CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — At one point or another you may have heard that pepperoni rolls are illegal outside of West Virginia, whether it’s because of their “raw” meat, closed face, or the fact that they can be kept unrefrigerated. But are these the real reasons pepperoni rolls are rarely seen outside West Virginia?
Essentially, no. There are no laws or regulations that prohibit retail stores from selling pepperoni rolls. In fact, there are specific rules and regulations that mention pepperoni rolls by name to exclude them from certain regulations.
The Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) and Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) exempt several foods from the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) if they contain “relatively small proportions” of meat or poultry or are not considered by consumers to be products of the meat or poultry industry. Because of pepperoni rolls’ historical perception as a baked good, they are exempt from USDA inspection and are specifically listed on page eight of the USDA Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book.
However, like anywhere that produces food, bakeries must still follow guidelines to ensure their food is safe to eat.
An FDA spokesperson told 12 News that while there aren’t any laws against “pepperoni bread,” retail food establishments are still subject to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act as well as the FDA Food Code.
The FDA Food Code indicates that if foods are considered a Time/Temperature Control For Safety Food (TCS) they must be held at proper temperatures for safety, but according to this FDA job aid, pepperoni rolls would not qualify as a TCS food. Additionally, according to page 411 of the FDA 2022 Food Code, “shelf-stable fermented sausages such as pepperoni and dry salami do not have to be refrigerated or date marked.” This is because on page 36 under section two part (h), pepperoni made under USDA guidelines is made in a way that kills any pathogens. However, according to an FDA statement provided by Chico’s Bakery in Morgantown, if you tried to make a pepperoni roll with some other kind of meat like ham or chicken, the roll must be produced under USDA inspection; At that point, it would stop being a “pepperoni” roll, and therefore no longer covered by the exemption of its historical perception.
So if pepperoni rolls aren’t really illegal, where did the idea come from?
According to a letter that was allegedly sent by former West Virginia Senator John D. Rockefeller, the pepperoni roll’s legal problems began in 1987 when the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), a health agency in the USDA, was attempting to reclassify bakeries as meat packing plants due to their production of pepperoni rolls. This reclassification would mean stricter regulations on the bakeries and increased costs that wouldn’t make pepperoni rolls profitable.
12 News reached out to Rockefeller’s estate to verify the authenticity of the letter but did not receive a response.
The new desire to regulate pepperoni rolls was a complete surprise to West Virginia’s bakers. In a Washington Post interview from 1987 a pepperoni roll maker named Chris Abruzzino said the government-recommended workaround for this new law was to cut the rolls in half and market them as a sandwich.
“There was not much I could do but cut them in half,” he said, “but in this area we couldn’t sell them. One account told me to not even bother sending them if they were cut in two,” Abruzzino said.
After hearing about this problem from his pepperoni roll-making constituents, Rockefeller apparently requested to meet with the acting Secretary of Agriculture Richard Lyng to discuss the impact of the decision on West Virginia’s bakers. Rockefeller later received a letter saying Lyng understood the concerns and had decided to only make bakers accountable for existing food inspection standards. And thus, the pepperoni roll was saved, or so the story goes.