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Can Ham Go Bad?

So you’ve bought a cook-before-eating ham to celebrate the holidays or serve your guests at a birthday party. But, as usual, life happens and that cured ham still sits in the fridge a couple of days later. And now you’re wondering if it’s still any good, or should you just toss it out.

Or maybe you’ve actually cooked that ham, but there’s a ton of leftovers and you’re quite sure you won’t eat all of it before it goes bad. And obviously, you don’t want it to go to waste, so you’re thinking about freezing it, but you aren’t quite sure how to go about it.

There are quite a lot of options when it comes to buying ham, as you can buy it bone-in and boneless, cooked or uncooked, and packaged in a variety of ways. Fortunately, the basics of storage, shelf life, and signs of spoilage are quite similar for all types. And my goal with this article is to cover those basics, so you don’t need a reference card every time you’re dealing with ham.

Before going any further, please remember that ham can be prepared with a variety of ingredients and amounts of those ingredients added. It all depends on the butchery or smokehouse. And that means in some cases that ham might last longer than your typical ham described in this article. So always read the label before opening and memorize any details that are out of the ordinary.

Can Ham Go Bad? How To Tell If Ham Is Spoiled?

Ham, like any other meat, can go bad. And unless it’s country ham that keeps quite a long time uncooked ([FS]), it doesn’t last that long.

When it comes to signs that ham is spoiled, your senses is pretty much what you work with to decide if the meat is still okay or not. When it comes to visual signs, if it’s cooked or cured and it turned slimy, it’s definitely past it’s prime, and you should get rid of it. Same thing if there are any greenish, greyish, or other discolored parts. In other words, if it doesn’t look like a “healthy” piece of meat, it’s done for.

The smell is second thing to check. If it’s fresh, it’s most likely perfectly okay. But if it smells “funny” or off, throw it out. I know that this description isn’t particularly detailed, but I find it pretty much impossible to describe in any other words. I mean you’ve most likely smelled old ham or any other meat before, and you knew right away that something isn’t quite right. It works exactly the same way here. When in doubt, throw it out.

Of course, if the ham you’re eating tastes off, or doesn’t quite taste the way it used to, get rid of it. I’m sure that’s quite obvious for most of you, but I just wanted to make sure to mention it. Some people feel super guilty about discarding food, and I get that because I feel that way too. But if there’s a chance it’s gone bad and it will hurt your gut, just get rid of it, for your own safety.

Discussing spoilage wouldn’t be complete without talking about the shelf life of the product. Because no matter how good that piece of meat looks, if it’s opened and a week or more after its date, it’s probably best to get rid of it.

Uncooked ham
(credit: Wesual Click)

How Long Can You Keep Ham In The Fridge?

If you’re looking for a storage chart of how long each type of ham lasts approximately, provides one ([FS]). It’s an excellent place to start, but I don’t think it requires memorization or accessing each time you have some ham on hand. Let’s, on the other hand, internalize a few basic facts.

First of all, when it comes to uncooked ham, it’s pretty obvious that cured lasts longer than fresh. So it makes sense that the fresh one lasts 3 to 5 days, and cured up to a week or even more, based on the use-by date on the label. If the cured one is well packaged, e.g. vacuum sealed, it’s quite possible it can last a day or two past that date. Once you cook that ham, it “gets” a new shelf life.

When it comes to cooked ham, it pretty much comes down to how it’s packaged. If you bought it cooked and it’s vacuum sealed, no matter if it’s whole, cut, or sliced, it can last up to 2 weeks ([FS]). But once it’s no longer vacuum sealed, it lasts about 3 to 4 ([ML]) or 5 ([FS]) days. Those 3 to 5 days apply to pretty much any “opened” ham: one that you cooked yourself, opened vacuum sealed one, store wrapped, or ham slices.

I think remembering the guidelines above is much easier than trying to memorize the chart provided by FoodSafety. Hope you find them useful too. And as I mentioned in the beginning, some hams last longer, depending on the ingredients. So if you see that yours is supposed to last up to 10 days ([HA]), that’s not necessarily a misprint. If possible, always check the label for further and more exact information.

Now it’s time to talk about ham storage.

How To Store Ham? Can You Freeze Ham?

This, fortunately, is pretty straightforward. Ham’s place is in the fridge. It should be well wrapped, so it doesn’t dry out ([ML]). You can use a plastic bag, aluminum foil, or a freezer bag for that, depending on the size of the piece and what you have on hand. If it’s sliced ham (or deli meat), in a resealable package, no need for repackaging or additional wrapping.

If you know that you won’t consume all of the ham before it spoils, you can freeze it. Some producers even put on the labels “use it or freeze it” dates, so you can be sure that freezing the product is perfectly fine. In short, unless the package says you shouldn’t freeze the ham, feel free to do so.

When it comes to how to go about it, there are a couple of ways to go about it, depending on your needs. If it’s uncooked, you can freeze it this way, or after cooking. I always freeze cooked ham, so it’s ready to go once I thaw it, and recommend you do the same. I’m lazy, so thawing ham to cook it and only then be able to eat it seems like too much work. Doing things the other way around is so much more convenient.

When it comes to cooked ham, again, there are a few options. First, if it’s commercially sealed, you can freeze it in its original package, without opening it first. Any many companies recommend you do it this way ([MCH]). But if that piece of ham is too much for your family to eat within 3 to 5 days, it’s better to cut it into smaller pieces, or even slice it, so it’s ready for when you make lunch for work or school.

If you’re not using the original packaging, make sure the ham is well isolated from the cold. Wrap it with aluminum foil tightly, or put in a freezer bag and remove air before sealing. If you find it useful, add a label with a name and a date.

When it comes to defrosting, the fridge is the best and safest option ([MCH][HA]). Please remember that if you’ve frozen a whole ham or a really large piece, it might take a day or even two before it thaws, so take that into account when planing your meals.

In a Nutshell

  • Off smell, discolorations, slime, and bad taste are all signs of spoiled ham.
  • Uncooked ham lasts 3 to 5 days if fresh and around 5 to 7 days if cured. Once cooked, it keeps for about two weeks if vacuum sealed and 3 to 5 days once opened or not vacuum sealed at all. For more detailed times check out the Ham Storage Chart.
  • If you need to store ham for longer, freeze it. Portion and slice it if it makes more sense than freezing it whole.