botulism. It also becomes crucial that meat be removed from the “danger zone” temperature range as quickly as possible during any preparation or cooking process. This includes grinding, mixing, and stuffing sausages, procedures often supported using ice, ice water, or refrigeration and freezing. As bacteria need moisture to multiply and meat is about three-quarters water, it becomes an ideal environment for the growth of bacteria, even when it is mostly dried. However, there is a point in which meat can lose so much “available” water, it will no longer sustain bacteria. This point differs within each particular type bacterium. We’ll talk more about this “water activity” later on, as well as another bacteria-destroying process known as potentiometric hydrogen ion concentration… or simply “pH acidity”.
Our first line of defense against pathogenic and spoilage bacteria is the application of extreme temperatures applied to meat either being cooked or frozen. As sausage is prepared, it is essential to work with only small batches at a time outside the refrigerator. Very often, meat is partially frozen before it is put through a grinder and bacteria at this temperature remain mostly inactive. In the grinder, ice chips are sometimes added to keep the temperature down as the friction of grinding actually warms the meat. Outside of the refrigerator, most bacteria begin to wake up as the temperature rises above 40°F. (4.4°C.). At 50°F. (10°C.), it is safe to work with the meat only temporarily before it goes back into the refrigerator. Most bacteria thrive at the temperature of our bodies (98.6°F. / 36.6°C.). As temperatures rise much above the “danger zone” (40°F – 140°F), their growth becomes restricted until around 140°F. (60°C.), they begin to die. Yet, strains such as Clostridium botulinum, may survive heating up to 250°F. (121°C) by producing heat-resistant, isolating envelopes called spores – nature’s way of protecting the organism by sheltering the bacteria from other unsympathetic environmental conditions.
2. Clostridium Botulinum – The Killer
Clostridium Botulinum is a common obligate anaerobic bacterium microorganism found in soil and sea sediments. Although it can only reproduce in an oxygen-free environment, when it does reproduce, it produces the deadliest poison known to man – botulinum toxin. One millionth of a gram ingested means certain death – about 500,000 times more toxic than cyanide. Onset of symptoms can occur quickly and include nausea, stomach pain, double vision, and spreading paralysis, ultimately reaching the heart or respiratory organs. If treatment is given and the dose is low, half of those affected may survive, but recovery may take months or years. Although fatalities occur yearly, especially in countries where home canning is popular, the risk of acquiring botulism is very, very low. However, the lethal consequences of poisoning may make you wish to reconsider the proper addition of sodium nitrate/nitrite in your products to almost eliminate the risk. Worldwide, there are about 1000 cases of botulism each year.
The rod-shaped bacterium was first recognized and isolated in 1896 following the poisoning of several people who had consumed bad ham. It was later discovered that due to the enzyme superoxide dismutase, the bacterium might actually tolerate very small traces of oxygen. Botulinum spores are extremely persistent and will survive heating up to 250°F. (121°C), freezing, smoking, and drying. Insidiously, they lie in wait for the right conditions to occur and give no foul smell or taste, making it even more treacherous. In non-cooked fermented sausages, the microorganism must be destroyed using a combination of salt, a drop beyond 5.0 pH, and a minimum drop in Aw water activity to 0.97 or less. Placing fresh vegetables or un-sterilized (garden fresh) spices into sausage is not recommended as botulinum spores are not uncommon on leafy herbs, peppers, beans, chilies, and corn. Cut off from oxygen by being stuffed into casings and placed in a smoker, the smoking temperatures are ideal for bacteria growth. The risk using fresh garlic is less, but cases of botulism poisoning have been reported after people have eaten home-canned garlic cloves in oil – the ideal environment for anaerobic bacterial growth!
A Real Puzzle
In Sweden during the 1970’s, a single case of food-borne bolulism completely baffled medical authorites for more than a week. A father had been out with his 7-year old son hunting roe deer and since they lacked a freezer, they made meatballs and preserved them in jars. Experienced as they were, they followed all safety rules with sterilization of the jars etc. After a couple of months, the son opened a jar to have a taste and ate ONE meatball. He fell sick with botulism and was admitted to the emergency room at a hospital. With quick diagnosis and treatment, the boy recovered following several weeks in a hospital, as authorities investigated every possible clue for answers. (In Sweden, the law requires an investigation regulated by their bureau for Infectious Disease Control). The contents of all the jars were examined by specialists, though only one jar in particular seemed to be the only one infected! Investigators were completely puzzled! What had caused the infection of merely one jar? Following further investigation, it eventually turned out that when the deer was shot, the bullet had slightly grazed against the trunk of a tree before killing the game. A few spores from the tree had obviously followed the bullet into the wound to eventually end up in the preserve. Boiling the jars killed LIVING bacteria, but not the spores that found ideal growth conditions during the subsequent storage.
Sharpening Your Grinder Blade:
Let’s learn how to sharpen the blade in your grinder. Many people believe that by placing an abrasive on a perfectly flat surface and moving the grinder knife on the flat surface… will sharpen the blade. I disagree. And here’s the reason why:
Woodworkers are aware that a plane blade is NEVER sharpened on it’s flat side. Think of the two “flat contact sides” of a pair of scissors. A cutler never touches them. He does however, grind the beveled edges to sharpen them. Your rotating grinder blade’s contact surface must remain perfectly flat within a few thousandths of an inch. I never attempt to sharpen the flat side (platen side) of the blade. The correct method is to file the beveled edge – not the flat. There is a good discussion at this link: http://wedlinydomowe.pl/e…ghlight=sharpen
Grinder-knife blades are made of very high-carbon steel called hypereutectoid steel. Chances are it will wear down your file before you can touch the edge. The solution is to use a high-grade Washita stone to sharpen it with. Take your time and move the knife’s edge perfectly in line to the Washita stone’s flat surface. Work in one direction only, removing metal away from the cutting edge. By the way, the latest techniques in sharpening technology have shown that using oil or water on the stone is not recommended. It “builds up a sandy slurry type of dam” and today’s cutlers tell you to just stop and clean the stone at intervals using a moist rag.