If you're anything like my family, the leftovers after a holiday meal are one of the best parts of the feast. I’m usually the head cook for our group, and any Easter menu that I prepare always includes ham . We look forward to days of surplus biscuits and ham , eggs and ham, and thick-sliced ham and sharp Cheddar cheese sandwiches.
However, appetites can be different every year, and sometimes we are left with more than just a few leftovers. To make the most of ham past the holiday, how long can you safely store it to eat?
Here’s some information about the safest way to enjoy your meat without spoiling your sandwich.
What Is a Ham?
A ham is a cut of pork from the back portion of a pig's leg. It's usually cured by smoking, drying, or salt preservation and can include the bone or be boneless. Sometimes, the term "ham" also refers to pork pressed to resemble a roast. The most common variety of ham available in U.S. grocery stores is cured with a combination of wet salt brine and smoking methods.
How Long Ham Lasts in the Fridge
Sliced meat, like fresh cut ham or spiral cut ham from the store, will last in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days. The slicing reduces the amount of time the meat will be good.
What types of ham last longer in the refrigerator?
Whole cured hams last in the refrigerator about a week. As you would expect, fresh ham only lasts a few days in the refrigerator, cooked or uncooked. It doesn’t matter if the ham is whole or sliced; the lack of preservatives allows it to spoil much more quickly.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a great resource for ham that recommends the proper refrigerator and freezer time for each type of ham.
Ham Cooking Times
Hams are offered fully-cooked, partially cooked, and uncooked. If you choose a fully-cooked ham for your holiday meal, you’ll just need to heat it up. With so many variables, it’s nice to have this cooking chart .
How Can I Tell if Ham Is Bad?
It's usually obvious when food in your fridge starts to go bad, even ham. First, take a look at the appearance. Has it changed color? Fresh ham might be a pale color, and cured ham is pink. If your ham starts to take on a green or grey hue, or even gets black or brown in a few areas, throw it away.
If it doesn’t smell good, throw it away. Ham should have a salty or smokey aroma, almost sweet. If there is a sour smell or something smells off, don’t take the chance of a foodborne illness. Get rid of it.
Slimy, super-wet, or oily textures on the outside of your ham might indicate bacteria growth. Juice can just be congealed oils, so use your senses to see if anything else is off. Slimy ham that’s growing bacteria will usually have a smell that indicates spoilage.
How Can I Make My Ham Leftovers Last Longer?
Getting the most of every ounce of that holiday ham is important. The best method to extend the life of your leftovers is to use your freezer.
First, wrap the meat in freezer or wax paper and then foil. Put in a vacuum-sealed or zip-top bag marked with a label and a date.
In the freezer, fresh uncooked ham lasts around three months, and cooked fresh ham up to six. Cured ham that is uncooked will last for three to four months.
If you’ve cooked ham and freeze it, use it within one to two months.
A better way to store ham slices
The best way to store sliced ham is to place a folded paper towel inside of a sealable storage container. Layer the slices of ham with paper towels to reduce excess moisture, and keep your ham super fresh. Make sure the lid is tight to limit any exposure to bacteria.