How to Store Ham Effectively

Storing ham properly is essential to maintain its flavor and freshness whether it’s for a special occasion or everyday meals.

After purchasing ham, your first consideration should be the type you have—whether it’s cooked, uncooked, bone-in, or boneless, as each will have specific storage guidelines to ensure optimal preservation.

It’s crucial to keep ham at safe temperatures to slow bacterial growth and extend its shelf life, with the refrigerator and freezer being the most common storage environments.

Ham is stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. It can be wrapped in parchment paper or stored in an airtight container to maintain freshness

When refrigerating ham, it’s important to maintain a consistent temperature between 32°F (0°C) and 40°F (4°C).

For cooked ham, place it in an airtight container once cooled; this will keep it fresh for consumption within 3-4 days.

If you’ve opted for bone-in ham, it can often be refrigerated in its original packaging for up to a week without compromising its quality.

For longer-term storage, freezing is the best option.

Ham can be wrapped in foil or freezer paper before being placed in a resealable freezer bag or airtight container.

Labeling with the current date helps track how long the ham has been stored.

Properly packaged, ham can be kept in the freezer for up to four months, although the sooner it’s consumed, the better the quality will be maintained.

Understanding Ham Varieties

Various hams displayed on shelves with labels. Some wrapped in paper, others in vacuum-sealed packs. Temperature-controlled storage area

Selecting the appropriate ham variety and understanding its characteristics ensures you enjoy your meal to the fullest and store it correctly for lasting freshness.

Selecting the Right Type of Ham

When you decide to buy ham, it’s essential to choose the right type for your meal.

Deli ham, often referred to as lunch meat, is typically precooked and ready to serve, making it a convenient option for quick meals and sandwiches.

On the other hand, if you plan on cooking ham, you’ll find fresh ham and smoked ham to be more suitable.

Fresh ham is uncooked and requires thorough cooking, while smoked ham often comes precooked and imbued with a rich, smoky flavor.

Differentiating Between Fresh, Cured, and Cooked Ham

It’s important to differentiate between fresh, cured, and cooked ham for both flavor profiles and storage methods.

  • Fresh Ham: Uncooked and more tender, fresh ham is essentially a raw pork cut that needs to be fully cooked before you can eat it.
  • Cured Ham: Curing involves preserving the ham with salt, sugar, and/or nitrates. Cured ham can be found in both uncooked and cooked forms and has a distinct flavor and longer shelf life.
  • Cooked Ham: This refers to both cured ham that has been cooked and fresh ham that has been cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C). Cooked ham is often referred to as ready to eat or ready to serve.

Understanding these differences will help you in selecting ham for cooking a specific dish or for proper storage.

Initial Preparation for Storing Ham

A hand reaches for a clean, dry storage container. A piece of ham is carefully wrapped in wax paper and placed inside the container. The lid is sealed tightly to keep the ham fresh

Proper initial preparation of ham is crucial for maintaining its freshness and flavor. Before you refrigerate or freeze your ham, there are some key steps you need to take.

Assessing Freshness and Expiration Date

Freshness: Check your ham for any signs of spoilage. Fresh, whole ham should have a pinkish color, and any store-bought sliced ham should be moist but not slimy. If there is an unpleasant odor or change in color, it’s best not to store the ham and discard it instead.

Expiration Date: Locate the sell-by date on your ham’s packaging.

If it has passed, it’s best to use your senses to assess the ham’s condition. But remember, sell-by dates are not the same as expiration dates.

You can usually store the ham for a short period even after the sell-by date has passed, provided it still appears fresh.

Trimming and Preparing Ham Before Storage

Whole Ham:

  1. If your ham has a bone in it, let the bone remain as it helps maintain the ham’s flavor and moisture during storage.
  2. For a whole ham with excess fat and glaze, trim the skin and fat to about 1/4-inch thickness to help keep it moist.
  3. If the ham is glazed, consume any pieces with glaze more quickly as they can spoil faster.

