You slice a big piece of your favorite summer sausage and take a bite. You chew, swallow, and then it hits you. I forgot to remove the plastic casing from the sausage! But don’t worry, consuming a small amount of the plastic casing from sausages isn’t likely to do permanent damage. In this article, we will discuss which kinds of sausage casings are edible and which ones you should remove.

If you accidentally consume plastic sausage casing, don’t worry! Some kinds of sausage casings are edible. And if you somehow took a bite of the plastic variety, you probably noticed it right away. Plastic sausage casings are thin and flexible enough to pass through your system without causing damage.

Where do Sausages Come From?

warrior eating sausages and holding a beer mug

Let’s talk about the sausage! Sausages have been made for thousands of years. The practice comes from the need of ancient people to preserve meats. They also needed to use as much of the animal as possible. Sausages are typically made from ground meat, like beef, pork, or chicken, which is mixed with spices and other ingredients. Every geographical region tends to have its own variety of sausage.

Sausages can be cooked, smoked, cured, fresh, or even pickled. The type of casing used depends greatly on how the sausage is prepared or stored. The methods used to make sausages and sausage casings have changed over the centuries.

Different Types of Sausage casings

The sausage casing houses the ground meat that makes up the sausage, helping to maintain its shape. There are three basic kinds of sausage casings: natural, artificial, and plastic. Learning a little bit about the different kinds of casings can help you figure out if you can eat them or not. Let’s look at the different kinds of sausage casings.

Casing Type Source Is It Edible?
Natural Casing Animal intestines or stomach Yes
Cellulose Casing Plant cellulose No
Collagen Casing Collagen from animals Yes
Plastic Casing Plastic polymers No
Vegetarian/Vegan Casing Vegetable glycerin, starches, sugars Yes

Natural Sausage Casings

Ancient people made sausages using natural casings, and this practice continues today. Natural casings come from a layer of the small intestines of animals, most commonly, pigs, cows, sheep, lambs, and goats. The casing is cleaned out, scrubbed with salt to help preserve it, and then filled with the meat. In the old days, the intestines were hand cleaned, but most sausage makers do this mechanically now.

Natural casings are usually distinguishable by their uneven appearance and the curved shape of the sausages they produce. They are clear and you will be able to see the sausage through the casing. Natural casings are perfectly fine to eat, and you probably do so more than you realize.

Bratwurst, breakfast sausages, pepperoni, and meat sticks all use natural casings. For the most part, you cook the sausage while it’s still in the casing and then consume it as a whole.

Cellulose casings

Cellulose casings are synthetically created from plant cellulose, most often cotton and wood pulp. This leftover material is repurposed into a substance called viscose. Cellulose casings are usually clear or opaque in color and sturdier than natural casings. It’s typically meant to be left on as the sausage is cooked and then removed before eating.

You should not consume cellulose, but accidentally doing so isn’t going to cause you harm. However, it is very chewy and probably won’t taste very good. You normally find these types of casings on skinless sausage, hot dogs, frankfurters, and wieners. The manufacturers remove the casing after cooking, and before packaging the product for sale.

Collagen Casings

Collagen sausage casings are made from animals but are categorized as synthetic because the product is processed. This variety comes from the collagen found in the tendons, bones, and skin of animals. They are sturdy and inexpensive, and so are a popular choice for sausage makers.

Collagen casings are edible but are sometimes very thick and may be hard to chew. You have probably seen this type of casing on smoked sausage, summer sausage, and some breakfast sausages. It is thick and sometimes dark in color. You can eat collagen casings, but they won’t taste great.

Plastic casings

Plastic sausage casing is made from polymers and are not edible. They are popular for cooked sausages and lunch meats. An example you may be familiar with is the rind on some varieties of bologna.

Vegetarian and vegan casings

The vegetarian variety of sausage casings is a newer concept that stems from the need of certain groups of people to have a sausage skin completely made from plants. They are made from vegetable glycerin, starches, and sugars. These varieties tend to be very delicate and tear easily.

They are a popular choice for making vegetarian sausages, or for people following kosher laws or halal. There are also vegan varieties that do not contain any allergens or glutens and are non-GMO (meaning genetically modified).

Can I eat sausage casings?

young man enjoying grilled sausage outdoors

Natural sausage casings are fine to eat and will cause no harm if you ingest them. The same is true of vegetarian or vegan varieties.  If you swallowed a piece of sausage casing made from cellulose or collagen you should have nothing to worry about. These types of casings are made from organic materials and will pass through your system with little to no issues.

You can eat collagen casings, although because of the texture and lack of flavoring, we don’t recommend it. You should not eat cellulose casings, but doing so isn’t going to harm you, especially if you only ingested a small amount. If you did accidentally eat collagen casing from sausage, there’s a good chance you realized it right away, and therefore stopped eating.

If you are still unsure of what kind of casing is on a particular sausage, one thing you can do is check the label. Most food labels present on sausages must disclose what is in the sausage and the casing. If you can’t consume the casing, the label must also include a written statement that reminds the consumers to remove the casing before eating.

What if you ate plastic sausage casing?

man holding stomach in pain

Now that you know how to tell the difference between edible and inedible sausage casings, let’s talk about what to do if you accidentally eat plastic sausage casing.

If you swallowed a piece of sausage casing made from plastic, don’t worry. Your digestive system is designed to expel things that cannot be absorbed or used by the body. Most likely, the piece of plastic casing will pass through your system in a few days without causing any harm.

If the piece of plastic was small enough for you to swallow without choking, that means it was small enough to pass through your esophagus. Plastic items of this size should have no problem working their way through the rest of your digestive system. There are only a few rare instances where swallowing a piece of plastic becomes a problem.

Other Factors to Consider

Most plastic sausage casings are thin and flexible, which means the likelihood of them becoming lodged anywhere, or causing lacerations, is unlikely. Still, there are some things you may want to watch out for if you believe you swallowed a piece of plastic sausage casing.

  • If the plastic gets stuck in your throat and causes difficulty breathing, seem emergency medical treatment right away.
  • The plastic may cause irritation or abrasions of your esophagus.
  • Stomach upset is possible.
  • A blockage or bleeding in the intestinal tract could lead to problems. If you believe you have any symptoms related to a blocked or ulcerated intestine, like vomiting or blood in the stool, seek medical treatment.

Most of the time, swallowing plastic sausage casing isn’t going to cause you any harm. Your body will take care of it for you, and it should pass normally without you even noticing.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you stuff sausage casings?

You can stuff your sausages at home using special tools, sometimes called a sausage funnel. Some food processors come with an attachment designed to stuff sausages.

Can you freeze sausage casings?

You can freeze most sausage casings but you need to prep and store them to prevent freezer burn. Depending on the type of casing, it may be shelf-stable or only require refrigeration.

How long are sausage casings good for?

You can properly preserve sausage casings for a few months. If refrigerated, they will last approximately six months. Frozen casings may be good for up to a year.