Does Ham Go Bad?

You’ve stocked up on lunch meat ham, or bought a big whole ham. Now that you think about, it’s a bit too much. How long does ham jast?

Or you’ve bought a cured ham that you need to cook at home for a special occasion. After cooking, the meat turned out super tasty, but you’re quite sure you won’t be able to eat all of it within a few days.

That made you start thinking about freezing the leftovers, but you’re not sure how well ham freezes.

Either way, this article is for you if you have any questions or doubts regarding:

  • storage
  • shelf life
  • or going bad of ham

Below, we talk about deli meat ham, whole ham, and even touch upon canned ham. We’ve got you covered, no matter what’s your preference.

Whole ham
Whole ham

How to Store Ham

When it comes to storing ham, there are basically two options: the fridge and the freezer.

Info

I know there are some specialty products like country ham that are sometimes sold unrefrigerated and keep well at room temperature, but the vast majority of ham products require refrigeration.

No matter what type of ham you’re dealing with, if it’s cured or not, cooked or not, or sliced or not, the same few basic guidelines apply.

First and foremost, keep the meat well wrapped at all times. Packaged ham is usually vacuum sealed, or at the very least tightly sealed in a pack. And even if you buy sliced lunch meat at the deli counter, it usually comes properly wrapped too.

Ham in a plastic bag
Ham in a plastic resealable bag

Once you open the package, if you can’t seal it easily, consider transferring the ham in an airtight container or a freezer bag. Those keep the moisture and smell inside, and prevent the ham from picking up any smells from the fridge.

If neither is an option, aluminum foil or plastic wrap can work too.

Tip

For the meat to last the longest, keep it in the far corner of the fridge and return it there right after cutting as much as you need.

Ham slices
Ham slices

When it comes to canned ham sold unrefrigerated, room temperature is perfectly fine for it. A cool place in a pantry or kitchen is perfect for storing the tins.

Once you open the can, store any leftovers in the fridge. Make sure they’re well covered, so the smell won’t leak into the whole fridge and the meat won’t dry out.

If possible, transfer the leftover ham to a small airtight container or put the tin in a freezer bag.

Just cooked ham
Just cooked ham, notice how wet it still is

Can You Freeze Ham?

If you want to store your ham for a prolonged period, freezing works really well (just as it does for pulled pork). Plus it requires very little extra work, so there are no excuses for not freezing ham.

If your ham requires any processing before eating (e.g., it’s uncooked and requires cooking), take care of that before freezing.

This way, your thawed ham will be ready to eat, and you won’t have to worry about anything later on. Plus freezing can slightly alter the texture of the meat, so a frozen and thawed ham likely won’t turn out as good after cooking.

The next step is to think about the portions. If you have a whole big ham on hand, it’s better to divide it into a few smaller parts, so each one is enough for a few days. This way, you make sure it won’t go bad.

Tip

If you’re using ham mainly for your sandwiches, consider slicing it before freezing. This way it’s ready to go right after defrosting. If you’ve bought a big batch of sliced ham at the deli, divide it into several smaller ones too.

Frozen ham that had too much water in it
Squeeze out excess water from cooked ham. Otherwise, you’ll end up with something like this after freezing.

When it comes to how to freeze ham, freezer bags usually work best, as they don’t take as much space as containers.

Tip

If you’re using bags, remember to squeeze out as much air before fastening the seal.

If you expect to keep the ham frozen for longer than a few weeks, consider wrapping the portion with aluminum foil before putting it into the bag. An extra layer of protection against cold air is useful for prolonged freezing. If the ham is still unopened, no need for additional protection, as the original packaging will do just fine.

In short, all you need to do is to protect the ham from the cold temperature and drying out, and that’s about it.

As usual, thaw it overnight in the fridge.

Thawing frozen ham
Thawing frozen ham: put it this way in the fridge, and it’ll thaw overnight

How Long Does Ham Last

The storage time is slightly different for each type of ham, depending on how it was prepared. But since those periods are quite similar, I won’t cover them one by one and instead talk about general guidelines.

If the ham is vacuum sealed, it usually retains quality for about 2 weeks. And pretty much always comes with a use-by date on the label. While the ham should keep unopened for a few days past that date, that’s about it.

Tip

There are exceptions to the 2 weeks rule, like, e.g., Prosciutto that often lasts for over 2 months, but there are only a couple of them.

Once you open the package, or if the ham comes opened (e.g., sliced at the deli counter), it lasts about 3 to 5 days. Same thing for thawed meat.

When it comes to canned ham, it comes with a best-by date, and can easily retain quality for a few weeks past that date. Once you open the tin, eat the ham within 3 to 5 days.

 PantryFridge
Ham (vacuum-sealed, unopened) Use-by + 2 – 4 days
Ham (opened) 3 – 5 days
Ham (thawed) 3 – 5 days
Canned ham (sold unrefrigerated, unopened)Best-by + 1 month 
Canned ham (sold unrefrigerated, opened) 3 – 5 days
Please note that all the periods above are estimates only.
Ham slices on bread
Ham slices on bread

How to Tell If Ham Has Gone Bad

First off, check the dates. If you store fresh ham way past the date on the label or it’s opened for a long time, just throw it out. Yes, even if it seems perfectly fine.

Then it’s time to check the quality of the meat. If it’s slimy or started turning gray, throw it out. Same thing if it has developed an off odor.

If you notice that the smell of the ham isn’t quite right, even if ever so slightly, it’s past its prime, and you should discard it.

Last but not least, if the taste is off, throw it out.

Slicing ham
Slicing ham