Bacon: How Long It Lasts and How to Store It

Published Categorized as Food
A serving of baconbelchonock /Depositphotos

Bacon lovers, ever had bacon go bad on you and ruin your day? Store your bacon properly and get a little peace of mind knowing it will never go to waste!

More than half of American households (53%, to be exact) always have bacon on hand in the kitchen, the National Pork Board says. Since you’re reading this blog, your home is probably one of them.

And yet not everyone knows how to store bacon, a perishable food item, how long bacon can last, and how to tell if bacon has gone bad.

This is important knowledge considering that 48 million Americans get food poisoning, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It will help you keep that package of bacon in your household fresh and protect your family from foodborne illnesses.

How Long Does Bacon Last?

The shelf life of bacon depends on whether it’s packaged or opened, raw or cooked, and how long it’s stored.

Type of baconShelf life
Unopened baconUp to 2 hours at room temperature
Up to 14 days in the refrigerator
Up to 8 months in the freezer
Opened cured bacon
(American bacon)
Up to 2 hours at room temperature
Up to 7 days in the refrigerator
Up to 6 months in the freezer
Opened uncured bacon
(British bacon)
Up to 2 hours at room temperature
Up to 4 days in the refrigerator
Up to 6 months in the freezer
Cooked baconUp to 2 hours at room temperature
Up to 4 days in the refrigerator
Up to 1 month in the freezer

Unopened bacon lasts for up to 2 hours at room temperature and up to 14 days in the fridge. Frozen bacon stays safe to eat forever because the bacterial activity on the meat is put on pause by freezing. However, the bacon only retains its best quality for up to 8 months, after which it begins to dry out and lose flavor.

Opened uncooked bacon lasts for up to 2 hours at room temperature and up to a week in the fridge. Technically, bacon can be kept indefinitely in the freezer, but it only retains its best aroma, flavor, and texture for up to 6 months.

Cooked bacon lasts for up to 2 hours at room temperature and up to 4 days in the fridge, and retains its best quality for up to 1 month in the freezer.

If you’re unsure about the safety of that package of bacon in the fridge, follow these guidelines. But, before you cook and eat it, always check for signs of spoilage to determine if you’re dealing with fresh bacon or bad bacon. We will get to them in a moment.

Note: The type of bacon also matters. American bacon is cured, which is why it lasts so long in the fridge. British bacon, on the other hand, is raw, and it stays good for up to 4 days in the refrigerator.

What the Sell-By Date Tells You

If you buy your bacon from the supermarket and not from the butcher shop, you’ve probably noticed that there’s a sell-by date listed on the back of the package.

The sell-by date is more useful to the retailers, who need to know by when to sell the product, than it is to us consumers, who want to know by when we should eat it. It just isn’t a very reliable indicator of how long the bacon will last once we’ve brought it home and unpacked it from our grocery bags.

The Food Safety & Inspection Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends using or freezing bacon with a sell-by date within 7 days of purchase. If there’s a use-by date, refer to it instead. It tells you by when the bacon will be in its prime.

How to Tell If Bacon Has Gone Bad

To tell if bacon is bad, don’t taste it. Instead, use your senses of sight, smell, and touch (and don’t forget common sense).

Take a good look at the bacon. Does it still look fresh? Fresh bacon should have white fat and pink to dark red meat. If the fat is yellow, this is a sign of rancidity. If the meat is gray or brown, this is a sign of spoilage.

Give the bacon a whiff. Does it smell bad? Fresh bacon should smell appetizingly meaty and slightly salty. If it smells sour or foul, this is a sign that the strips of fat have gone rancid and the meat is overgrown with spoilage bacteria.

Touch the bacon. Does it feel icky? Fresh bacon should feel lively and fatty to the touch. Bacon that has gone bad, on the other hand, is dead and icky; it feels slimy and leaves behind a repulsive smell on your fingers.

Yellow fat, gray meat, a bad smell, and a slimy texture are tell-tale signs that the bacon has gone bad. Discard any bacon that fits this description, fully or partially. You should consider it no longer edible as you have no way to tell if it’s still safe to eat.

