In the long centuries before refrigeration was perfected, meats were commonly preserved though varying combinations of salting, drying or smoking. These "cured" meats, such as bacon or ham, could often be stored for months or even years, depending on local conditions. Modern bacon is a very different product, with a limited shelf life even in the refrigerator. For long-term storage, your freezer is a better option.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service suggests a storage life of up to seven days in your refrigerator, or until the package reaches the manufacturer's "use-by" date, whichever comes first. Your bacon will likely remain usable past that date, but the risk of spoilage or food-borne illness increases dramatically. Frozen in its original packaging or divided into smaller portions and well-wrapped, bacon retains its flavor and quality for at least six to nine months and often longer. If thawed overnight in the refrigerator, each package retains its seven-day refrigerator life. Bacon thawed in cold water or the microwave must be cooked and used immediately.
Salt, Moisture and Perishability
Both salting and drying preserve meats because, like any other living creatures, bacteria require moisture to survive. If a meat is very dry, as with beef jerky or the unrefrigerated bacon sold at supermarkets, bacteria can't survive and reproduce. Salt creates a similar effect by drawing moisture out though the bacteria's cell walls, with disastrous results for their biological processes. The combination of high salt and low moisture in old-school bacon made it safe at ambient temperatures for extended periods. Modern bacon, lower in salt and higher in moisture, is correspondingly less durable.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service: Bacon and Food Safety
- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore Of the Kitchen; Harold McGee
- Photo Credit icetocker/iStock/Getty Images
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