Is it safe to eat cold pepperoni? (3+ risks)

In this article, we will discuss whether it is safe to eat cold pepperoni, what are the risks of eating cold pepperoni, when should you not eat cold pepperoni, and how to improve the safety of eating cold pepperoni.

Pepperoni is a dry fermented sausage and is widely consumed as a pizza topping. It originated in Italy. Pepperoni is made with pepper, garlic, fennel and mustard seeds.  

Is it safe to eat cold pepperoni?

Yes, it is safe to eat cold pepperoni, unless it is spoiled. Pepperoni is a ready-to-eat sausage and can be consumed without previous cooking or heating (1).

How is pepperoni made?

Similar to other dry sausages, the production process of pepperoni includes a fermentation step, in which lactic acid is produced, reducing the pH of the product to about 4.5 to 4.8. The moisture content is 25 to 39 %.

These characteristics, in addition to the lower moisture-to-protein ratio of 1.6:1 and a smoking/ heating step, increase the safety of the pepperoni and make it a shelf-stable product with a relatively long shelf life (1, 2). 

Do you need to cook pepperoni?

No, you do not need to cook pepperoni. Pepperoni is fermented and smoked, which makes the sausage safe to eat as a ready-to-eat product. Pepperoni can be eaten without additional heating or cooking (1, 2).

In addition, the FSIS (United States Food Safety and Inspection Service) advocates for the necessary reduction of at least 5-log CFU/g of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in ready-to-eat fermented products (3).

In this way, pepperoni must be heated to 58.3 °C (137 °F) to be commercialised and to be considered safe to eat without heating. The heating step reduces also possible contamination by Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes (1).

What are the risks of eating cold pepperoni?

The risk of eating cold pepperoni is possible when pepperoni is contaminated by pathogenic microorganisms. Poor handling, improper storage conditions and cross-contamination are the most frequent causes of food contamination (2).

In addition, pepperoni can be infected by mould and their toxins and biogenic amines. The risks of consuming cold pepperoni are summarised in the table below (4, 5, 6):

Risk Description Consequence

Foodborne infection

Foodborne infections can occur by the ingestion of pepperoni containing a high microbial load of pathogenic microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, yeasts and moulds Through infections, microoganisms invade the gastrointestinal tract and other organs of the host, leading to symptoms such as diarrhoea, fever, nausea, stomach cramps, fever and headache, infection of the urinary tract and, in severe cases, dehydration and death

Foodborne poisoning by mycotoxins or bacterial toxins

Pepperoni and other fermented food product often contain toxins produced from fungi (Aspergillus, Penicillium) or bacteria (Staphylococcus, Salmonella The ingestion of bacterial and fungal toxins cause symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea, damage to the intestine cells, hallucinations and allergic symptoms. In the long term it leads to damage to the liver and the kidney and immunodepression

Foodborne poisoning by biogenic amines

Biogenic amines are produced from microbial actitivity, which degrade amino acids, especially as a consequence of poor storage conditions. The main cause of toxicity is the histamine The ingestion of large quantities of histamine or other biogenic amines can lead to gastrointestinal symptoms, skin reactions, such as rashes and urticaria, allergic symtoms and anaphylaxis

Ingestion of nitrites (a risk also when eating cooked pepperoni) 

Nitrites are added to processed meats as a preservative to prevent microbial growth and increase the shelf life of sausages, as well as to improve its colour, texture and aroma and to prevent rancidity. The persistent ingestion of processed meat containing nitrites is harmful to health Long term studies have shown that the ingestion of processed red meats is related to higher risk of mortality and diseases such as colorectal cancer, diabetes type-2, and heart diseases

When should you not eat cold pepperoni?

You should not eat cold pepperoni if there are any signs of spoilage, such as mould growth, discourations, an altered textrure or the presence of off-odours and off-flavours such as rancid, sour, bitter, pungent and putrid (2, 6, 7).

Slime formation and production of gas resulting in a swelled package are also possible indications of spoilage. 

You should not eat cold pepperoni if the product has expired. In this case, do not eat pepperoni before previously cooking the product (6).

In addition, pregnant women, elderly individuals, children and immunocompromised individuals are advised to always eat previouslty reheated or cooked processed meats (8). 

How to improve the safety of eating cold pepperoni?

To improve the safety of eating cold pepperoni, avoid consuming the product past its expiration date (1). Falls it has expired, you should cook the product to reduce the risks of a foodborne illness (6).

Buy a fresh product and store the pepperoni according to the instructions given by the manufacturer. In general dry sausages such as pepperoni are safe to store in the pantry for 6 months unopened.

After opening you should store pepperoni in the refrigerator for 3 weeks or in the freezer for 1 to 2 months (1).

However, to improve the safety and reduce the risks of spoilage, it is always recommended to store food in the refrigerator or freezer (6, 7). Place the pepperoni in a food plastic bag or container away from other food items.

Avoid handling pepperoni while manipulating other food, to reduce the risks of cross-contamination and follow improved hygienic practices, such as correct hand washing and cleaning of the cooking place and utensils.


In this article, we discussed whether it is safe to eat cold pepperoni, what are the risks of eating cold pepperoni, and how to improve the safety of eating cold pepperoni.

Pepperoni is flavourful both hot in a pizza or cold as an appetiser. My favourite way to eat pepperoni is with Italian bread and olive oil!

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