Will Spoiled Bacon Make You Sick?

Here’s something that many of us get wrong about our food:

Spoiled bacon isn’t necessarily unsafe to eat. And bacon that looks, smells, and tastes perfectly fine can still give you food poisoning. This is because the bacteria that make food spoil are not the same as the bacteria that can give you food poisoning.

“The types of bacteria that do cause illness,” the Washington State Department of Health explains on its website, “don’t affect the taste, smell, or appearance of food.” Pathogens grow on our food without any signs, which happens the quickest at room temperature and the slowest in the fridge.

However, if the bacon is starting to spoil, it means that it has already been stored for too long and may be full not just of spoilage, but also pathogenic bacteria. This is why it is important to get rid of bacon after a certain number of hours when left out, days when stored in the fridge, or when you see signs it’s spoiled.

Storing Bacon in the Fridge

To keep bacon from going bad and make sure it’s safe to eat for as long as possible, it must be stored properly. So let’s talk about what this means.

Keep your bacon in the fridge at all times, and never let it sit out for longer than 1-2 hours. Disease-causing bacteria—the kind that can give you and the members of your family food poisoning—grow the most rapidly in the danger zone, the temperature range from 40°F (4.4°C) and 140°F (60°C).

For the same reason, bacon leftovers must be cooled down quickly and stored in the fridge.

To maximize the shelf life of bacon, store unopened bacon in its original packaging in the coldest area of the refrigerator. Cold air settles at the bottom, so this is usually the back side of the lowest shelf, right above the vegetable crisper drawer.

Open a package of bacon only when you plan to eat it. Once opened, the bacon will go bad sooner, so it must be cooked and eaten or refrigerated shortly, within no longer than a few days. Wrap the bacon in aluminum foil, plastic wrap, or butcher paper, or transfer it to an airtight food storage container, for refrigeration.

Storing Bacon in the Freezer

Frozen bacon must be properly stored to prevent freezer burn (and the meat catching off flavors from the freezer itself).

When bacon is exposed to the cold, circulating air in your freezer for too long, it can dry out and lose its original appeal. This is called freezer burn. Even though freezer-burnt bacon is safe to eat, it isn’t very appetizing because it has lost its mouthfeel and has no flavor.

Freeze unopened bacon in its original packaging and opened bacon, no matter if opened or cooked, in a freezer bag, squeezing the air out, or airtight food storage container with the lid shut. Remember that unopened bacon will keep its best quality for eight months in the freezer, opened raw bacon for six months, and cooked bacon for a month.

How to Thaw Frozen Bacon

To thaw frozen bacon, transfer it from your freezer to your fridge the night before you plan to eat it. Bacon slices will defrost within 4-6 hours, whereas whole bacon will take 24-24 hours, depending on its size.

If you’re short on time, you can also thaw the bacon in the microwave. Line a microwave-safe plate or bowl with a paper towel to soak up the moisture, put the bacon strips or piece of bacon on it, set your microwave to defrost, and thaw in 1-2 minute intervals.

When you thaw out bacon in the microwave, you must cook and eat it immediately because you’re exposing it to the danger zone (the temperature range from 40°F/4.4°C to 140°F/60°C) and encouraging bacterial growth. You don’t have to do this when thawing it in the refrigerator because the bacon is kept cool during the defrosting.

Of course, if you’re roasting or broiling the bacon strips, you can simply put them in the oven or under the broiler and account for a slightly longer cooking time. Just keep in mind that this won’t work with whole pieces of bacon because they won’t thaw out fully on the inside.

Don’t thaw bacon by leaving it out on the counter. Perishable food items shouldn’t sit out for more than 1-2 hours at room temperature, or pathogenic bacteria will grow to dangerous levels on their surface and make them unsafe to eat.

By Jim Stonos

When Jim isn't in the kitchen, he is usually spending time with family and friends, and working with the HCW editorial team to answer the questions he used to ask himself back when he was learning the ropes of cooking.