Is it safe to eat bacon after the use by date? (3 risks)
In this article, we will discuss whether it is safe to eat bacon after the use-by date, what are the risks of eating expired bacon, when should you not eat expired bacon and how can you reduce the risks of eating bacon after the use-by date.
Bacon is a processed pork product widely consumed in Western countries. The factors that limit the shelf life of bacon and other pork products are, in addition to microbial spoilage, lipid oxidation.
Is it safe to eat bacon after the use by date?
Yes, it is safe to eat bacon after the use-by date, unless it is spoiled. In general, foods are safe to eat after the use-by date, as this labelling refers to the quality of the product and not to its safety (1).
If the bacon has been stored unopened and under proper storage conditions at all times and no signs of spoilage are noticeable in the product, bacon can be safely consumed after the use-by date.
The main microorganisms related to bacon are psychrotrophic bacteria, moulds and yeasts (4). Spoilage in bacon is readily noticeable by the presence of off-odours due to either microbial or chemical reactions leading to rancidity (3).
As a consequence, the rejection of foods by consumers in retail stores often occurs before it is considered unsafe to eat due to the growth of microorganisms (2).
When is bacon not safe to eat?
Bacon is not safe to eat when signs of spoilage are noticeable. Possible indications that bacon is spoiled are (3, 4, 5):
- The presence of off-odours and off-flavours, such as rancid, soapy, cardboard-like, putrid, oxidised, metallic and bitter
- The presence of slime or yeasty biofilm on the surface of the product
- Discolouration, such as loss of redness or appearance of a greenish pigment
- Growth of yeast or mould
- Production of gas with swelling of the package
- Leakage of juices
What are the risks of bacon after the use-by date?
A relevant risk of eating expired bacon is a foodborne illness. Bacon is susceptible to contamination by many pathogenic microorganisms, including Escherichia coli, Salmonella, yeasts and moulds and has caused many food outbreaks.
The risks of eating bacon after the use-by date are summarised in the table below (2, 3, 4, 5, 6):
|Foodborne infection occurs through the ingestion of food containing a high number of microorganisms or parasites, which invade the gastric system and other organs of the host, causing damage||Possible symptoms of a foodborne infection are diarrhoea (bloody/ watery), vomiting, fever, headache, dehydration, meningitis, and infection in the urinary and respiratory tract. Severe cases can lead to hospitalisation and death. Ingestion of parasites can lead to gastrointestinal symptoms, loss of weight and growth retardation|
|Food poisoning occurs due to the ingestion of toxins produced by a microorganism, such as the toxin from Staphylococcus (7), and mycotoxins, produced by fungi||Possible symptoms of poisoning by microbial toxins are vomiting, diarrhoea, fever and hallucinations. In the long term, the ingestion of mycotoxins causes damage to the kidneys, liver and immune system|
|Bacon contains a high amount of unsaturated fatty acids which undergo oxidative reactions, generating oxidation products, which are mutagenic and cytotoxic||The ingestion of oxidative compounds, such as peroxides and aldehydes causes inflammatory processes in the body, leading to diseases in the long-term. A higher risk of cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease and premature ageing is a consequence of the ingestion of oxidised lipids|
How to reduce the risks of bacon after use-by date?
To reduce the risks of eating bacon after the use-by date, you should cook the bacon to a temperature of 165 °F (74 °C) or above. Cooking can effectively reduce the microbial contamination of the food in addition to partially destroying toxins (4, 6, 7).
Eating pork products after their expiration date is always a risk and therefore you should inspect the bacon thoroughly before cooking and eating it. Discard the bacon if you notice any signs of spoilage.
A study showed that meat products at sale in supermarkets presented a high microbial contamination at the end of their expiration date and many samples were above the considered safe for consumption (2).
How to increase the shelf life of bacon?
To increase the shelf life of bacon, consider buying vacuum-packed bacon or products packed under modified atmosphere packaging. The products have a limited concentration of oxygen in their packaging (3, 4, 6).
The reduction of the concentration of oxygen can reduce the rate of lipid oxidation and prolong the shelf life. However, these products are not safe from spoilage by bacteria, such as lactic acid bacteria, which causes slime (4).
Another alternative is to freeze the bacon. Freezing can effectively increase the shelf life of meat products, as it halts the development of microorganisms and limits the oxidative processes (3, 4, 6).
In this article, we discussed whether it is safe to eat bacon after the use-by date, what are the risks of eating expired bacon, when should you not eat expired bacon and how to increase the safety of eating expired bacon.
To prevent possible health damage due to the ingestion of oxidised fats from expired bacon, I recommend including fresh vegetables in your meal.
Fresh vegetables, especially coloured ones, contain antioxidant compounds which counteract the oxidative stress caused by old fats. My favourites are tomatoes and broccoli, which make a good combination with bacon.
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Usda.gov. [cited 2023 Oct 31]. Available from: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/food-product-dating
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