Panera clean bacon
Panera's bacon is now free of artificial ingredients and sourced from pigs raised without antibiotics or gestation crates.

ST. LOUIS — Panera Bread said it has switched to bacon that is free of artificial preservatives, flavors, sweeteners and colors from artificial sources, and is sourced from pigs that meet the company’s animal welfare standards for reduced confinement and antibiotics. Panera’s new bacon contains six ingredients: pork, water, sea salt, sugar, celery powder and thyme extract.

The change is the latest in a series made by Panera Bread as part of its No No List commitment, an endeavor to eliminate dozens of artificial ingredients from the chain’s menu items by the end of 2016.

“There are few foods as beloved as bacon,” said Dan Kish, head chef and senior vice-president of food at Panera Bread. “As we approached the challenge of remaking bacon without artificial curing agents and preservatives, we took another step back to think about bacon as it should be: the perfect slice. My food philosophy is that if you’re going to truly enjoy an indulgence, like salty, smoky bacon, it should be the best you can get.”

Panera breakfast sandwich with bacon
The new bacon is herb-brined and has a deeper, more complex flavor with the addition of extra applewood smoke.

The new bacon is herb-brined and has a deeper, more complex flavor with the addition of extra applewood smoke, according to the company. Additionally, the bacon, which is 25% thicker than before, is now taken out of the oven and served at room temperature rather than stored in the refrigerator, which results in crispier slices. Panera also is now using the broken pieces and trimmings leftover from making bacon strips on its salads, allowing the company to use premium cuts for the crumbles while reducing food waste.

“Clean bacon is an example of how you can amplify when you simplify,” said Ron Shaich, founder and chief executive officer of Panera Bread. “By removing artificial additives, we made a switch to better ingredients, better texture and, ultimately, better flavor. We’re not just offering clean bacon; it’s bacon that has been elevated in every way.”

Last year, Panera served more than 2 million lbs, or 115 million slices, of bacon on its sandwiches and salads in the company’s more than 2,000 bakery-cafes. All meats served at the chain now meet the No No List standards, and the company is 95% of the way to a clean food menu, with the exception of a few bakery items.