Friday, February 8, 2008

Sham: Practices within the Consumer Packaged Meat Business

I don't eat a lot of meat, but my family does. But I do remember from my meat-eating days just how good bacon can taste. I used to love the taste of crispy, thick bacon slices, particularly the Danish kind (since that is my heritage).

Recently, we bought a large bag of Hormel "Real Bacon Bits" at Sam's Club. The packaged promised the "delicious taste of real, fresh premium bacon" and was a good buy for a year's supply (the way it usually goes when you buy something at one of those club stores like Sam's or Costco.)

It was when I looked a little closer that I became concerned about what my family had been adding to their salad and baked potatoes. On the front of the bag I found an interesting slogan, "Made from Picnic Bacon" which caught my curiosity. I don't recall ever hearing that term before, have you? "Picnic Bacon" sounds so nice -- it sounds like a summer outing on a beautiful day, eating a nice BLT sandwich under the trees and watching the ants carry away half of the meal.

Putting aside my winter thoughts of a pleasant picnic, I looked into what this meant. It turns out that "Picnic Bacon" is not a pretty thing. It may have a nice sounding name, but it is really not a meat you should consume. Picnic Bacon turns out to be the most undesirable parts of the pig -- seriously, you don't want to know what parts -- which has been "fabricated" to approach the appearance of bacon. It is just barely considered something fit for human consumption, and it wouldn't be eaten, not by you, me or anyone else, if it didn't have this pleasant little name and the "fabricated bacon" look.

Shame on you Hormel. I wonder how many other surprises there are in the consumer packaged food business? Got any other good ones? Just leave a comment below.


PS -- See my comment in the comments section. I got literally pounded on the usenet after I published this article. I stand behind what I wrote -- I wouldn't touch this stuff. But some people evidently just love "picnic bacon"!


Dave Jensen said...

I wrote about this topic on the food discussion group on the usenet and got nailed by people who love to eat what is called "Picnic Ham," which makes decent BBQ and which comes from the foreleg and shoulder of the pig. What they didn't realize is that Picnic Bacon is a different classification.

Here's a food industry definition:

"Bacon is not made form the same pigs you get regular pork from. Table pork is produced form 3 different grades of pigs; porkers, superporkers and finishers. These tend to have lean meat and a dressed weight of up to 60 kg. Pigs bred for bacon production are known as baconers and are sold at an age of around 24 weeks. They have a higher body fat ratio than regular pigs and can weigh up to a whopping 100 kg.

There are several different varieties of bacon. Middle bacon rashers possess the familiar bacon shape, that is a thin strip of belly pork with a lean round piece of loin at one end. Streaky bacon is the same cut minus the round loin end. Picnic or café bacon is various off cuts of pork that are pressed into a pseudo-bacon shape and should obviously be avoided."

Why should it be avoided? Because when you go into a butcher shop and ask for a specific piece of the pig, the Picnic Ham, you'll get (as they suggested, the shoulder or foreleg area) a very specific piece of meat. But here's the kicker . . . "Picnic bacon" is ANY off-cut of the pig. That includes every single piece of lousy, Grade D consumable meat that might, for example, go into the production of really low grade hot dogs.


Anonymous said...

Regardless of its origin, I would use Hormel bacon bits on my baked potato any day.

I guess it might be like sprinkling a little hot dog particles on top of my potato, but what the hell . . . I like hot dogs too.


Dave Jensen said...

I recently called Hormel about this, and a very nice lady there insisted that this "Picnic Bacon" label is a GOOD thing, and not a bad thing. She told me that this is a higher grade bacon than normal. . . It still sounds fishy to me. If we could get a food industry expert here to comment, I'd really appreciate it.