MANHATTAN, Kan. – What’s better than bacon? Bacon that lasts longer. Terry Houser, a meat scientist at Kansas State Univ., is working to develop bacon that maintains its flavor and shelf-life, even after it is frozen.

The associate professor in KSU’s Department of Animal Sciences and Industry is leading research to examine what level of pork belly fat saturation will result in longer shelf-life and better flavor. Houser’s team is studying the influence a pig’s iodine level (a measure of fat saturation) has on the shelf-life of bacon.

According to Houser, if bacon fat is too unsaturated, it could cause the fat to be soft and undesirable to the consumer. Also, unsaturated fat causes problems with slicing the bellies once they are cooked and smoked – this can lead to lower slicing yields for the bacon manufacturer.

Houser’s theory is that pigs with higher iodine levels lead to poor bacon quality from those pigs’ bellies.
“Pigs with relatively high iodine levels have a more unsaturated fat in the belly, which means those bellies will be softer and more prone to increased rates of lipid oxidation,” Houser said. Increased rates of lipid oxidation can be linked to rancid flavors in meat products, he explained.

Most commonly, bacon used in the foodservice sector is stored frozen, not vacuum packaged like most retail products are, Houser said. The freezing-thawing process can lead to off-flavors in meat with higher levels of unsaturated fat.

“We wanted to see what the effects freezing has on lipid oxidation, or off-flavor development in those bacon products,” Houser said. “The results showed us that bacon is very unstable once it is in a frozen storage, in a HRI (hotel, restaurant and institutional) type of packaging system.”

Houser’s research will explore ways to identify bacon that is higher in unsaturated fat and how to make the fat more stable when frozen.