Ham is one of the most popular types of pork. It can be traditionally eaten for any meal. You can make a sandwich, many cooked meals are made with ham, and don’t let us get started on the most famous breakfast ‘ham and eggs’.
All in all, ham is very popular, and high-quality ham can be quite expensive. One of the reasons why is because it takes quite some time to be made.
For a good ham to be made, it can take up to a few months! It surprised you too, right?
Well, today you were checking out some premium ham in the deli. It was looking good, and it was on sale. Unfortunately, it was on sale only if you buy the entire piece – and it was around five pounds.
That may sound like a lot, especially if you don’t eat ham often, for example, a few times a week. To get the answer to whether you should buy the ham or not, we should cover something else first.
How long is ham good for? Do you have enough time to finish it up or you’ll be forced to throw some out? Read our article to find out the answers!
How Is Ham Made?
Let us say first what is ham. Ham is a pork leg cut, and it can be rather large – depending on the swine breed.
Ham can be produced in a few different ways:
- Preserved by dry curing
- Preserved by wet curing
- With smoking
- Without smoking
So, cured hams are preserved with injections of brine – made with salt, sugar, and other chemical compounds. Cured ham can be cooked afterward (wet curing), and all that turns fresh ham into a cured one. If the ham isn’t cooked, that means it’s preserved by dry curing.
All these methods create a different taste and appearance. Let’s check out the most popular types of ham:
|Butt end ham:||Lean, easier to carve|
|Shank end ham:||Fattier, a piece on the lower part of the leg|
|Bone-in ham:||Moist, rich flavor|
|City ham:||Wet-cured, smoked|
|Ham hocks:||A piece at the end of the shank|
|Canadian bacon:||Wet-cured, smoked pork loin|
|Country ham:||Saltier, dry-cured|
|Italian Prosciutto:||Very salty, dry-cured, made exclusively in Italy|
The Shelf Life Of Ham
To be honest, it’s common knowledge that ham doesn’t last forever. On the other hand, knowing how long ham is good for is a whole different story.
The shelf life depends on a few factors. First, whether it’s fresh or cured ham, and whether it’s dry or wet cured, and was it pre-packaged. All those things affect shelf life in the following ways:
The fresh, uncured ham you bought at the deli, has the shortest shelf life. Since it’s not preserved with anything, it should be used within five days.
Cured, vacuum-sealed ham has a bit longer shelf life. Unopened, it will retain freshness for around two weeks. On the vacuum bag, you will find a use-by date printed on the label.
A use-by date is a manufacturer’s guarantee that the food in question will remain safe for consumption up to the date on the label. Afterward, the food will most likely spoil – avoid eating foods past their use-by date.
Once you break the vacuum seal, you have around three to five days to eat it up. We advise against eating it after a week or even longer – you could get food poisoning!
The only exception to this rule is the Italian Prosciutto. Prosciutto is preserved because of the high amount of salt – so it’s good for around two months after you buy it.
Canned ham has the longest shelf life. It comes with a best-by date printed on the label – and unlike the use-by date, the food stays safe for consumption past that date. The company guarantees that the food in question will retain the best quality up to the specified date.
So, you have three to four weeks past the best-by date to finish the canned ham – more than enough. This is the best type of ham to stock up on! Do note that once you open the can, the ham should be consumed within a week.
Why Doesn’t Ham Last Forever?
Ham will have to go bad at some point, it’s inevitable. Like all meats, it will be affected by bacteria growth.
Since ham is a cured meat, growing mold is highly unlikely. If that happens, it’s almost exclusively because of inadequate storage.
Let’s check out the nutritional value of 3 ounces – 1 serving of ham:
|Nutrient||Value||Daily Value in %*|
Storage Tips And Tricks
As we said already, ham can be rather expensive. Because of that, it’s even more important to store it correctly – incorrect storage will make your ham go bad way too soon. Who wants to spend a lot of money on a food item that ends up in the trash?
Storing ham is simple, and you will have no trouble remembering how to do it properly. Vacuum sealed hams – unopened or opened, should always be kept in the refrigerator.
When you’re storing Prosciutto, it’s a little different. Unopened, it can stay in the basement or the pantry – as long as the pantry is cooler than the rest of the house. Away from the window or radiators, of course.
Unopened cans of ham are perfectly safe at room temperature. Just make sure to store them away from sources of light and heat – because these things can make the ham go bad in the can. Once you open the can, move it to the refrigerator.
Can Ham Be Frozen?
Actually, it can. It’s a very good idea to freeze ham – it will prolong the shelf life a lot. So, if you want to buy a lot of vacuum-sealed ham on sale, do it without a worry!
Leftover ham can be easily frozen. There are a few things to keep in mind when you’re freezing ham.
If the vacuum seal isn’t broken, the ham can be frozen in the original packaging. If it’s broken, you should transfer the ham into an airtight container (make sure it’s freezer-safe first) or a zip-lock bag. We recommend using zip-lock bags as they don’t take up as much space as bulky, plastic containers do.
Make sure to close it tightly. If the cold, freezer air gets to the ham, it will dry the ham out and make it dry out and look unattractive.
Ham can be frozen for up to six months. Use it within three days upon thawing. Check out our article to find out if rice vinegar can go bad.
Extra tip: Thaw the ham in the refrigerator for the best results. Do note that large pieces of ham can take up to two days to thaw!
How To Tell If The Ham Spoiled?
There are a few tell-tale signs that your ham is no longer safe to eat. Read this part to find out how to check the wellness of your ham.
First – examine the ham. Mold is not likely to grow on ham, but it can happen if the ham is stored in a humid place.
If the meat is discolored in any way – if it has greenish or dark spots – it’s no longer safe. It’s spoiled and should be discarded!
On the other hand, if the meat looks fine, but you’re still not sure about eating it – smell it. A good ham will smell smokey and meat-like. A spoiled ham has an unpleasant, rotten smell.
If you’re having doubts about the smell, take a small bite. A ham that is safe to eat will always have the signature taste!
So, if the ham looks, smells, and tastes fine – it’s fine!
How Long Is Ham Good For? – Conclusion
All in all, we came to the conclusion that ham doesn’t have a very long shelf life. Thankfully, it can be frozen to prolong the shelf life – up to six more months.
Vacuum sealed ham is fresh for around two weeks. Once the seal is broken, the ham should be eaten in up to five days.
To get the most out of your ham, make sure that you store it in the fridge. If it’s canned, it can stay in the pantry as long as it’s unopened. Once you open the can, it must be refrigerated.
If you’re not sure how much time has passed since you opened the ham, take a few moments beforehand to check it out. If it looks, smells, and tastes like ham, it’s perfectly safe to consume! So, there’s nothing left to do but to eat it – bon appetit!