How Long Can You Keep Leftover Ham In The Fridge?

Whether your ham of choice is glazed with apple cider and mustard, sliced and served with an herby crème frâiche, or a basic spiral-cut nabbed from the grocery store at the last minute, you wouldn't be alone if you consumed some over the holidays or otherwise. While lamb is the meat of choice on many Easter tables around the world due to the meat's connection with the biblical Passover story, ham is a more popular protein for Americans around the holiday and a popular alternative to turkey on Thanksgiving. 

Most consumers opt to buy fully cooked ham or country ham, both of which are cured in either a wet or dry salt brine before being smoked; country ham goes in to be aged, too. Since ham is already preserved by the time you get your hands on it, it's a cooked cut that holds up better to refrigeration than some, but if you have some extra slices kicking around in the fridge, you'll want to know exactly what their expected shelf life is.

Most ham will last about five days in the fridge

If you're wondering if you can wait another few days to put together that ham sandwich or eggy ham strata, take note. According to the USDA, the ham you and your kin enjoyed for Sunday brunch might have another two to three days of shelf life. The outlet notes that cured and fully cooked spiral hams that have been opened and cooked at home will stay fresh in the refrigerator for three to five days afterward, while country ham lasts up to a full week. If you choose to cook a fresh, uncured ham — basically just a large portion of pork leg that has not been brined or smoked — the USDA says it will last only three to four days in the fridge.

If you won't be eating up those ham leftovers in the next day or so, transfer them to the freezer to get a longer shelf life out of them. The USDA states that cured and fully cooked hams that have been opened and cooked will last one to two months in the freezer; country ham should be used within a month of freezing. Fresh, uncured cooked ham has a longer freezer life of three to four months. As noted by the USDA, frozen ham remains food-safe practically forever, as only the taste and texture degrade over time.

Optimal storage solutions

The most important part of storing ham in the fridge is making sure it's sealed and protected from the air so it stays moist. You want to get your ham in the fridge as soon as possible after you're done cooking, as any time spent sitting out at room temperature can shorten ham's shelf life.

Ideally, if you are carving a whole ham, you should try to keep it as intact as possible when you store it because less surface area will be exposed when it's still whole as opposed to sliced up, which limits moisture loss. If you have part of a whole ham left, it's best to loosely wrap it in thin cloth like a tea towel that has been slightly dampened, which will protect the exterior while still keeping it moist. There are even ham bags available for this exact purpose, but it's not really necessary unless you are eating a whole lot of full hams.

For ham slices, you'll need to get a more robust seal to protect them. Loosely wrap your ham with foil, parchment, or ideally layer them with paper towels that can soak up extra moisture. Then place your ham slices in sealed containers — either rigid plastic containers or zip-top bags work fine, just make sure you get all the air out of your container when you seal it to prevent exposure. This should keep them fresh for the full three to five days.

How to tell if ham has gone bad

As sad as it is to consider, even the most safely stored ham will eventually go bad, and there are a few signs that your ham has spoiled. The most obvious thing you will notice is discoloration. Green or gray pigmentation overtaking your pink ham is a sign it's starting to rot, and you don't want to take a chance eating it, even if only part of the ham has turned. The other obvious visual clue would be mold; it's not easy for mold to grow on cured meat, so if it's taken hold on your ham, it's definitely past the point of no return.

You'll need your other senses to detect the other clues regarding a spoiled ham. Any off smells that develop after storage are a sign of spoilage; your ham should smell sweet and smoky, and if there is a sourness to it, chances are good it's gone bad. The most ambiguous signal is a wet or slimy texture developing on the outside of your ham. By itself, it's not a sure sign your ham is done, but combined with the other signs, it's likely time to toss that meat. 

As much as you may hate wasting it, it's not worth the risk of getting sick if you think your ham is on the border between good and bad. Any of these signs could mean a bad day for anyone who eats it.