We all know how crispy bacon can be when it’s browned to perfection. But what about eating it raw?
“Pretty much any bacon you buy comes already smoked and cured,” a Redditor says in a thread on the topic. “I eat it raw on occasion—and have never gotten sick.”
Food experts, however, unanimously advise you to do otherwise.
It’s true that commercial bacon, the kind that you and I buy from the store, is smoked and cured. But that process typically lasts only enough to infuse the meat with a smoky aroma and deep flavor—not to make it safe to eat raw.
As you can imagine, some producers like to take shortcuts, spraying the bacon strips with liquid smoke and packaging them in a matter of minutes instead of hours after slaughtering the pig. Yes, that’s the same liquid smoke that you’d add to homemade BBQ sauce.
So, it’s a good idea not to rely on the smoking and curing process too much when it comes to uncooked bacon’s safety.
Never eat raw or undercooked bacon. It can harbor viruses, bacteria, and parasites, incl. toxoplasmosis, trichinosis, and tapeworms. Cooking the bacon to an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C) or until crisp kills them and brings down the risk of food-borne illness to a minimum.
Carnivores can generally get away with eating bloody beef, but pork is a whole other story. Of all food-borne illnesses that you can get from eating raw bacon, three are the most common:
Toxoplasmosis, an infectious disease that results from the infection with the Toxoplasma gondii parasite. Though toxoplasmosis may cause flu-like symptoms, most people affected never develop signs and symptoms, the Mayo Clinic reports.
Trichinosis, a parasitic disease caused by roundworms called Trichinella. Mild infections involve abdominal and flu-like symptoms, the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) advises, whereas heavily affected people can experience heart and breathing problems.
Tapeworms, a class of parasitic worms that live in your intestines known to cause abdominal pain, loss of appetite, fatigue, and weight loss (detailed information available at WebMD).
When pork is cooked, these infectious agents usually get killed by the rising internal temperature of the meat. Unless you intentionally want to get infected with them, stay clear of raw or undercooked bacon (and pork as a whole).
Do This When Handling Raw Bacon
Even if you cook bacon properly, you may still be putting yourself and your household at risk of cross-contamination if you don’t follow basic kitchen hygiene rules.
This is where many home cooks make a mistake by assuming that raw bacon is smoked, cured, and therefore as safe to handle as Italian prosciutto.
Uncooked bacon is raw pork—and you should treat it as such. Store it separately in the fridge, and always wash your hands, clean your knife, and sanitize your cutting board after handling it.
When storing bacon in the fridge, wrap it tightly in butcher paper and separate it from other foods, especially those you eat raw, like cured meats, cheeses, vegetables, and greens.
After handling raw bacon, reduce your chances of cross-contamination by washing your hands and forearms with soap for at least 20 seconds, then rinsing them thoroughly with lukewarm water.
Always clean the knife (blade and handle) and spatula (body and handle) you used for cutting and flipping the bacon with soapy water. To protect the steel surface from corrosion, pat them completely dry with a paper towel.
If you cut raw bacon on your cutting board, sanitize it in your kitchen sink immediately after (this applies to both wooden and plastic boards). With a scrub sponge, spread dish soap on the surface, carefully scrub all areas that came into contact with the meat, then pat it completely dry.
Statistically speaking, most food-borne illnesses are caused by cross-contamination. Cross-contamination happens when infectious agents from one ingredient get transferred to another through your hands, cutlery, or kitchen utensils.
How to Cook Bacon Properly
By now, those of you who read this far know that they shouldn’t eat raw or undercooked bacon. In fact, it should be handled with as much caution as raw pork.
So how should you be preparing your bacon in the first place? Other than grilling it, there are three ways to do so in the confines of your kitchen: on the stove, in the oven, and in the microwave.
To pan-fry bacon, preheat your frying pan over medium-high heat, arrange the strips in a single layer, and cook for 3-4 minutes on one side. Flip them over with a metal fork or thin spatula and cook on the other side for the time amount of time.
To oven-bake bacon, preheat your oven to 400°F (204°C); grease a baking sheet with cooking spray; arrange the bacon strips in a single layer bake for 15 minutes.
When pan-frying and oven-baking bacon, it’s a good idea to soak up some of the fat that’s dripping down from the strips. Place them on top of 3-4 paper towels for 2-3 minutes before serving.
To cook bacon in the microwave, line up 3-4 layers of paper towels in a microwave-safe plate; arrange the bacon strips in a single layer and microwave on high for approximately 1 minute per strip.
The most accurate way to tell if bacon is done is to point an infrared thermometer toward the strips and ensure that they’ve reached a temperature of at least 145°F (63°C).
The problem with this method is that most of you probably don’t have one at home. In that case, cook the bacon till it’s turned browned and crispy.
Can you eat bacon raw? Few things can stop you. Should you be doing that? Food experts don’t think so.
Whenever you get the munchies for bacon, make sure to cook it thoroughly before eating it. And remember to wash your hands and sanitize your cutlery and utensils as soon as you’re done handling it.
Kitchen hygiene and food safety is a topic that we home cooks don’t talk enough about. The right thing to do is educate yourself, just like you’re doing right now, so that your food is as safe to eat as it is delicious.