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The reason I ask this is due to the fact nothing on the bacon packaging indicates it can or cannot be eaten 'raw' and in general eating raw meat is a bad idea.

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According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, no amount of processed meat is safe to eat. So bacon can really be considered unsafe regardless of how well it's cooked. –  Theodore Murdock Nov 16 '13 at 4:32
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10 Answers 10

up vote 29 down vote accepted

In such a case, for any food item, ask yourself a question: In a 19th century household, would it have been kept in the cellar, or eaten immediately?

For bacon, it is common knowledge (or at least I think everybody knows it) that it was kept in a cellar for long time. So this is definitely not a food which perishes too quickly. You can eat it raw. (In fact, I often do when I need a quick sandwich). It can be a bit tough to tear apart with your teeth, so pre-cut it.

The reason for this is that bacon is cured meat. There are two reasons not to eat raw meat: taste and food safety. Taste is individual, some people are OK with the taste and eat raw meat as long as they can find a source of meat fresh enough (think sashimi, carpaccio, steak tartare). Food safety is not a problem with bacon. The process of turning pork to bacon includes salt and smoke. Both of these kill bacteria, create an environment which is not hospitable to new colonization (dry, salty), and give the meat a new flavor which is better than the raw meat.

If you are now asking yourself why we are bothering with the fridge for bacon and other ex-"cellar foods" at all, there is still a reason. First, most of us don't have a convenient cellar at 12° - 15°C, and not only is the bacon's life shortened if kept at usual kitchen temperatures, it also doesn't taste too good. It is just greasy. Second, you seldom get dry bacon at the supermarket; even if the curing process doesn't include brining, bacon is often aged much less than in old times, and then packed in vacuum, so it doesn't get really dry on the outside. So bacteria could very well start growing on it outside of the freezer. Inside the freezer, it keeps much longer than raw meat, and is certainly OK for consumption without frying. I guess that the popularity of fried bacon is mainly due to taste reasons.

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It's safe to eat raw bacon? And to think, I've wasted so much time cooking it! –  bsneeze Apr 12 '11 at 0:15
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Raw meat is supposedly significantly less digestible than cooked, one of the primary reasons for cooking food in general in the first place. –  Orbling Apr 12 '11 at 6:12
    
I can't remember what we used to do back then.. it was just so long ago. –  intuited Apr 12 '11 at 7:24
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I might disagree a little with rumtscho - traditionally cured bacon is one thing, what you get in packets from the supermarket is another. It looks similar and it tastes similar, but commercial products are processed rapidly and not tested for immediate consumption without cooking.

Products like Parma ham and Schwartzwaldschinken are proven to be adequately preserved for consumption without cooking. Modern bacon is not, in general. OTOH I know for a fact that raw packet bacon is commonly eaten in Spain without cooking, and I've met people who eat raw sausages (not a good idea in my opinion).

Me, I wouldn't eat it uncooked ...

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I agree that modern bacon isn't the same as the properly cured homemade one. But I happen to have a package of bacon in the fridge, and it lists "Pork, salt, nitrites, conservants, smoke". As everything besides the pork on this list has antibacterial properties, I consider eating it from the package safe, even though it has not been put through a traditional drying process like parma/schwarzwald. When stored in the fridge, it is just much closer in safety to them than to raw meat. The final judgement should be left to the eater, as it is his health which is at stake. –  rumtscho Apr 11 '11 at 23:46
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This also depends on the bacon. Benton's Bacon for instance is shipped unrefrigerated with a note that it's perfectly safe to keep at room temperature because it is properly cured and vacuum packed. –  yossarian Apr 12 '11 at 16:01
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There are also two major types of sausage: fresh and preserved (i.e., cured, dried, and/or smoked). The former (e.g., breakfast sausage) are basically raw ground meat. The latter (e.g., salami) are generally safe to eat without further cooking. You know people that eat fresh sausage‽ –  ESultanik Apr 12 '11 at 20:29
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I get nervous about anything containing nitrite - it is potentially carcinogenic. –  Charlotte Farley Apr 17 '11 at 2:34
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I agree with both rumtscho and James Barrie on some points. First off, modern bacon that is "smoked" just might ONLY have smoke ADDED as a flavoring and not "be" smoked, OR not smoked for as long a period of time. While adding salt and chemical preservatives will enhance the shelf life it will not inherently kill ALL bacteria (see below for more detail/effects).

One other difference from "modern" and "historical" pork products, including bacon but also extended to other products is the method of the production. Modern pork is typically raised on clean(er) food sources and you don't see "toss the household garbage into the pig pen" or pigs roaming the streets picking up food (at least typically). These "older" feed sources might still exist in some areas, even in modern pork. I point this out because certain parasites can and DO exist in modern pork, but are MUCH reduced compared to prior. That being said, unless you KNOW the source, you cannot be sure, and there still exists that possibility of those parasites which heat will kill. This is one of the reasons why pork is cooked more thoroughly than other meats such as those from cattle, sheep, goats or other grazers which tend to NOT eat those items.

