Posted: April 11, 2017

Jonathan Campbell's expertise makes sausage-making safer - by Jeff Mulhollem, writer/editor, Penn State News

Campbell has guided State College-area businesses in creating their own unique salami products.

Campbell has guided State College-area businesses in creating their own unique salami products.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - 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 in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences 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.

What is noteworthy about Campbell, who also is a Penn State Extension meat specialist, is the depth and breadth of his activities related to specialty sausage making. It is not unusual for an extension program to deliver the findings of research to businesses - that's at the heart of Penn State's land-grant mission. But Campbell has taken the concept to a new level, conducting food-safety research himself, personally passing along the results to meat processors in workshops, and even designing and helping to produce custom sausages for local businesses based on those findings.

Collaborating with Catherine Cutter, extension food-safety specialist and professor of food science, Campbell investigated whether traditional processing would reduce E. coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella in the production of a traditionally processed snack sausage, landjäger. The results of that research were published last month in the journal Food Control.

Dry or semidry sausages are produced by fermenting a raw-meat batter seasoned with sugar, salt and various spices, Campbell explained. 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 said. "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 said.

In 2015, Campbell met Luigi Pintore, owner of Chicago-based company CRM North America, when seeking to purchase a piece of equipment for Penn State to ferment and dry salami. Later that year, Pintore introduced Campbell to Francesco Cardazzi, one of the owners of F. Pagani S.p.A. This relationship between Pagani, CRM and Penn State helped lead to the birth of Penn State Extension's Italian Processed Meats Workshop, a seminar combining the art and science of making Italian salumi.

On Feb. 13, Campbell led the second edition of this two-day event, which combines lectures, demonstrations and hands-on activities in making both ground salami and whole muscle products such as prosciutto. The workshop features industry suppliers and international speakers - including master chefs and salami makers from Pagani's test kitchens in Milan - to help provide participants with unique, hands-on instruction in both the science and technology of creating traditional and artisanal-crafted meat items.

"One challenge to producing these traditional meat items in the United States is the strict regulatory requirements that processors must comply with," Campbell said. "In addition to gaining knowledge about how to produce these European items, processors also must create and maintain a scientifically proven food-safety system."

Two local eateries, Otto's Pub and Brewery and Barrel 21 Distillery, feature items that Campbell formulated by incorporating Otto's own Night Owl Stout beer, which features a balance of coffee flavor and a bold color. He also has worked closely with Happy Valley Winery to formulate and brand a Genoa salami product crafted with the winery's Noiret wine. "The peppery notes of this local wine enhance the seasoning and whole peppercorns found in the salami," Campbell said.