What Is Uncured Bacon?
Conventional bacon gets a “quick cure”: The pork belly is injected with brine plus the chemical form of sodium nitrate (which converts to sodium nitrite in the processing). Sodium nitrite extends the shelf life of the meat, prevents bacterial growth and provides the familiar pink or red color.
Uncured bacon typically uses a nitrate/nitrite-free cure with celery juice, salt and a lactic acid starter culture.
Then why is it called “uncured?”
Under federal labeling laws, if a meat product is not cured using the chemical form of sodium nitrate, it must be labeled uncured, whether or not it is preserved by another preservation technique.
Add this to the mountains of confusing government legislation. It’s easy for most consumers to think that uncured meat is less preserved, and thus more dangerous (the danger is the potential growth of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which can cause botulism).
But there’s more:
Celery is a natural source of sodium nitrate, so nitrites go into the meat anyway. But by adding nitrite-rich celery juice to the meat instead of actual chemicals, manufacturers legally to claim “no added nitrates.”
SODIUM NITRITE DOESN’T CAUSE CANCER
Here’s the lowdown on this issue:
Several decades ago, an animal study that got significant media attention concluded that sodium nitrite was a carcinogen. Large amounts of the chemical were fed to the animals.
But follow-up studies—which did not get hyped by the media—did not show the correlation. According to MeatSafety.org:
Numerous scientific panels have evaluated sodium nitrite safety and the conclusions have essentially been the same: sodium nitrite is not only safe, it’s an essential public health tool because it has a proven track record of preventing botulism. The National Toxicology Program, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, conducted a multi-year study to evaluate sodium nitrite’s safety. The study found that sodium nitrite was safe at the levels used.
According to the FDA, sodium nitrite does not become toxic or increase risk of cancer in doses up to 10 mg of sodium nitrite per pound of body weight. This translates to an intake of 19 pounds of cured meat for a 150-pound individual.
So: Buy Niman Ranch bacon because it’s sustainable and tastes better—not because of “no added nitrates or nitrites.”