Safety matters: Bacon

Where there is bacon, there is love. Take this statistic: Americans eat nearly 18 pounds of bacon per year. Taking into account those with pork-free diets, some Americans may eat even more than that. Bacon mania is everywhere. So what’s the best way to keep it safe?

This is an installment in our Safety Matters series. We’re taking food products and breaking down how you can keep them safe for you and your family. Interested in learning more? Click here to read other installments, including those on steak, ground beef and vegetables!

What’s the history of bacon?

Bacon dates back to the Roman Empire; at the time, it was called petaso. Bacon isn’t new to the market by any means. In fact, “The basic process of it has remained the same for 300 years,” Chef Hugh Acheson said in an article in TIME.

With such a history, why is bacon booming now?

Chef Acheson continues: “…It’s really easy to make bacon,” he said. “The bacon influx allowed chefs to ease into the world of meat processing, and that’s when it started appearing on every menu and fitted into every sweet and savory form.”

Let’s get to the nitty gritty. How is bacon made?

What bacon is comprised of depends on where in the world you are. For Americans and those in the United Kingdom (where they are called rashers), bacon comes from the fatty part of the pig. In Canada, it is made from leaner loin in the back. Occasionally, bacon is made from other parts. If this is the case in the U.S., the portion of the pig must be identified on the product (e.g., “Pork Shoulder Bacon”).

For belly bacon, the belly is skinned and edges are trimmed away. The product is cured in salt and nitrate, then heat processed. This is usually done in large convection ovens, but can also be done by smoking. Afterwards, it is chilled to below 40°F/4.44°C for slicing.

Any bacon that is in retail stores is inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (or other State systems equal to the federal inspection standards).

How do I store bacon?

Refrigerated at all times. But there are a few deviations:

  • Unopened package: If continuously refrigerated, it can last for up to one week after the “use by” date.
  • Opened package: Wrap tightly in aluminum foil or plastic wrap.
  • Cooked bacon: It will last for 3–5 days in the refrigerator, or 3 months in the freezer.

You can also freeze it. Here’s how:

  • Put the bacon in the freezer before the “use by” date on the package.
  • Help maximize its shelf life (1–2 months) by wrapping the original, unopened package in air-tight aluminum foil, plastic wrap or freezer paper. Put that in a heavy duty freezer bag, which will help prevent freezer burn.

How do you thaw it? Best course of action, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to put in the refrigerator for slow thawing. You can also keep the product in an unopened or leak-proof bag and submerge in cold water (changing every 30 minutes). Bacon can also be thawed in the microwave, but cook immediately after doing so.

What foodborne organisms are associated with pork?

A lot of the same ones that can be found in pork, meat and poultry: Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, Campylobacter and Listeria monocytogenes, just to name a few. These are all destroyed by cooking properly.

Where can I learn more?

Visit the USDA’s page here.

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