Quality of Sausages - Statutory Testing - July-November 1997

July-November 1997


  • To determine the compliance rate of sulphur dioxide preservative in sausages.
  • To determine the compliance rate of meat and fat content in sausages.
  • To remove non-complying products from the ACT market.
  • 70 % of retested samples are to comply with standard requirements.


Sausages are largely made from meat off-cuts blended with certain herbs and spices, starch fillers and preservative. This mixture is then extruded into casings to deliver the final product. What is generally unknown is that there are specific food quality standards applied to sausages, to ensure the consumer is getting a product meeting minimum compositional requirements and that their health will not be adversely affected by excessive amounts of chemical preservatives. These standards relate to such aspects as the meat content, the fat content and the preservative level permitted.

Sausages are regularly tested by the ACT Health Protection Service, for their compliance with the Food Standards Code1 . A survey conducted in 1995 revealed that 36% of the samples failed either one, or both, of the standard requirements for sulphur dioxide preservative level and fat content. The failure rate for sulphur dioxide alone was 27%. A further survey conducted in 1996, found 39% of sausage samples continued to fail the sulphur dioxide standard requirement. Trends developed from such historical data provides evidence that the quality of sausages manufactured and sold in the ACT requires significant improvement.

In order to rectify the situation a media release was prepared which was designed to create awareness in both consumers and sausage manufacturers, of a further impending survey. The message also advised that where sausages were found to be non-compliant relative to the food standards code, then retailers may be faced with prosecution under the Food Act 1992. The Canberra Times 14 August 1997 headline "Fats in the fire for ACT butchers selling sub-standard snags" and a follow up article in the FOOD & WINE section of 27 August: "More meat for a better banger", generated considerable public interest. Both media articles presented informative and factual data to the reader, raising awareness of the food surveys to the general public.


The food standards code compliance measures for meat products identifies that sausages:

  • contain not more than 500 mg/kg of sulphur dioxide preservative;
  • have a minimum meat content of 50 %, and;
  • of the meat portion, the fat level must not exceed half.

An example of this last compliance measure is where a sausage is found to have a meat content of 60%, then the fat content is not to exceed 30%.


The sausage survey was conducted between the 14 July and 24 November 1997, resulting in 97 samples being tested. Further testing was conducted on retail premises found to have non-compliant products. 16 of the 97 samples were found to fail (16.5%), with follow-up testing performed in January 1998.


Overall Summary


Overall Summary pie graph

As can be seen from the pie chart above, the overall compliance from the initial stage of this survey was considered to be unacceptable, considering the earlier media notification. The 16 failed samples included:

  • 16 samples with excessive preservative level;
  • 2 samples with excessive fat content, and;

1 sample failing the minimum meat content.

One sample managed to fail on all three parameters with results for the preservative level of 820 mg/kg, a fat content of 28 %, and the meat content of 45 %.

To place this individual sample into some context, the average sulphur dioxide preservative level was found to be 430 mg/kg, the average fat content 19 %, and the average meat content 64 %.



SO2 Preservative bar graph

The breakdown results of preservative level is shown in Graph 1 above. The 4 samples with levels above 800 mg/kg were far in excess of standard requirements and the proprietors selling these were prosecuted under the Act. The outcome of court proceedings saw penalties imposed ranging from offences proven through to fines of $600 plus court costs.

Follow-up testing, for samples failing preservative levels, conducted the following January, found all 16 samples collected passed the standard requirements, showing a 100 % compliance rate.

% Fat as a proportion of Meat Content


Percentage of fat as a proportion of Meat Content graph
percentage of fat in sausages graph

The % fat as a proportion of the meat content graph above shows the distribution of results with 3 samples failing the fat standard for sausages. The breakdown of the actual % fat in sausages is also shown. Fat content was not retested because the levels found only marginally exceeded the standard requirements.


An overall compliance of 83 % relative to the food standard codes is a marked improvement relative to previous survey testing undertaken for sausages (e.g. 64 % compliance in 1995). This included a compliance rate for preservative at 84 %, relative to 61 % in 1996). This is an encouraging response from manufacturers.

To ensure that compliance is maintained, it may be necessary to regularly undertake repeat testing and have a continued market presence. This form of monitoring can be very successful as demonstrated by the follow-up testing conducted for this survey where all samples complied.


The media campaign followed with statutory sampling has dramatically improved the quality of retail sausages supplied in Canberra. Commendation should go to all the manufacturers and retailers who participated in a positive way for ensuring such a high compliance rate for sausages in the Canberra market place.


Refer to recommendations document.


Australia and New Zealand Food Authority, Food Standards Code, incorporating amendments up to and including Amendment 38, April 1998.

Food Act 1992 (ACT), reprinted as at 31 January 1996.


Sampling Officers: Jorge Guillen and Craig Davis

Sample analysis: Helen Kivela, Andrew Rigg, Fiona Wojtas

Report: Craig Davis and Simon Christen