We’ve all been there: you’re planning a great meal that you know you’ve got the ingredients for at home. You reach into the freezer, but then you wonder: are the meats for this dish still good? They’ve been in here so long… can I really be sure that my bacon, for example, hasn’t gone bad? After all, it’s not something a lot of people think about: how CAN you tell if bacon has gone bad? Luckily, for bacon, knowing when it’s time to toss it is pretty similar to knowing when to toss any frozen meat. It all comes down to five things: the expiration date, the recent history, the smell, the look, and, the feel. If you’ve got a combination of warning signs from any of these five factors, it’s officially time to ditch your bacon-based entrée.
Expiration dateThis is the warning you want to turn to first. Assuming your bacon came from the store (and not straight off the farm), by law, an expiration date will be printed somewhere on the packaging. And for most, a good rule of thumb is past date = time to toss. That said, since bacon was originally made to last, giving bacon an expiration date is kind of like giving flour an expiration date. The date implies more that the taste will change, and that the risk for bacteria will begin to increase around that date, but not necessarily that your meat will immediately begin to spawn bacteria. The use of refrigeration and freezing extends the life of meat pre-bacteria: the FDA is essentially playing it safe with their printed expiration date. SO, should you keep frozen bacon for months after its printed expiration date? Definitely not – but a few days over will certainly not kill you.
What’s happened to your bacon in the past few days? if the bacon has not been refrigerated, for example, or has not been kept air-tight for the past 12-24 hours, you may want to throw it out. On the other hand, if it has been sealed air-tight, you can get away with leaving it out a bit longer (24-48 hours) and still eat it. Bacon is a cured meat, so it has essentially already been cooked to some extent; that means you can give it a bit more leeway than you might think. But don’t give it too much. If the bacon has been out at room temperature for more than a few hours, start taking days off of the expiration date.
Our olfactory senses are amazing: they’re engineered to tell our brains exactly when something is bad or inedible. Have you ever smelled rotten milk and gagged? Your olfactory senses were telling your body that something you were about to eat would have made you sick. There’s an area of the nose that’s filled with something called chemosensory cells, which look for high levels of certain chemicals like sulfur, ammonia, carbon dioxide, and other volatile chemicals, and send triggers to our brains when high levels are detected (which we experience in the form of nausea). Your nose knows, and you need to trust it. So what does bad bacon smell like? Unfortunately, it’s a hard smell to describe, but you know when you smell it. If you take a whiff of your bacon and there’s anything about it that smells “off,” trust your senses and toss that strip.
We all know what great bacon should look like. It should be bright pinkish-red and bright white. Depending on the type of pig, the origin, and if the color was treated or not (sometimes it is), you could definitely experience color variations: some bacon might look very dark red while other bacon will be a very light pink. That’s okay! Tread cautiously though if your bacon looks like any of the following:
- The red part has turned to a light or shiny green. While it sounds pretty nasty, this discoloration is actually not as bad as it seems. The use of nitrites in the curing process makes the myoglobin in the bacon turn green after a short period of time, which is sometimes okay! Check your expiration date, and smell the bacon: if both are A-Okay, then don’t worry about a little greenness. (Note: if your bacon says “nitrite-free,” it means that when curing, straight nitrites and salt were not used; the meat was cured instead using celery salt. The kicker is that celery salt has a TON of nitrites. So even “nitrite-free” bacon could, in theory, turn a little green). However, if your bacon is green AND the expiration date has passed, or the smell is a little off, you should probably err on the safe-side and toss it.
- The red part has become incredibly dark, especially around the edges, while in the freezer. This happens because of freezer burn, and it’s perfectly okay. You can chop off the ends of the bacon and eat the rest if you want, since freezer burn doesn’t mean the meat has gone bad in any way, it just might not taste as good. But again, if more than just the edges have darkened, or you get a funky smell and have a past-due expiration date, go ahead and toss it.
- The bacon turns brownish or greyish, or a shiny, “rainbow” sheen appears on your bacon. This is bad bacon. It’s likely your bacon will smell pretty nasty at this point too, but even if it doesn’t, it’s probably time to toss. The rainbow effect is caused by grease from the bacon fat that has started to render on top, sort of like the rainbow effect you’d see on an oil slick on the road. But rendered grease is not a good thing, especially on frozen meat. Toss it out.
When frozen, good bacon should feel dry or maybe a touch greasy. Bad bacon will feel slimy. The difference between “greasy” and “slimy” sounds razor thin, but when you touch it, you’ll know. If your bacon is slimy it’s best not to bother with checking other factors (smell, look, expiration date): just go ahead and toss.
How To Tell If Bacon Is Bad
Remember: bacon is cured, and was made to endure (like jerky, from which it was actually derived!). A little greyness in color or a day past your expiration date might not be the end of a dynamite meal – just proceed with caution and check multiple indicators to decide if this is an entrée you want to continue pursuing. But at the same time, bad bacteria in the gut is a nasty business. Trust your instincts: when it comes to your health, you’d always rather be safe than sorry!