Mark Schatzker Decodes Bacon Labels (1:58)
The “No Ractopamine” label is not on pork products yet, but there are many other labels on the bacon you buy. Find out what they mean and what you should be paying attention to so that you can ensure you’re buying the safest and healthiest bacon in the grocery store.
Here are some common labels on bacon you should look out for:
Raised Without Hormones
This label does not tell you anything about the product. While it may seem good that this pork was not raised with hormones, what you may not know is that hormones are illegal to use in pork production. Therefore, this label only aims to sensationalize the product as healthy to sell to unsuspecting consumers.
Raised Without Antibiotics
If you see this label on the bacon you are going to buy, that’s a good thing. It is legal to use antibiotics in pork production in order to help ensure larger and healthier pigs, but that doesn't mean pigs fed antibiotics are healthy for you. If your label says they are raised without antibiotics that means they were raised in a good environment under good conditions and are therefore healthy to consume.
The word "natural" simply means that there were no preservatives added when the bacon was processed in a plant. This is a deceptive term because while you may think natural is good, the natural label does not tell you anything about antibiotics, treatment, and other aspects of how the pork was raised.
This is always a good label to see because that means the pigs were raised right. In this case, especially, organic pigs mean pigs (and bacon) free of ractopamine.
Pastured is a helpful label because it lets you know that the pigs were raised in good conditions instead of being trapped in cages.
Other Things to Note
Bacon expert and chef instructor from the Institute of Culinary Education, Emily Peterson, says that you should also look out for the ingredients listed on the package. The only ingredients you should see are pork, water, sea salt, a natural sugar (like brown sugar or maple syrup), and celery juice powder which is a naturally occurring nitrate. If there are additional ingredients -- especially ingredients you can't pronounce -- you may not be buying the best bacon. Peterson recommends that true bacon lovers buy pancetta because it is less processed than bacon is but still has a crispy texture and salty taste.