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.
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.
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 ...
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.
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.
Trichinella only infects about 8 people a year in the U.S., and almost all cases are from people eating under cooked wild boar.
Farm raised pork in the U.S. is virtually trichinella free, which is why the FDA has lowered the temperature from pork cooking recommendation from 160 degrees to 145, or medium, with a three-minute rest.
Pork no longer needs to be over cooked like before, although the bacon question still attracts my attention.
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.
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 : )
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.
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.
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.
I have always eaten my bacon raw and I have never gotten sick from eating it that way. Personally, I like the taste way better when it's raw compared to when it is cooked. Tastes less salty and more like bacon in my opinion :D But yeah I guess it's entirely up to you as to whether or not you want to give it a go... I've had it that way since I was 6 or 7, never had any problems at all.
I had a wonderful lady over from Germany. One day I wake up and she's in the kitchen going into the fridge, dangling a strip of bacon over her face... I had to dive at her and say NO!!!! before she put it in her mouth. Apparently you can do this in Germany, but they eat like minced raw pork out there shaped into porcupines with little onion spikes, on bread for breakfast and stuff. So my answer is that nobody in their right mind does this anywhere I know in North America, but if you live somewhere that the food regulations are on top of things like Germany, you might have much better luck.
OK, here you got a more direct answer - people eat raw bacon in Germany - They call it Speck. Look it up.