Sliced Ham:

  • Slice Thickness: If you’re slicing ham before storing, cut it into even and manageable portions that you can use at one time.
  • Protection: Wrap the slices tightly, either in cling film or aluminum foil, to reduce air exposure, which could dry out the ham.

Remember to always wash your hands and utensils before handling the ham to prevent contamination and extend its shelf life.

Refrigerating Ham

A ham wrapped in plastic is placed on a shelf in the refrigerator, with the temperature dial set to the appropriate level for storage

When you refrigerate ham, maintaining the correct temperature is crucial to keep it safe and preserve its tenderness. Ensure it’s wrapped properly to retain moisture and freshness.

Optimal Refrigeration Temperature

  • Temperature Range: You should refrigerate your ham at temperatures between 32°F (0°C) and 40°F (4°C). This range slows bacterial growth and maintains freshness.
  • Use a Thermometer: A refrigerator thermometer can help confirm the accuracy of your fridge’s settings.
    • Coldest Part: Store ham in the coldest part of your refrigerator.

Properly Wrapping Ham for Refrigeration

  1. Wrap Your Ham: Cover ham with plastic wrap or aluminum foil to seal in moisture.
  2. Extra Protection: For added safety, place the wrapped ham in a resealable plastic bag.
  3. Label and Date: Mark the bag with the current date to track how long the ham has been stored.

Freezing Ham for Long-Term Storage

Freezing ham is a practical method to prolong its shelf life while preserving its quality. The process involves specific steps to maintain texture and flavor, and to ensure food safety during storage.

Best Practices for Freezing Ham

To effectively freeze ham, you should initially cool it to prevent ice buildup. Wrapping the ham properly is critical to avoid freezer burn. Here is how you can do it:

  • Cool the Ham: Ensure that your ham is at room temperature or chilled before you begin the freezing process.
  • Wrap Tightly: Use leak-proof plastic bags or aluminum foil to wrap the ham. If it’s sliced, you can separate the slices with freezer paper.
  • Seal Adequately: After wrapping, place the ham in a leak-proof plastic bag or an airtight container to add another layer of protection.
  • Label Each Package: Always label your packaging with the date of freezing and contents for easy identification and to keep track of its freezer storage timeline.

TIP: Unopened ham retains its qualities better when frozen in original packaging, but if already opened or it’s leftovers, follow the steps above meticulously.

Preventing Freezer Burn and Moisture Loss

Freezer burn affects the texture and taste of ham due to moisture loss. To prevent this:

  • Remove Air: When using bags, expel as much air as possible before sealing to minimize exposure to cold air in the freezer.
  • Double Wrapping: Use a combination of plastic wrap and aluminum foil or freezer paper for added insulation.
  • Consistent Temperature: Keep your freezer at a steady 0°F or lower to ensure the ham stays frozen and reduce the risk of ice crystals forming.

Thawing and Reheating Stored Ham

When you remove your ham from the freezer, your goal is to preserve its tenderness and taste. Proper thawing and reheating methods are crucial to a flavorful, juicy ham for your dinner.

Safe Defrosting Methods

To thaw your ham safely, ensure you do so in a manner that prevents bacterial growth.

The refrigerator method is the best way to thaw frozen ham. Place the ham in the fridge, allowing five hours of thawing time per pound.

For more rapid thawing, use the cold water method by submerging the ham in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes to ensure it remains cold.

Never thaw ham at room temperature as it can lead to bacterial growth.

Guidelines for Reheating to Preserve Flavor

When it comes to reheating your ham, the temperature is pivotal.

Preheat your oven to 325°F (160°C). Place the ham on a baking dish and tent it with aluminum foil to prevent drying.

Adding a liquid mixture, such as water or juice, can help maintain moisture.

You should simmer (low heat over a shorter period) rather than boil (high heat over a longer period) to preserve the flavor and texture.

