Is It Safe to Eat Raw Pancetta?
On a purely technical level, it is safe to eat raw pancetta. This assumes the pancetta is properly cured, which it should be if it is to be called pancetta; otherwise, it is really just uncooked pork belly, which is not safe to eat. It also assumes the pancetta has been properly handled throughout the course of its travels, from the curing stages to final consumption. The person who is eating the pancetta also should be in good health, because both the process of digesting raw meat and some of the natural bacteria that occur on the surface of raw meat could cause problems in people who are ill.
Pancetta is a type of pork that is cured with salt over time. This process is carefully performed and monitored to ensure that the meat actually cures. If harmful bacteria enter the meat during this process, the meat would rot and become rancid instead of being preserved. It is possible for cured meats to acquire some bacteria that could cause stomach aches or other illnesses, but these food-borne problems are not specific to cured meats. Essentially, the curing process prevents bacteria from growing inside the raw pancetta, allowing it to be preserved for a longer time.
Some cured meats also are dried, removing the natural moisture content. This allows meats to be kept for a longer period of time without going bad. Raw pancetta is not usually dried, meaning it does not last as long as some dried meats and needs to be refrigerated to maintain its viability.
Problems can arise with raw pancetta that, despite the curing process, can render it unsafe to eat without cooking. One problem is improper handling of the meat. This can include leaving raw pancetta outside refrigeration for several hours or longer, providing bacteria the chance to penetrate the meat and grow. Another problem that can occur comes from the risk of cross contamination. If the pancetta is allowed to come into contact with surfaces that have been exposed to truly raw meats, such as countertops or knife blades, then harmful bacteria could be transmitted to the meat.
With commercially produced raw pancetta, there also might be problems with the labeling of the food. There is not always a clear understanding of what pancetta is, and some countries have few laws to dictate what something has to be to be labeled as pancetta. This could lead a company to label a slab of uncooked, uncured pork belly as pancetta, which is completely unsafe to eat raw. For this reason, it is important to read and follow any instructions that are printed on the packaging in which the pancetta comes.
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