Bacon and Ham Processing


(1) To show the processing parameters used to manufacture bacon and ham.

(2) To describe the use of new technology to manufacture hams.

(3) To discuss thermal processing and smoking of meat.

Reading material: Principles of Meat Science (3rd ed.), Chapter 7, pages 133 to 171.

Bacon processing

Fresh pork bellies are shipped to processing companies in large containers called “combo bins.”

Individual bellies undergo the following before being converted into sliced bacon for the consumer:

  • Skinned (using a Townsend skinner)
  • Trimmed of ragged edges (using Whizard knives)
  • Pumped (usually Townsend injector)
  • Placed on bacon combs and put on trees or trucks for thermal processing
  • Thermal processing
  • Chilling
  • Pressing
  • Slicing (Anco slicer)
    • Premium slices
    • Secondary slices
    • Ends and pieces
  • Packaging

Ham processing

There are three general ham processing systems depending on the ultimate product:

  • Traditional bone-in cured/smoked ham
  • Boneless, premium ham
  • Boneless, sectioned or chopped and formed ham

Traditional bone-in cured/smoked ham

Made in the following sequence:

  • Arrive at processing plant in “combo bins” in weight range categories
  • Trimmed of some of the collar fat and skin (Townsend skinner)
  • Pumped
  • Netted
  • Placed on tree or truck for thermal processing
  • Thermal processed
  • Chilled
  • Wrapped with paper
  • Boxed

Boneless, premium ham

Hams are received as usual, but are completely defatted and deseamed.

Premium muscles — semimembranosus-adductor and biceps femoris- semitendinosus — are used. Usually only the semimembranosus-adductor muscles are used to make hams such as Hormel’s Cure 81®.

  • Muscles are injected
  • Cured muscles undergo massaging or tumbling
  • Massaging and Tumbling
  • Muscles are netted together or placed in casings (usually 2 or 1-1/2)
  • Ham molds are placed on the product before thermal processing to give shape
  • Thermal processing
  • Chilling
  • Cutting in half (for some of the hams)
  • Packaging

Boneless, sectioned or chopped and formed

These are made virtually the same way that the premium hams are except that the biceps femoris-semitendinosus muscles are chopped or sectioned into smaller pieces along with muscles from the shank and the knuckle. Tumbling and massaging are used to cause the pieces to “stick” together.


Bacon — 120 ppm in-going sodium nitrite or 148 ppm in-going potassium nitrite; 550 ppm of ascorbates or erythorbates. For dry cured bacon, 200 ppm in-going sodium nitrite or 246 ppm in-going potassium nitrite.

Maximum final weight = 100 percent of green weight

Hams — 200 ppm in-going nitrite; 550 ppm of ascorbates or erythorbates

Maximum final weight = Depends on PFF regulations

Thermal processing

Bacon — target temperature = 124 to 126°F

Hams — must reach at least 144°F (must reach 144°F to kill trichinella spiralis instantly)

Thermal processing is used to “set” the premium and section and formed hams (heat coagulable proteins). Cooked hams must reach 150°F.


Combustion of moist sawdust (hardwood) or the use of liquid smoke

  • Flavor
  • Color
  • Bacteriostatic or bactericidal properties

Review of Material — What the student should know:

(1) The different muscles and processes used to make different kinds of boneless hams.

(2) Equipment and processes for curing and smoking bacon.

(3) Regulatory aspects of bacon and ham processing.

Links to related sites on the Internet

Hormel Foods

Oscar Mayer Foods

HoneyBaked Hams



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