Ham should be reheated to an internal temperature of 140°F (60°C) for ready-to-eat hams or 165°F (74°C) for hams that require cooking. Use a meat thermometer to check this effectively.

Once heated through, let it cool slightly before serving to allow the juices to redistribute.

Storing Leftover Ham

After enjoying a holiday ham or a hearty meal, proper storage of your leftover ham ensures both safety and taste. This section will guide you on how to handle and store the leftover ham efficiently.

Handling and Storing Ham Leftovers

When you have remaining ham after a meal, take care to store it correctly to maintain food safety.

Your leftovers should be placed in the refrigerator within two hours after cooking.

Use an airtight container or tightly wrap the ham in plastic wrap or aluminum foil to prevent it from drying out and to ward off any contaminants.


  • Temperature: Keep your ham refrigerated at 40°F (4°C) or below.
  • Airtight Container: Store in a container that seals out air effectively.
  • Time Frame: Aim to consume refrigerated ham leftovers within 3-5 days.


  • Date: Always label your leftovers with the date of storage.
  • Content: Note the type of ham to avoid any confusion later.

Maximizing the Shelf Life of Leftover Ham

To extend the shelf life beyond a few days, freezing is your best bet. Properly stored, leftover ham can last in the freezer for 1-2 months. Here’s how you can maximize the shelf life of your ham:

Freezing Ham Leftovers:

  • Storage Bags: Use quality freezer bags, and squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing.
  • Containers: Alternatively, you can use freezer-safe containers with an airtight seal.
  • Sections: If you have a large amount of ham, consider dividing it into smaller portions. This is convenient for thawing and using in dishes like sandwiches, casseroles, or adding to soups.
  • Thawing: When ready to use, thaw your ham in the refrigerator or in cold water, never at room temperature.

Using Leftovers:

  • Ideas: Use ham leftovers to add flavor to various dishes, such as sandwiches or casseroles.
  • Safety: Ensure that you reheat the ham leftovers to at least 165°F (74°C) before consuming.

Using Stored Ham Creatively

Ham slices arranged in a decorative pattern on a wooden cutting board, surrounded by various storage containers and wrapping materials

Ham is a versatile ingredient that can be featured in a variety of delicious recipes, whether it’s refrigerated or thawed from frozen. Properly stored ham maintains its taste and texture, making it an excellent addition to meals across breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Recipes Incorporating Refrigerated or Frozen Ham

  • Breakfast: A morning staple, ham can be diced into cubed pieces and added to omelets or scrambled eggs, enhancing the flavor with a savory twist. Breakfast Ideas Instructions Ham and Cheese Omelet Whisk eggs and pour them into a hot pan, add ham and cheese before folding. Ham Breakfast Burritos Load tortillas with a mix of scrambled eggs, ham, cheese, and your choice of veggies.
  • Baking: Incorporate slices or chunks of ham into your baking recipes for a satisfying meal.
    • Ham and Cheese Quiche: This classic dish marries the rich tastes of ham and cheese baked into a golden crust.
    • Savory Ham and Cheddar Scones: Add diced ham into the scone batter for a quick, on-the-go breakfast or brunch.

Ideas for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

  • Lunch: Elevate your sandwich game by adding thin slices of ham to bring a protein-packed punch to your midday meal.
    • Ham and Swiss Croissant: Warm croissants filled with ham and Swiss cheese make for a luxurious lunch option.
    • Classic Ham Salad: Mix chopped ham with mayonnaise, mustard, and pickles spread it on bread for a refreshing sandwich.
  • Dinner: Ham can be the star of the dinner plate or a complementary side.
    • Stir-fried Ham and Vegetables: Toss ham strips with your favorite vegetables and a savory sauce for a quick dinner.
    • Ham-studded Macaroni and Cheese: Stir diced ham into a creamy mac and cheese dish for added flavor and protein.

