Bacon is an example of a food category the USDA FSIS would classify as not fully cooked and not ready to eat. As implied by its title, the meat product will need refrigeration and cooking for safety.
- sporeforming pathogens (Clostridium botulinum, and C. perfringens)
- toxins from sporeformers and Staphylococcus aureus
- naturally present vegetative pathogens (e.g. E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, and Listeria monocytogenes)
- environmental pathogens (post processing contamination (e.g. L. monocytogenes).
CCP1 – Curing salts addition inhibits sporeforming pathogen growth: The USDA requires both a minimum and maximum level of curing salts (either sodium nitrite or sodium nitrate) be used. Bacon has a special maximum limit of 120 ppm nitrite to minimize nitrosamine formation during later cooking. Curing is performed wet (brine) or dry under refrigeration for safety.
CCP2 – smoking must be performed with a time limit that does not permit growth and toxin production by S. aureus.
A thermal process eliminates any vegetative pathogens that might be present. However, for this product the thermal process is accomplished by the end user (consumer cooking). When consumers are expected to cook a meat for safety a label is required describing that cooking requirement. .
CCP 3. Regular bacon is not shelf stable. It requires refrigeration for safety. Refrigeration prevents the growth of all pathogens except for psychrotrophic pathogens (C. botulinum and L. monocytogenes). C. botulinum is prevented from growth by the use of nitrite (cure) and L. monocytogenes is a vegetative bacterial pathogen. End user cooking will destroy them.
While the above is a simplified overview, the specifics can be found in USDA FSIS sample HACCP plans.
Q. Can bacon prepared as above be vacuum packaged safely?
A. Yes. Because C. botulinum is prevented from growth by the use of nitrite (cure) and L. monocytogenes is destroyed during the cooking process (by the end user) ROP is safe. Quality-wise, ROP is preferred to minimize meat oxidation.