How to identify cooked and uncooked ham

It is important to identify the differences between fully cooked and uncooked ham to prevent foodborne illness.

Do you ever wonder if you need to cook a ham or if you can eat it straight out of the cooler without cooking? We buy ham from the deli and we don’t need to cook it, which can be confusing. The answer, in short, is if it is cured, smoked or baked, ham is considered “pre-cooked,” and would not technically need to be cooked. This includes the ham that is purchased at the deli. In fact, most ham that is sold to consumers is already cured, smoked or baked. As a deli meat, it can be eaten right out of the refrigerator, but other hams are typically reheated for improved flavor and texture. You can also buy fresh ham, and it would have to be cooked prior to eating.

You can identify if the ham has been processed as the package will say what type of ham it is. If a ham has the statement on the package label indicating that it needs cooking (ex. “cook thoroughly”), it should also display cooking directions. It should clearly state that cooking is required.

Even cured ham must be refrigerated at a temp of 40 degrees Farenheit or below. The exception is if the ham is canned or dry-cured, then it would be able to be stored at room temp. Country ham and prosciutto are examples of dry-cured ham. Most hams are safe to keep three to five days days in the refrigerator, and three to six months in the freezer, but specific times can be found online as there is some variation.

The USDA recommendations state, “Set oven temperature to 325°F. Cook all raw fresh ham and ready-to-eat ham to a minimum internal temperature of 145°F as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook meat to higher temperatures. Reheat cooked hams packaged in USDA-inspected plants to 140°F and all others to 165°F.”

Trichinella Spiralis is a bacteria found in pork, but its presence is minimal because processing plants must follow USDA guidelines to kill the bacteria. Regardless, Michigan State University Extension recommends that proper food safety practices should be followed when handling ham. For instance storing in a refrigerator at 40°F, not leaving out at room temperature for more than two hours and cooking and reheating according to the directions above.