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Cold smoking, why doesn't meat spoil?

PostPosted: Mon Apr 14, 2014 5:29 am
by Tasso
I'm embarrassed to asked this question, but I'm going to anyway because I'm contemplating doing some cold smoking, and I want to understand the risks and the proper techniques so I can feel confident about the process and the results. So here goes:

The danger zone for pathogenic microbial growth is from 40°F to 140°F (4.44°C to 60°C). When cold smoking meat, the temperature is often (usually?) within the danger zone above 40°F. The limiting temperature for cold smoking is typically given as 71°F (22°C) to 86°F (30°C), although some people say up to 90°F or even 100°F. Since all of these cold-smoking temperatures are clearly within the danger zone, and cold smoking is often carried on for many more than 4 hours (days, or even weeks), why doesn't the meat spoil?

I know that the sodium nitrite that is either directly present in the cure or produced as a result of bacterial induced reduction from sodium or potassium nitrate kills bacteria like Clostridium botulinum, and maybe E. coli, Salmonella, and others. But does it kill ALL of the putrefying spoilage bacteria that may be present in the meat? When you smoke bacon or sausages or fish for days, what keeps the residual pathogenic bacteria from multiplying and producing spoilage and toxins? Is it just the residual nitrites in the meat that keep on killing the bad guys? What if you run out of nitrites in the meat?

I'm about to hot smoke some pork belly and shoulder that I've cured for 10 days. It's too late in the year to do any cold smoking outdoors here in Texas, but I'd like to give it a try in the late fall when it gets cool again. It just worries me to have meat sitting in the smoker in the danger zone temperature range for two or three days running.

Re: Cold smoking, why doesn't meat spoil?

PostPosted: Mon Apr 14, 2014 4:48 pm
by johngaltsmotor
One benefit is that smoke is acidic. If cure quantity is slightly insufficient the acidic smoke will still drop the pH at the surface. I would assume that the moisture in the meat would gradually migrate the acidity inward also (similar to dry cure migrating in). The cure before smoking is the biggest hindrance to the spoilage bacteria, hence the reason even cold smoked items are typically cured first (minus fish and cheese).
But that's just my understanding from my very limited cold smoking experience.