Keeping ham in the refrigerator allows it to stay fresh and safe to eat for an extended period of time. However, it’s important to understand proper storage methods and how long ham will last refrigerated before the quality starts to diminish or safety becomes a concern.
An unopened fresh ham can be refrigerated for 1-2 days past the sell by date. An opened fresh ham will last 3-5 days. A cooked ham will last 3-4 days refrigerated. And a canned, shelf-stable ham can be refrigerated after opening for up to a week.
How Long Does Fresh Ham Last Refrigerated?
Fresh, raw ham that has not been previously frozen can be kept refrigerated for 1-2 days past the sell by date printed on the package. If the ham has been frozen and then thawed in the refrigerator, it should be cooked within an additional 1-2 days.
An opened fresh ham, meaning the original vacuum package has been opened, will last 3-5 days in the fridge. It’s best to wrap the cut side in plastic wrap or foil to help prevent drying out. Portioning into smaller pieces can also help extend the shelf life.
Factors That Shorten Shelf Life
There are a few key factors that can shorten the shelf life of fresh raw ham stored in the refrigerator:
- Opening the original package exposes the ham to potential contaminants and introduces oxygen, allowing spoilage to occur faster.
- Cutting or slicing the ham provides more surface area for spoilage microorganisms to grow.
- Higher refrigerator temperatures (above 40°F) can dramatically multiply bacterial growth.
- Contaminating the ham by repeatedly opening the package or touching the ham with unclean utensils or hands.
Signs of Spoilage
Here are some signs that refrigerated fresh ham has spoiled and should be discarded:
- Slimy or sticky texture
- Grayish, greenish, or yellowish discoloration
- Dull or tacky appearance instead of glistening and glossy
- Off odors such as sour, ammonia, or spoiled
- Mold growth
How Long Does Cooked Ham Last Refrigerated?
Fully cooked ham that is sliced or in halves/quarters can be stored in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Properly wrapped, unsliced whole cooked ham will last up to 7 days refrigerated.
As with raw ham, certain practices can shorten the shelf life of cooked refrigerated ham:
- Cutting into the ham exposes the inner meat to potential bacterial contamination.
- Opening the original packaging and exposing the ham to air flow will cause it to dry out faster.
- Higher fridge temperatures will speed up spoilage.
Signs that cooked ham has spoiled and should be thrown out include mold growth, dryness or hardening, off odors, and a sticky or slimy texture.
Freezing Leftover Cooked Ham
Freezing is a great way to preserve leftover cooked ham much longer. Slices or chunks of cooked ham can be frozen in air-tight packaging for 2-3 months. Whole cooked bone-in hams can be wrapped tightly in freezer bags or freezer paper and frozen for up to 4 months.
For best quality, frozen cooked ham should be thawed in the refrigerator overnight before reheating to serve. It should not be thawed at room temperature or in the microwave as this can promote bacterial growth.
How Long Does Canned Ham Last After Opening?
Canned ham that has been continuously refrigerated can be kept for 3 to 5 days after opening the can. If the can has been stored at room temperature, the opened ham will only last 3 to 4 days maximum in the refrigerator.
An opened canned ham stored in the fridge should be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap or placed in an airtight container. Make sure to use clean utensils each time you handle the ham to prevent introducing bacteria.
Look for the same signs of spoilage as fresh or cooked ham, such as unpleasant odors, sliminess, or mold growth. Discard the ham if you see any questionable changes.
Can You Freeze Canned Ham?
Freezing leftover portions of canned ham can extend the shelf life significantly. Properly wrapped canned ham slices or chunks can be frozen for 1-2 months.
For best quality, thaw frozen canned ham in the refrigerator before eating to prevent any bacterial growth. Do not leave at room temperature or thaw in the microwave.
How to Store Ham in the Refrigerator
Proper storage is key to maximizing the shelf life of refrigerated ham. Here are some tips for keeping ham fresh longer in the fridge:
- Keep ham stored in original packaging until ready to use. Do not open until you are ready to eat it.
- Once opened, wrap ham tightly in plastic wrap or foil. Make sure no exposed areas are left uncovered.
- Store ham on lower shelves of the refrigerator, not in the door where temperature fluctuates.
- Set fridge temperature to 40°F or below. Use a thermometer to monitor it if unsure.
- Rinse ham with cold water before slicing to remove some surface bacteria.
- Always use clean knives, cutting boards, plates, etc. when handling to prevent cross contamination.
- Cook or freeze ham within recommended time frames after opening/thawing.
Can You Refreeze Ham After Thawing?
Previously frozen ham that has been properly thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen as long as it still looks and smells fresh. Make sure thawed ham is used within the recommended 1-5 day time frame.
To refreeze, wrap ham tightly in freezer bags or freezer paper, squeezing out excess air. Seal and return to freezer immediately. Label package with freeze date and try to use within 2-3 months for best quality.
Avoid refreezing ham more than once, as this causes loss of moisture and texture. And never refreeze ham that has been left out at room temperature after thawing.
How Long Does Ham Last in the Freezer?
Here is a table summarizing freezer storage times for different types of ham:
|Type of Ham||Freezer Storage Time|
|Fresh raw ham (unopened package)||6-9 months|
|Fresh raw ham (opened)||4-6 months|
|Cooked ham (whole)||4-6 months|
|Cooked ham (slices/chunks)||2-3 months|
|Canned ham||1-2 months|
Ham stored continuously at 0°F or below can safely stay frozen for these recommended times, although quality may start to decline after lengthy freezing.
Properly wrap ham in freezer bags, freezer paper, or airtight containers before freezing. Double wrap for very lengthy freezing. Portioning into smaller sizes can help the ham freeze faster.
Always thaw frozen ham slowly in the refrigerator, allowing 12-24 hours for larger hams. Do not leave ham to thaw on the counter or try to quickly thaw in the microwave, as this can promote bacterial growth in the outer layers while the inner ham remains frozen.
Can Ham Go Bad in the Freezer?
Yes, ham can eventually go bad in the freezer if it has been kept for too long. Signs of frozen ham going bad include:
- Ice crystals or freezer burn on the meat
- Greyish or dull brown discoloration
- Dry, stringy looking texture
- Off odors when thawed
- Tasteless when cooked
Ideally, frozen ham should be eaten within the recommended freezer time frames for the specific type of ham. Cooked ham that has been in the freezer for 4-6 months should be safe if properly thawed and consumed immediately.
Refrigerating ham allows it to keep for several days after the sell by date or after opening. Fresh ham will last 1-5 days refrigerated, cooked ham keeps for 3-7 days, and canned ham can go 1 week refrigerated after opening. Freezing extends shelf life of ham for 1-6 months depending on type.
Proper storage methods like wrapping ham tightly and monitoring refrigerator temperature help maximize freshness. Discard ham that has developed unpleasant odors, stickiness, or other signs of spoilage after thawing or opening the packaging. Following safe handling and storage guidelines will keep ham safe to eat for as long as possible.