Maintaining Food Safety

A refrigerator shelf with a wrapped ham, labeled with the date and placed away from raw meats and at a safe temperature

When storing ham, your primary goals are to prevent bacterial growth and to minimize health risks. Proper storage and handling are vital to maintaining food safety.

Avoiding Cross-Contamination

To prevent cross-contamination, always store ham separately from other foods, especially raw items. Ensure that your:

  • Storage containers are clean and airtight.
  • Refrigerator shelves where the ham is placed are sanitized.
  • Utensils used with ham do not come into contact with other foods without proper cleaning.

Identifying Spoilage and Health Risks

Spoilage is a telltale sign that your ham may not be safe for consumption, potentially leading to foodborne illnesses. Recognize spoilage and health risks by noting:

  • Odor: Spoiled ham often emits an unpleasant smell.
  • Texture: If the surface feels slimy or sticky, it could indicate bacterial growth.
  • Color: Any color changes or the presence of mold warrants disposal.
  • Refrigeration: Store ham at temperatures between 32°F and 40°F to slow bacterial growth.
  • Expiry dates: Follow sell-by and use-by dates strictly to reduce health risks.

Packaging Materials for Storing Ham

A cardboard box with foam inserts holds a whole ham. A vacuum-sealed bag and butcher paper wrap surround the ham, with labels indicating the date of packaging and expiration

Selecting the right packaging materials is vital for maintaining the quality of your ham and extending its shelf life.

Choosing the Right Packaging

When preserving pre-sliced ham or whole cuts, your goal should be to minimize air exposure. Airtight containers are ideal for this purpose. Look for containers with tight-fitting lids or opt for freezer-safe bags that seal well.

  • For Refrigeration: Use containers or bags that seal out air effectively to maintain freshness.
  • For Freezing: Choose materials like freezer paper, aluminum foil, or heavy-duty freezer bags.

Proper Labeling Techniques

Labeling is a simple yet crucial step to ensure safety and avoid food waste. Mark each package with a label stating the content and date of storage.

  • Use waterproof labels or markers directly on foil or bags.
  • Clearly note the content (type of ham) and the storage date.
  • It’s good practice to include an expiration date based on your planned storage duration.
Type of PackagingCharacteristics
Airtight ContainerReusable, ideal for short-term storage
Freezer BagSealable, best for preventing freezer burn
Aluminum FoilMalleable, good for wrapping irregular shapes

Frequently Asked Questions

Proper storage is crucial for maintaining the quality and safety of ham. Below are answers to common questions about how to store ham.

How long can you keep ham in the refrigerator?

You can store cooked ham in the refrigerator at or below 40°F (4°C) for 3-4 days, while unopened cured ham can last for up to 2 weeks in the fridge.

What is the best way to store a cured ham?

Store your cured ham in a cool, dry place for up to a month, or in the refrigerator if you wish to extend its shelf life. If opened, wrap it in foil or butcher’s paper and keep it in the fridge, ideally at the bottom where it’s coldest.

How do you store a fully cooked ham?

Fully cooked ham should be wrapped in foil or freezer paper and placed in an airtight container or resealable freezer bag before being refrigerated.

For optimal freshness, consume within 3-4 days.

How can ham slices be stored in the fridge effectively?

For ham slices, remove excess air from high-quality freezer-grade plastic bags or wrap them tightly in plastic wrap before placing them in the coldest part of the fridge.

Can you store ham in the freezer for long term use?

Yes, freeze your ham properly wrapped in freezer paper, foil, or a resealable freezer bag, and label with the date.

Ham can be stored in the freezer at 0°F (-18°C) for up to 2 months without a significant loss in taste or texture.

What techniques are recommended for long-term ham storage?

For long-term storage, vacuum sealing is particularly effective at preserving the ham’s quality by preventing freezer burn. When vacuum sealed, ham can be stored in the freezer for extended periods, up to 6 months.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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