Historically cured meats (bacon, ham etc) also reduced the moisture contents of those meats - thus the smoking process desiccated those parasites, and reduced the bacterial "friendliness" of the product - along with the salt, sugar, smoke which were/are added during processing. Note that smoking in a traditional manner (smokehouse) will also slightly raise the temperature of the product as well for a period of time longer than most cooking, but not as MUCH as cooking - and longer than a process which would simply be used to impart flavor.

One other note - smoking (not adding smoke flavoring, the actual process) will also tend to dry out/seal the outer layer making it less "available" for penetration of contaminants such as bacteria, which along with the increased salt in the outer layers also helps.

If you purchase a product, and it is refrigerated, be prepared to cook it. If it is not refrigerated, it might be "safe" to eat but not as tender as cooked.

Bottom line (for me at least) is I never eat meat raw unless I personally prepared it including actually raising the animal MYSELF and processing it.

As for the cooking process, as others have noted, in meats, cooking will also break down the connective tissues making it more palatable and easier to chew.

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Pork is no longer cooked more thoroughly: nytimes.com/2011/05/25/dining/… –  Thomas G. Mayfield Jan 26 '12 at 18:38
    
@ThomasG.Mayfield - not me, I know too much on the pen side (pig pen that is) :) –  Mark Schultheiss Jan 26 '12 at 22:03
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Having eaten cooked bacon and gotten food poisoning so severe "I saw dead people", I would not be in a rush to eat raw bacon. However as Mark Schultheiss suggests, it probably has more to do with production and storage than anything else.

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According to the USDA FSIS, unless the label says otherwise, pork bacon is considered to be raw. If yoiu go to a few manufacturers web sites, like Oscar Meyer or Bar-S Brand, You will see that they offer products that are labeled "fully cooked." So, if it does not say "fully cooked," it is not.

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Additionally, some manufacturers say that the bacon is "smoke flavored" as is found on the Bar-S website. –  Mark Newsom Jul 24 '12 at 15:59
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I just cured a pork belly using a recipe from New York Times...cured in refrigerator for a week and then gets slow ovencooked til 150° inside. When chilled it looks like old time bacon and can be eaten as is or fried. Either way is okau...plus no nitrates

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I don't think this is addressing the original question of eating raw smoked bacon. –  lemontwist Oct 20 '12 at 12:50
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Just eat it it's fine! If it was raw it would look like raw pork, you know, like a pork chop before you fry it. Bacon is good to go either fried or how it comes from the butcher. To say bacon is 'raw' before it's fried is misusing the word raw.

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Despite the smoking, and curing process, raw bacon is still quite dangerous to consume. Trichinella, a type of worm larvae, can infect raw pork. Although commercial manufacturers smoke and cure bacon before selling it, smoking and curing don't always kill Trichinella, but the added salt and nitrites in bacon do make it less perishable than other types of raw meat, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service. Salt slows bacterial growth by directly inhibiting growth or by reducing the water content; bacteria need water to breed, and reducing the content tends to make the meat last longer, but as long as there is moisture present, there is the ability to develop Trichinella.

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Do you have evidence or citations that the factors you cite apply to modern cured bacon? Curing is historically a method for preserving meats; the question is whether the modern methods remain good enough to have that affect, not what bacteria need to grow. –  SAJ14SAJ Nov 15 '13 at 19:42
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I've eaten a good amount of "raw" bacon and never gotten sick. I just make sure it says smoked and/or cured on the label and only eat from a freshly opened pack. Also you might feel sick eating it if there's too much of the fat, so try to find some bacon with a good meat-to-fat ratio : )

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Uuhh this makes no sense. The fat is the most delicious part, without that it would just be salty pork muscle. Fat does not make people sick; I just ate a half pound of raw bacon and asked the butcher for the fattest whitest slices. –  J. Winchester Oct 23 '11 at 16:01
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I use to visit my uncles meat locker in Minnesota as a child and we would get the bacon out of the smoker and bring it right to the slicer. We would eat it straight off the slicer by what seemed like by the pound. I was probably 9-12 years old and had not built up to much of an immune system by that age. I never felt or got sick. As a matter of fact ,it was what I remember to be one of the best tasting things I had ever eaten up till then. I would venture to say its much safer than the dozens of raw oysters I eat now in Florida every year.

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The fact that you survived a behavior doesn't mean the behavior was necessarily not risky. A dangerous dog may not always bite. –  SAJ14SAJ Sep 11 '13 at 18:07
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