Country, cured, fresh or smoked ham, what is the difference?

Storage and cooking times can be very different depending on the kind of ham.

Hams can be fresh, cured or cured-and-smoked, cooked, picnic and country style. Why is the difference important? Depending upon the kind of ham, the storage and cooking times can be very different.

Hams can be fresh, cured or cured-and-smoked. The term ham refers to the cured leg of pork. A fresh ham would be an uncured leg of pork. The fresh ham will have the term “fresh” in the title of the product. The term fresh means that the product has not been cured in any process.

The term “turkey ham” refers to a ready-to-eat product that is made from the cured thigh meat of the turkey. “Turkey ham” should always be followed by the phrase, “cured turkey thigh meat”.

Usually, the color of a cured ham is a deep rose color or pink. A fresh ham (one that has not been cured) will have a pale pink or beige color similar in color to a fresh pork roast. Country ham and prosciutto (both are dry cured) range in color from pink to a mahogany color.

Hams can be ready-to-eat or not. Ready-to-eat hams which include prosciutto and cooked hams can be eaten right out of the package. While fresh hams and hams that have been only treated to kill trichinae must be cooked before they can be eaten. Hams that must be cooked will have cooking instructions in addition to safe handling instructions.

Hams that have the appearance of a ready-to-eat product but are not ready-to-eat must have a statement on the primary label telling the consumer that the product needs to be cooked before it is eaten. The term “cook thoroughly” on the product label means the product must be cooked before it is consumed and there must be cooking instructions on the label. This ham must be cooked to an internal cooking temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit before it can be consumed. Michigan State University Extension recommends using a cooking thermometer to check the internal temperature of the ham. 

The term “canned ham” describes two different products. One is shelf stable and the other is refrigerated. 

Shelf stable canned hams can be stored up to two years at room temperature. This type of ham is generally not more than three pounds in size. This product has been processed to kill all the spoilage bacteria and the pathogenic organisms such as Clostridium Botulinum, Salmonella and Trichinella spiralis. This product is free of the microorganisms that are capable of growing at room temperature.

A refrigerated canned ham may be stored in the refrigerator unopened for six to nine months. This type of ham has been processed to a cooking temperature and time to kill the foodborne illness bacteria but since it is not sterilized, spoilage organisms can eventually grow.

HAM STORAGE CHART

NOTE: Freezer storage is for quality only. Frozen hams remain safe indefinitely.

Type of Ham

Refrigerate

Freeze

Fresh (uncured) Ham, uncooked

3 to 5 days

6 months

Fresh (uncured) Ham, cooked

3 to 4 days

3 to 4 months

Cured Ham, cook-before-eating; uncooked

5 to 7 days or “use-by” date*

3 to 4 months

Cured Ham, cook-before-eating; after consumer cooks it

3 to 5 days

1 to 2 months

Cooked Ham, vacuum sealed at plant, undated; unopened

2 weeks

1 to 2 months

Cooked Ham, vacuum sealed at plant, dated; unopened

“Use- by” date*

1 to 2 months

Cooked Ham, vacuum sealed at plant, undated or dated; opened

3 to 5 days

1 to 2 months

Cooked Ham, whole, store wrapped

7 days

1 to 2 months

Cooked Ham, half, store wrapped

3 to 5 days

1 to 2 months

Cooked Ham, slices, store wrapped

3 to 5 days

1 to 2 months

Spiral-cut hams and leftovers from consumer-cooked hams

3 to 5 days

1 to 2 months

**Country Ham, uncooked, cut

2 to 3 months

1 month

Country Ham, cooked

7 days

1 month

Canned Ham, labeled “Keep Refrigerated,” unopened

6 to 9 months

Do not freeze

Canned Ham, labeled “Keep Refrigerated,” opened

7 days

1 to 2 months

***Canned Ham, shelf stable, opened

3 to 4 days

1 to 2 months

Lunch Meat Ham, sealed at plant, unopened

2 weeks or “use-by” date*

1 to 2 months

Lunch Meat Ham, sealed at plant, after opening

3 to 5 days

1 to 2 months

Lunch Meat Ham, sliced in store

3 to 5 days

1 to 2 months

Prosciutto, Parma or Serrano Ham, dry Italian or Spanish type, cut

2 to 3 months

1 month

*Company determines its “use-by” date and stands by it.

** A whole, uncut country ham can be stored safely at room temperature for up to 1 year. The ham is safe after 1 year, but the quality may suffer.

*** An unopened shelf-stable, canned ham may be stored at room temperature for 2 years.

So whether the ham is fresh, canned, cured or cured-ready-to eat, be sure to always read the label and handle the ham with the appropriate care and cooking that may be necessary to serve it safely to the family.

For further information contact the local county Michigan State University Extension office.

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