Bacon has moved way beyond the breakfast plate and shows up in just about every meal imaginable! Not only is bacon popular for breakfast, in salads, and on burgers, it’s even part of a dessert trend that includes it being candied or covered in chocolate! But is this savory meat treat safe for those with celiac disease or other gluten sensitivities? Read on to find out if bacon is gluten-free.
Bacon’s main ingredient is pork, which like all meats is naturally gluten-free. All meats are naturally safe for people with celiac disease and other gluten sensitivities no matter what makes up the animal’s diet. I'll pause while you praise the Bacon Gods...
To become bacon, pork is cured with salt, sugar, spices, and smoke. All these ingredients are gluten-free. However, the ingredients in mass-produced bacon can differ. Smoke flavoring is an artificial flavoring found on many bacon ingredient labels. Smoke flavoring can be created using barley malt flour. Here in the U.S., smoke flavoring must be declared in the ingredients statement on the meat or poultry product labels. So, if a bacon has smoke flavoring made by barley malt, it will be noted as barley malt. It's imperative that you check the label on every product - every single time.
“Canadian bacon,” which most Americans would describe as ham, is gluten-free. Other forms of bacon made out of meats like turkey, chicken, or beef are also gluten-free. The process for turning these meats into bacon products is similar to that of pork and should not involve gluten.
While you should always read the label to check for gluten in all products, it’s particularly important if you are considering purchasing vegetarian replacements for bacon or other “fake” bacon products. This includes items such as jarred bacon bits that don’t need refrigeration as these often aren’t made from actual minced bacon. Some vegetarian bacon products contain wheat for texture or soy sauce made with wheat for flavoring. These grocery items are not safe for people with celiac disease or those following a gluten-free diet for other reasons and must never be consumed.
When making sure your bacon is gluten-free, it’s also important to avoid cross-contamination issues. This includes storage containers, cooking surfaces, utensils, and how the bacon is served. People with celiac disease and other gluten sensitivities should never eat foods which have come into physical contact with gluten.
For example, it’s important to avoid bacon that has been cooked on the same griddle on which a hamburger bun has been toasted. If you order eggs and bacon out at a restaurant, always be sure to remind them not to serve you any toast with your breakfast – unless they have a gluten-free option. Ask your server if the bacon is cooked in a separate pan. If it's not, ask them to do so. If they can't or you don't feel 100% confident that the bacon will be cooked separately, just skip it.
REASONS WHY BACON IS GLUTEN-FREE
- The main ingredient in bacon is pork. Pork is naturally gluten-free regardless of the diet of the animal.
- Bacon is made by curing meat with salt, pepper, sugar, and other spices. These ingredients are naturally gluten-free.
- Bacon made with other types of meat (ie turkey) is gluten-free for the same reasons.
- Gluten-free label on bacon package.
WHEN IS BACON NOT GLUTEN-FREE?
- Bacon that has been cross-contaminated by touching gluten-containing ingredients is not gluten-free.
- Bacon that has been cooked on the same surface as gluten-containing ingredients without that surface being washed first is not gluten-free.
- Vegetarian / vegan bacon substitutes made with wheat or other gluten-containing ingredients are not gluten free.
- "Fake Bacon" items such as bacon bits and crumbles containing wheat are not gluten-free. Gluten can appear in unexpected places due to its popularity as a texture enhancer in packaged and processed foods.
- Smoke flavoring using barley malt flour (see below for more details).
- Bacon cured in beer (unless it's gluten-free beer).
IS SMOKE FLAVORING GLUTEN-FREE?
Malted barley flour may be used as part of "dry smoke flavoring". The good news is that in the U.S., the USDA regulates meat, poultry, and egg products. If malted barley is used as part of the dry smoke flavor, then it MUST be listed in the ingredients. If you're living or traveling outside of the U.S., it's important to check the packaging or contact the manufacturer to clarify their smoke flavoring.
"Look for the words smoke flavoring: Some dry smoke flavoring may use malted barley flour as a carrier for the smoke. If this ingredient is in a meat or poultry product (regulated by the USDA), any barley ingredient used in the smoke flavoring will be listed in the ingredient’s list by its common or usual name” [i.e. malt]."
WHO MONITORS THE SAFETY OF FOOD ADDITIVES IN MEAT AND POULTRY PRODUCTS?
Before any substance can be added to food, its safety must be assessed in a stringent approval process. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) shares responsibility with FDA for the safety of food additives used in meat, poultry, and egg products.
All additives are initially evaluated for safety by FDA. When an additive is proposed for use in a meat, poultry, or egg product, its safety, technical function, and conditions of use must also be evaluated by the Risk, Innovations and Management Staff of FSIS, as provided in the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act, the Egg Products Inspection Act, and related regulations.
DON'T FORGET TO LOOK FOR THE GLUTEN-FREE LABEL!
Many companies are including "gluten-free" wording or GF symbol on the front and/or back of their food packaging
So if you love bacon, but have recently become gluten-free, don’t worry, you can keep indulging in this popular food. Just be sure to read the ingredients label and be mindful of potential cross-contamination issues!
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