If you’re a smoked meats enthusiast, then you’ve probably had your fair share of cured and preserved meats. While salt-curing and brining can be used to preserve food, smoking can be used to add flavor to the preserved food. Smoked bacon isn’t preserved in a salt culture. It is simply smoked. So, is it any less protected than cured meats?
Smoked bacon goes bad the same way regular bacon goes bad. While smoking can enhance the flavor of the bacon and kill some of the bacteria, the meat is too soft to repel further contamination. Proper storage and relatively quick consumption are recommended.
In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about smoked bacon and food safety. Among the things, you will discover are the key signs that smoked bacon has gone bad, why it can go bad, and what you can do to prevent premature spoiling. But first, let’s explore the reason behind the longevity of smoked bacon.
Why Does Smoked Bacon Last Longer?
The myth of smoked bacon never going bad has its roots in reality. In fact, smoked bacon lasts longer than non-smoked equivalents. However, there is a limit to how long bacon can last, especially past the “sell by” date. To understand and extend smoked bacon’s longevity, you should keep in mind the factors that prevent it from going bad.
Smoked bacon lasts longer because the initial smoking process kills the preexisting bacteria while leaving a residue that makes the meat’s surface difficult to propagate in. It is then stored in a way that further reduces the chances of microbial growth.
Bacteria pose one of the greatest food safety risks because they’re microscopic and often preexisting within meats. Usually, the process of cooking is meant to kill the microbes while tenderizing the proteins for consumption. Smoked bacon does the same without cooking the meat in the traditional sense.
When the bacon hasn’t been fried or cooked in spices, and here’s how that matters: traditional cooking creates taste from texture, flavor, and temperature. If bacon is cooked (usually fried), it gets its signature taste from its new texture and temperature. The same bacon cannot be refrigerated without losing the temperature.
And if it is reheated, it loses its texture. Either way, you cannot get back the standard taste of fried bacon after refrigerating it. So even though cooking rids the meat of its preexisting microbes, it leaves a very short window for consumption. The main practical benefit of smoked bacon is that it adds flavor to the meat without making it temperature contingent. You can refrigerate cold smoked bacon and cook it later.
All in all, smoked bacon is relatively free of bacteria freshly after smoking and is conducive to refrigeration. In contrast, standard bacon contains more microbes that can be kept from propagating by refrigeration, albeit for a shorter period. Both types of meats need to be cooked before consumption, though.
Why Do You Need To Cook Smoked Bacon?
If you’re familiar with cured and smoked meats like ham hocks, you might expect to consume them hot smoked because smoking can sometimes be the equivalent of cooking. However, that’s not the case with smoked bacon since it is more tender than the average meat.
You need to cook smoked bacon because neither hot smoking nor cold smoking completely cooks the bacon. Unlike firmer meats, the smoking process doesn’t completely rid the bacon of its microbes. It also doesn’t produce a firm enough obstacle to prevent further contamination.
Bacon is smoked for flavor and only tangentially for preservation. That’s why smoked bacon can go bad more often than other meats that are brined and salt-cured before smoking. Even though smoked bacon has a lower risk of contamination compared to regular bacon, it is advisable to treat the smoked meat as if it were uncooked.
Why Does Smoked Bacon Go Bad?
Now that you know that smoked bacon can contain trace amounts of microbes and that the smoke residue on its surface cannot repel all the bacteria, you can understand that smoked bacon can go bad. Even after being smoked, it is too tender to be expiry-proof.
Smoked bacon goes bad because of improper storage, exposure to a microbe-rich environment, or extended storage. Each of these raises the odds of bacteria and fungus propagation in and on the bacon slices, and the thinness of the slices alongside fatty contents can encourage bacterial growth.
- Improper storage – If you store bacon at over 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it can go bad quickly because the microbial activity is discouraged at temperatures below 40.
- Microbe-rich environment – Even though smoke deposits can repel bacteria if there are too many bacteria, fungus spores, etc., in the environment, the competition for a surface to inhabit increases. After a while, the bacon does end up being the path of least resistance for dangerous microbes.
- Extended storage – No matter how well you store bacon, you cannot keep it perpetually without it getting spoiled. The smoked bacon can be kept in the freezer for 8 months and in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks. Going past these respective limits will spoil the meat.
Signs That Smoked Bacon Has Gone Bad
As long as you avoid the key errors of storing smoked bacon, it will not go bad, but if you think you might have already committed one of the smoked bacon storage sins by delaying refrigeration or keeping the meat in temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, you might want to know if the bacon has already gone bad. Here are some of the signs that indicate if the bacon is salvageable or has definitively gone bad.
The Red Hue Is Missing
Bacon is best signified by deep red hues contrasted by fatty whites. If the signature reds of your bacon are missing, then the meat has gone bad. The red color loses saturation and is often replaced by a grey or brown color as the bacon gets spoiled. If the color is greenish, then the bacon has not just gone bad but has become a contamination hazard. Green bacon can spoil other meat kept in the open in the same refrigerator.
The Bacon Has A Slimy Texture
Usually, bacon feels moist and juicy despite having little depth, but as the meat comes in contact with the elements, a bulk of the moisture starts disappearing. This happens partially because of evaporation and in part as a reaction to the microbial activity on the meat’s surface. You can distinguish between the two by looking at whether the moisture is missing or has been replaced by slimy oils.
If the moisture is missing, then the bacon has lost it to the air and might be salvageable, but if the moisture is replaced by slimy oils, then it has gone bad because the microbial reaction is required to produce such the aforementioned slime. It is better to be safe than sorry and discard bacon that isn’t moist because it doesn’t even taste good after getting rubbery.
The Bacon Is Sticky Instead Of Being Wet
Another texture-related symptom of spoiled bacon is stickiness. Usually, bacon has a wet feel because of the moisture it retains. But as mentioned earlier, the moisture gets released into the air because of microbial activity.
When the slimy oils also evaporate, they leave behind a sticky texture which signals that the bacon has become a cross-contamination hazard. If said bacon has been kept in the open, it should be immediately discarded, and other exposed food items must be considered contaminated as well.
The Bacon Smells Bad
Finally, the most obvious sign of bacon going bad is that it smells bad. As humans, we have evolved a sense of smell that reflects what we can stomach. If a piece of bacon makes you nauseous, then it is probably not good enough to eat. The only exception to this is if the standard bacon smell also makes you nauseous, then your nose is overcorrecting.
Either way, you should avoid eating whatever smells bad. If bacon is in the advanced stages of going bad, it can smell downright rotten, but initially, it will start smelling like leftover eggs. This is where you need to pay attention, especially if you typically have bacon and eggs. Smell the bacon in isolation and look for hints of a yolk-like smell. If you don’t detect any and there are no other signs of bacon going bad, then you’re in the clear.
Best Practices Of Storing Smoked Bacon
- Store it in an airtight container – As mentioned above, when bacon goes bad, it can become a cross-contamination hazard. That’s not the case when it is stored in an airtight container.
- Keep the temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit – It is best not to test your bacon’s resilience by keeping temperatures low enough to prevent bacterial activity.
- Do not buy it in bulk – Finally, the best thing you can do with smoked bacon is to eat it within two weeks of getting the product. Do not buy smoked bacon in bulk, as it can go bad too easily.
Smoked bacon goes bad because smoking isn’t as much of a preserving process as it is a flavor-enhancing one. To protect bacon from contamination, you should keep it in an airtight container inside a refrigerator. And if you want to keep the bacon for over two weeks, then it needs to be frozen.