Water in bacon: new EU rasher regulations

In a reportedly surprising move this week, and one which will surely be popular with consumers, EU food regulators have proposed new regulations, effective 2015, that would make it mandatory to relabel bacon as “bacon with added water” if it contains more than 5% added water – half the current 10% allowed under UK law. Manufacturers would also have to state the percentage above that 5%.

Water is added to bacon for one reason: to make more cash. It isn’t just the added water that boosts profits, it’s the time saved in the process. Making proper bacon, whether wet- or dry-cured, is a lengthy business, involving the likes of a spending 10 days in dry salt cure and another 10 maturing, if not longer.

The industrial method for making bacon cuts the time down drastically. First the fresh pork is injected with brine, then it’s placed in a vacuum tumbler for up to two hours to distribute the brine evenly. After that it’s frozen for slicing: with all that extra water, it couldn’t be sliced without freezing. Fresh pork turns into bacon in as little as two hours, and can be on supermarket shelves within days of slaughter.

“Does it matter? You know it does if you’ve ever tried to fry a rasher of industrial bacon. The stuff feels soaking wet when it comes out of the packet, and grey, watery sludge starts flowing the instant it hits the pan. And doesn’t stop until the rasher has shrunk to as little as half its original size. Remember, pork contains a lot of water to begin with – as much as 30% of its weight. Proper curing removes much of that water and doesn’t add any extra. Rapid curing removes none of it, and after injection a rasher might have a water content of up to 50%,” writes Guardian bloggist, Richard Ehrlich…..

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