If you’re extra paranoid about properly cooked meat (as we all should be), seeing Italian sausage that is a little pink can be a little disconcerting.
Meat that’s properly and safely cooked is usually brown, so seeing a tinge of pink in the meat can lead us to immediately assume that it isn’t safe to eat.
But then again, steaks are sometimes consumed while the meat is still pink, so you wonder, what about Italian sausages? Could it also be true in this case? Can you eat pink Italian sausage?
Can You Eat Pink Italian Sausage?
As long as the Italian sausages reach a safe internal temperature of 160 °F, they are safe to eat even if their color is still a little pink. Certain ingredients and additives used for curing meats like curing salt contain sodium nitrite which can cause the sausages to have a pink tinge. The color of meat alone does not determine whether it is done. It is important that they be properly cooked to a safe internal temperature as determined by a meat thermometer.
Why Is My Italian Sausage Pink?
Italian sausage may turn pink –or stay pink– due to several reasons.
1. The Use of Curing Salt
Cured meats like sausage, bacon, ham, and pastrami have a very distinctive color and aroma. This is largely because of the ingredients used to cure and preserve them.
Curing salt is used to cure meat in order to extend its shelf life and make them last longer, and protect against the bacteria that cause botulism. It is usually comprised of table salt and sodium nitrite.
The meat turns pink due to the chemical reaction between sodium nitrite and the natural myoglobin in meat, causing it to turn pink.
Another explanation I’ve heard is, that nitrates and nitrites basically bind to the proteins in meat, preventing them from releasing oxygen, and thus preventing them from turning brown.
Meat turns brown due to oxidation. Nitrates and nitrites prevent oxidation, which is why the meat remains pink.
Curing salts are also typically injected with a red dye to distinguish them from common table salt, which might also explain why its use will impart a reddish or pinkish hue to the cured meat.
Italian sausages are typically fresh sausages, meaning they are not typically cured and should be cooked prior to consumption.
However, depending on where you got your Italian sausage and if it is cured, sodium nitrite could be the culprit.
2. Naturally-occurring Nitrates
Nitrates are not just added to food and meat to preserve them. They are actually naturally occurring in soil and water, and in many leafy vegetables and root vegetables like garlic, onion, and beets.
If your sausage has any of these added ingredients, the interaction of nitrates and nitrites with the meat can cause it to remain pink even while fully cooked.
3. Ingredients in the Sausage
Paprika and cayenne pepper are common ingredients in Italian sausage. Aside from adding flavor, they can also impart a reddish or pinkish color to the sausage.
If your Italian sausage is pink, the ingredients in the sausage, particularly ingredients that stain and color, could be the reason.
4. Sausage is Not Fully Cooked
Finally, your sausage can be a little pink if it is not fully cooked yet. Raw or undercooked meat has a pink or reddish color. If your Italian sausage is still pink, it could be that it is still raw.
Food safety guidelines state that pork sausages should be cooked to a temperature of 160 °F for them to be safe to eat.
If your Italian sausage has not reached this temperature yet, continue to cook it until it is done to avoid potentially serious food-borne illnesses.
Can You Eat Pink Italian Sausage?
If your Italian sausage is a little pink, check its internal temperature to check if it has reached the minimum safe temperature for doneness. If it hasn’t reached 160 °F, continue to cook your sausages until it reaches safe temperatures.
If it is still a little pink after that, it could be because of the ingredients used in the sausage, or in the case of cured Italian sausage, it could be because of the curing salt used to preserve it.
If either of these two is the reason, then your Italian sausage is safe to eat, as long as there are no other signs of food spoilage.
Especially in cured meats, color is not an especially reliable indicator of doneness since they are naturally pink or reddish to begin with and may stay that way even after cooking. The best method to ensure safety is to use a reliable meat thermometer.
What is Italian Sausage?
Italian sausage, as it is known in the US, is basically pork sausage with the dominant flavor of fennel or anise. It can be “sweet”, “mild”, or “hot”.
