What is sadder than throwing out uneaten bacon? Answer: Contracting a food-borne illness from spoiled bacon and being unable to enjoy bacon with the same gusto as before.
Since bacon is cured, there can be some confusion about how long it lasts in and out of the fridge. While bacon tends to last longer than raw meat, it can still spoil and make you sick. We consulted some experts to find out how long bacon lasts, how long you can leave it out of the fridge, and how to tell when it has gone bad.
3 Major Types of Bacon
When most people talk about bacon in the U.S., they're referring to a product that you can pick up at grocery stores near the lunch meats. This mass-produced bacon is cured with salt and nitrates before being heat processed in an oven. It is then sliced for packaging and quickly chilled to below 40°F in order to stymy bacterial growth.
But not all bacon is the mass-produced kind you find next to Lunchables. Unlike mass-produced bacon, dry-cured bacon is made by curing pork for several days and is thus much more resistant to bacteria. Uncured bacon is technically still cured but uses natural nitrates instead of synthetic ones. Some consumers find this to be a healthier and more natural option than mass-market bacon.
How Long Does Bacon Last In the Fridge?
Once a package of bacon is opened, the USDA recommends that you use or freeze the bacon within 7 days to ensure freshness. If unopened, use the refrigerated bacon within a month (or 1 week past the sell-by date).
How Long Can Bacon Sit Out?
The general rule of food safety is to not let raw meat or cooked food sit out for more than 2 hours, and that rule applies to uncooked or cooked bacon. It's wise to be careful with uncooked pork products since they can harbor and grow bacterial pathogens like salmonella and trichinosis.
If bacon has been sitting out for more than 2 hours, especially if it is uncooked, then play it safe and toss it.
How to Tell if Bacon Has Gone Bad
To find out if bacon has gone bad, use your senses. Here are some telltale signs that your bacon has spoiled:
- Take a look: If it has changed color to greenish, greyish, or has mold spots, that bacon has gone bad.
- Give it a sniff: Bacon should smell slightly smoky but otherwise fairly neutral—if it has a sour or sulfuric odor, then it is past its prime.
- Touch it: If the bacon feels slimy, that is another sign it's gone bad.
How to Store Bacon
Store unopened bacon as-is in the fridge for up to 1 month. Once you open the package, wrap it tightly with plastic wrap and store for up to a week, keeping an eye out for any signs that the bacon has gone bad.
For longer storage, stash bacon in the freezer. Wrap an unopened package of bacon in an extra layer of plastic wrap or aluminum foil and freeze for up to 4 months. To freeze opened bacon, wrap tightly in plastic wrap followed by aluminum foil and freeze within 7 days of opening the package.
To thaw bacon, transfer it to the fridge 24 hours before cooking or place the sealed package in a bowl of cool water, changing the water every half hour until the bacon has defrosted.
A version of this article originally appeared on MyRecipes.com