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How Long Does Ham Last? Can It Go Bad?

Ham is one of those foods you have to store properly. Otherwise, it will go bad in no time.

How long does ham last? Ham lasts around 5 days in the fridge. If you want to extend its shelf life, freeze ham and use it within 3 to 4 months. Never leave ham at room temperature as it will go bad within a few hours.

Continue reading to learn more about the proper ways of storing ham. And if you have ever wanted to freeze ham but didn’t know how, this article will teach you everything you need to know about it.

Does Ham Go Bad?

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Ham comes in different shapes. You may buy it sliced or in a big chunk which you can slice as well whenever needed. Many people prefer buying cured ham and cooking it for a simple yet filling dinner.

If you buy ham in a small amount, you won’t have the problem of using it up before it goes bad. But what if your nearby supermarket decides to put it on sale? Should you slip the chance of stocking up on your favorite meat and buy it later at a higher price or is there a way of storing ham so that it lasts longer?

Luckily, while ham is a highly perishable food item and you have to store it properly to prevent spoilage, there are ways of extending its shelf life.  So, you can stock up on ham only if you know how you will be storing it.

How to Store Ham?

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No matter what kind of ham it is, it should almost always be refrigerated or frozen. There are only a few types of ham that can be stored at room temperature. However, the ham that we buy in stores in the majority of the cases needs to be refrigerated.

An exception would be canned ham. As it is sold unrefrigerated, it means that it doesn’t require cold temperatures for keeping. Thus, a cool pantry or a dry kitchen cabinet will work perfectly for canned ham.

You should never leave ham at room temperature longer than 2 hours. Warmer temperatures create an ideal environment for bacterial growth. Thus, you are risking getting food poisoning from ham that has been sitting at room temperature.

Even if you have pulled the ham out of the fridge to serve it for dinner, try to keep it out of the sun and heat sources.

In the Fridge

When storing ham in the fridge, the most important thing you should do is to wrap it tightly to prevent the contact of the meat with air. This rule applies to all kinds of ham, be it cooked, uncooked, sliced, whole, etc.

Don’t leave the ham in its original packaging if you have already opened it. As ham usually has vacuum-sealed packaging that is hard to re-seal once you open it, it is best to transfer it into another bag or container. Airtight containers and Ziploc bags are perfect for this reason.

As we have already mentioned, canned ham is one of the few ham varieties that doesn’t require refrigeration. But this is only when the can is unopened. Once you open it, the leftover ham should be transferred into a container or bag for proper storage and kept in the fridge.

We recommend storing ham in the farthest corner of the fridge. This way you will make sure that your ham is always in cold. Don’t keep it on the fridge door as the temperature there is comparatively higher.

In the Freezer

As the fridge life of ham is not that long, freezing is what makes it keep for much longer.

Freezing ham is very easy. For all types of ham, there are a few general rules to follow.

    • Store ham in airtight freezer bags. Plastic containers will work fine. However, they are not as convenient. Freezer bags allow you to push out the air, thus creating better conditions for the meat. Additionally, they take up less space.
    • Consider adding an extra layer of protection if you know you are freezing the ham for very long-term. Wrap the ham with foil before putting it in a plastic bag or container.
    • Freeze ham in portions. This way you can defrost and use as much ham as you need. If you freeze it in bigger pieces, you will have to thaw the whole thing. As refreezing ham is certainly not an option, err on the safe side and freeze in portions.
    • Slice it before freezing. If sandwiches and wraps are all you use your ham for, slice it before freezing.
    • Label with the date before freezing.
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For ham that requires cooking, it is best to cook it and only then freeze it. Doing this will produce a much better result than freezing uncooked ham and trying to cook it when you have defrosted it. Additionally, you will be able to defrost and eat it and not wait for it to be cooked.

How to Defrost Frozen Ham?

There are three ways to defrost ham. The first and the best method of doing it is defrosting it in the fridge. If you know you will be using ham the following day, transfer it from the freezer into the fridge and let it thaw there for a few hours. It is best to leave the ham in the fridge overnight.

If you need to defrost ham quicker, place the ham that is still in a plastic bag under cold running water. Doing this will accelerate the thawing process. Never use warm water to thaw ham.

The quickest method of thawing ham is doing it in the microwave. This is certainly not the best one but it works if you need that ham sandwich right away.

Now that you know how you can freeze and defrost ham, you can surely stock up on it when your local market offers it at a good price.

How Long Does Ham Last?

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The shelf life of ham is quite short when stored in the fridge.

Unopened ham in a vacuum-sealed packaging will last up to 4 days past its ‘Use by’ date. An unopened can of ham has a shelf life of 4 weeks past its ‘Best by’ date.

Once opened, the ham will last around 5 days in the fridge. Defrosted ham should also be used within 3 to 5 days.

Frozen ham will maintain its best flavor qualities for around 3 to 4 months.

How Can You Tell If Ham Is Bad?

Spotting spoiled ham is quite easy.

First off, inspect the appearance. If the flesh is slimy and has started to change its color, time to discard the ham.

Secondly, smell it. Ham that has gone bad has an off-putting odor you will hardly fail to notice. Good ham smells fresh and salty. If it is smoked ham, it also smells somewhat smoky. Spoiled ham, on the other hand, has a very unpleasant sour, sulfur-like smell.

If you don’t trust your senses enough or are not sure that the ham is bad just by looking at it or smelling it, give it a little taste test. Throw it out if it tastes even slightly off-putting.

If the ham is still in its original packaging, take a look at its expiration date.

Related Questions

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How Long Can You Keep Sliced Ham in the Fridge?

If you store sliced ham in the fridge properly wrapped with food wrap or aluminum foil, it will keep well for 3 to 5 days.

Sliced ham shouldn’t be left at room temperature longer than 2 hours.

If you know you won’t be using sliced ham within a few days, it is best to wrap the original packaging with cling wrap, transfer it into a freezer bag and freeze for a few months. Sliced frozen ham will maintain its best quality for around 2 months. It will be safe for consumption after that. The taste, however, may not be there.

Once you defrost sliced ham, do not refreeze it. Store it in the fridge and use it within 4 days.

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