Panera announces 'clean bacon' now being served nationwide

As part of an ongoing effort to improve the quality of its food, Panera Bread announced Wednesday it will only be serving “clean bacon.”

“We cleaned out some of the junk,” Sara Burnett, Panera’s director of food policy, told Bloomberg.

But what is exactly is a "clean" processed breakfast meat?

For starters, the chain has eliminated the use of artificial additives used in the curing process. Celery powder will now be used as the natural curing agent (replacing items like sodium nitrate, sodium phosphate and sodium erythorbate). No liquid smoke or artificial flavor enhancements will be used, either. Panera says it will use extra Applewood smoke instead.

On its website, Panera lists the official ingredients for its "Applewood Smoked Bacon" as pork, water, sugar, sea salt, celery powder, and thyme extract. By comparison, McDonald's "Thick Cut Applewood Smoked Bacon" used in its breakfast sandwich doesn't contain many ingredients either but does use preservatives like sodium phosphate, sodium erythorbate, and sodium nitrite.

Inspired by a Thanksgiving turkey, the bacon will be herb-brined in sea salt, sugar and thyme extract. Since 2015, the meat itself has been sourced from pigs raised on a vegetarian diet, without antibiotics or gestation crates for pregnant sows.

The move to rid its bacon of artificial ingredients comes after the chain announced that it had eliminated artificial additives from 85 percent of its menu last year.  Part of that effort was geared toward working with suppliers to remove artificial nitrates and preservatives from the bacon used in its salads and sandwiches at its roughly 2,000 locations.

“Clean bacon is an example of how you can amplify when you simplify,” Panera founder and CEO Ron Shaich said in a statement. “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.”

But like "natural," the term "clean" when it comes to food has no legal definition. Bacon, whether it has artificial ingredients or not, is still a cured product with a lot of salt.