Sweet Italian sausage and Mild Italian sausage are similar, but Sweet Italian sausage has an added ingredient – sweet basil. They can often be used in place of each other though in recipes.
Hot Italian sausage as the name implies is spicy because red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper are added to the spice mix.
The flavoring style and the use of fennel do have their roots in how the sausage is made in Italy but the flavors and the nature of our particular kind of Italian sausage are innately American.
There are many different types of sausages in Italy, and many different types of ingredients used, depending also on the region. The “Italian sausage” that is popular in the US is uniquely its own.
Italian sausage prepared without its casing can be considered a type of ground sausage. (Read: “What is Ground Sausage?”)
How to Make Italian Sausage
Italian sausage can be bought or can easily be made at home. Making your own sausages allows you better control of the quality of your ingredients and allows you to customize your flavorings and spices to your liking. It also can be cheaper if you are making your own.
The simplest procedure to make Italian sausage is to mix up your ground pork with your spices, add water or wine to loosen the mixture if too dry, and stuff it into sausage casings or make them into patties or meatballs.
Some expert cooks marinate the pork pieces with the spices first and let them sit in the refrigerator for a couple of days.
They then grind them before stuffing them into sausage casings, but this only works if you have your own meat grinder. Otherwise, starting from already ground pork should not be a problem.
What Happens If I Eat Pink Italian Sausage?
Eating pink Italian sausage should not be a problem as long as the sausages are cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature of 160°F.
As long as there are no other signs of spoilage prior to cooking them, your Italian sausage should be good and safe to eat.
If, however, your Italian sausage is pink because it is raw or undercooked, consuming it without further cooking will put you at risk for potentially serious food-borne illnesses.
A particular food-borne illness associated with undercooked pork is Trichinosis, which is caused by the larvae of a roundworm called trichinella found in raw pork.
Consuming contaminated or undercooked pork will cause us to ingest these worms and cause harm to our tissues and muscles.
Symptoms of Trichinosis include:
- Muscle cramps and soreness
These symptoms do not appear immediately and can take up to a few weeks before they manifest and can make you sick even longer.
Serious cases of this infection can cause difficulty in breathing and inflammation in the heart and the brain.
This is why it is extremely important to make sure that your meat, especially your Italian sausages, is always cooked to safe internal temperatures.
Aside from this, it is also important to make sure that your sausage is still good to eat, as eating spoiled sausages can also cause foodborne illnesses. “How to Tell If Sausage is Spoiled” explores this in detail.
Frequently Asked Questions to Can You Eat Pink Italian Sausage?
Can Sausage Be Pink Inside?
Especially if it is a cured sausage, it is possible that the sausage will remain pink inside even if it is fully cooked. Additives used for curing meat such as sodium nitrite may cause the meat to retain its pink color even after cooking.
How to Tell if Italian Sausage is Cooked?
Color is not always a good indicator that meat is fully cooked. Using a meat thermometer is still the safest and surest way to tell. Italian sausage is cooked if it reaches a safe internal temperature of 160 °F, regardless of the color of the meat.
Conclusion to Can You Eat Pink Italian Sausage?
Those of us who spend a lot of time in the kitchen would know that the ability to “eyeball” things, both ingredients and processes are a huge help in our cooking adventures.
Being able to tell when your dish needs more of an ingredient, or if you should take it out of the heat at that particular moment, is a useful skill that can only be acquired through hours and hours of time spent in the kitchen.
However, eyeballing things is not always the best way to go, especially when we’re dealing with food safety. Checking for meat doneness using our eyes, and relying on color alone is not a very accurate way of knowing that your meat is fully cooked.
Especially with cured meats and meats that may have ingredients that affect their final color and texture, a meat thermometer is the only way to definitively determine that your meat can be safely consumed.
Pink Italian sausage, as long as it is cooked to safe temperatures, is safe to eat. The only way we would accurately know that is if we use a reliable meat thermometer. Taking the extra step and precaution ensures that we avoid the risk of food-borne illnesses.