packaged bacon Photo: Kansas State University.
Kansas State University researchers think that adding antioxidants to bacon could help extend its quality.

Meat scientists looking at new ways to preserve bacon

Antioxidants could help extend value and quality of bacon, especially for foodservice sector.

Can a simple antioxidant bring more sizzle to bacon? Kansas State University researchers think so, and they’re starting a project to figure it out.

Meat scientists have known for a long time that meat develops an off-flavor the longer it sits, even if it is refrigerated. Kansas State University meat scientist Terry Houser said the fat in meat deteriorates over time -- a process called oxidation, because it is caused by the interaction of oxygen with the meat product.

“We know that bacon has a problem with oxidation over time,” Houser said. “So, what we’re trying to do is look at classes of antioxidants that we can use to stabilize that fat.”

Bacon purchased in a grocery store is less susceptible to oxidation because retail meat often is vacuum packaged. However, Houser and his colleagues are looking specifically at bacon that is packaged for the food industry.

“If you’re a local restaurant owner, you would most likely buy bacon in what we call an HRI -- or hotel/restaurant/institutional form of bacon,” he said. “The slices of bacon are laid flat on a single sheet of paper and stacked in a box, with no vacuum packaging. They usually arrive to the store frozen in 5 or 10 lb. boxes.”

Houser said the challenge is to add antioxidants to the frozen products so they last longer yet maintain the flavor customers desire.

“Anytime we have to throw product out of the freezer is a bad deal,” Houser said. “You increase your plate costs in a restaurant scenario. We really want to minimize those losses in the bacon area.”

Kansas State’s work will focus on adding natural antioxidants found in smoke and plant extracts that can be most effective in preventing oxidation in bacon. Then, Houser said, the team will determine how long the antioxidants work and what concentrations are optimal.

For a pork product, Houser likened bacon to the rib-eye steak from a beef carcass in terms of the value it carries in the carcass.

That value means "that we would want to do our very best to make sure our customers come back and eat bacon time after time,” he said.

The university’s research is funded by the National Pork Board.

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