If you’ve been shopping for ham recently, you may have found yourself bewildered by the many choices available: fresh, cured, cooked, spiral-cut, smoked, bone in, boneless, country. It’s no wonder people have so many questions about cooking and storing ham! Here are some tips that will make it easier for you to prepare ham successfully – and safely.
Types of Ham
Simply, ham is a leg of pork. If it’s made from the shoulder, it’s called a picnic. Types of ham are fresh, cook-before-eating, cooked, or country (dried and shelf stable).
Hams are either ready to eat or not. Hams that must be cooked before eating will have cooking instructions and safe handling instructions on the label.
Cooking and Reheating Ham
One of the most frequently requested items this time of year is our Ham Cooking Chart. This chart helps you determine how many minutes of cooking are required, based on the ham’s type and weight.
Fresh and cook-before-eating hams must reach 160 °F as measured with a food thermometer to be safely cooked. Cook in an oven set no lower than 325 °F. Hams can also be safely cooked in a microwave oven, in other countertop appliances, and on the stove. Consult a cookbook for methods and timing or see Ham and Food Safety for details.
Ready-to-eat hams include spiral-cut ham, boneless or bone-in hams (whole, halves or portions), and dried ham such as prosciutto. These can be eaten cold right out of the package. If you want to reheat these cooked hams, set the oven no lower than 325°F and heat to an internal temperature of 140°F.
Spiral-cut hams, which are fully cooked, are best served cold because heating sliced hams can dry out the meat and cause the glaze to melt. If reheating is desired, heat to 140 °F (165 °F for leftover spiral-cut hams or ham that has been repackaged in any other location outside the plant). To reheat a spiral-sliced ham in a conventional oven, cover the entire ham or portion with heavy aluminum foil and heat at 325 °F for about 10 minutes per pound. Individual slices may also be warmed in a skillet or microwave.
Country hams, which have been dried and are safe stored at room temperature, can be soaked 4 to 12 hours or longer in the refrigerator to reduce the salt content before cooking. Then they can be cooked by boiling or baking. Follow the manufacturer’s cooking instructions.
Many people believe that because most hams are cured that they are safe longer than fresh meat. However, most leftover cooked ham is safe in the refrigerator only about 5 days.
To determine how long different types of ham can be stored safely in the refrigerator and freezer, see our Ham Storage Chart.
If you have any other questions about ham, feel free to contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at AskKaren.gov (English and Spanish).
Have you recently heard about something called “norovirus” in the news? You probably have, although it’s sometimes referred to as “food poisoning” or the “stomach flu.” Norovirus is very common and very contagious. In fact, a recent CDC study said it’s a leading cause of foodborne deaths, hospitalizations, and illnesses.
What is norovirus?
Norovirus is the leading cause of disease from contaminated foods in the United States; it is responsible for more illnesses than all other viruses, bacteria, and parasites combined. Of all foodborne disease outbreaks with a known cause in the United States, over half are caused by noroviruses.
Norovirus illness often begins suddenly. If infected, you may feel very sick, with stomach cramping, vomiting, or diarrhea. Infections are usually not serious. Most people recover within 1 or 2 days with no long-term health effects. But, more severe illness is possible, particularly in young children, older adults, and people with other health conditions. For these people, norovirus illness can lead to hospitalization and even death.
How do you get norovirus?
You can get norovirus by
- Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus.
- Touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus and then putting your hand or fingers in your mouth.
- Having direct contact with another person who is infected with norovirus. (for example, when you care for someone with norovirus or share foods or eating utensils with someone who is infected.)
Leafy greens (such as lettuce) and raw shellfish (such as oysters) are just two examples of foods most commonly involved in foodborne norovirus outbreaks. However, any food item that is served raw or handled after being cooked can become contaminated with noroviruses.
Norovirus can spread rapidly from person to person in crowded, closed places like long-term care facilities, daycare centers, schools, hotels, and cruise ships. Noroviruses also can be a major cause of gastroenteritis in restaurants and at catered events if contaminated food is served.
Stop the spread of norovirus
You can stop the spread of norovirus by washing your hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the toilet and changing diapers and always before eating or preparing food. According to the latest findings from the CDC, “appropriate hand hygiene is likely the single most important method to prevent norovirus infection.”
Other food safety tips to prevent norovirus infections include
- Carefully wash fruits and vegetables.
- Cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them.
- Do not prepare food if you’re infected. People who are infected with norovirus should not prepare food for others until 3 days after they recover from their illness.
For more tips, see Prevent the Spread of Norovirus.
Those of us on the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline can always tell when St. Patrick’s Day approaches. Starting in early March, we begin to receive lots of questions about corned beef: How do you prepare it? How can you tell when it’s safely cooked? How long can you store it?
While a traditional dinner of corned beef and cabbage may bring you the “luck of the Irish,” you can’t rely on good luck to ensure that your meal is food safe. Instead, follow these tips to make sure that you and your guests don’t turn green (with food poisoning!).
Package Dating and Storage Times
If you buy uncooked corned beef in a pouch with pickling juices which has a "sell-by" date or no date, you may store it for 5 to 7 days in the refrigerator, unopened. If you buy products with a "use-by" date, you may store it unopened in the refrigerator until that date.
An uncooked corned beef brisket may be frozen for 1 month for best quality if you drain and re-wrap it. We recommended draining the brine because salt encourages rancidity and texture changes. The flavor and texture will diminish with prolonged freezing, but the product is still safe.
Corned beef is made from one of several less tender cuts of beef like the brisket, rump or round. Therefore, it requires long, moist cooking. It can be cooked on top of the stove or in the oven, microwave, or slow cooker. The USDA does not recommend one particular cooking method as best, but we do provide cooking directions in our fact sheet, Corned Beef and Food Safety. Whatever method you use, make sure that the corned beef reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 160 °F or above.
It’s safe to cook corned beef ahead of time. After cooking, cut it into several pieces for faster cooling—or slice it, if you like. Place the beef in, shallow containers and cool it in the refrigerator quickly.
Leftover corned beef should be sliced and refrigerated promptly—within 2 hours of cooking or reheating. Use cooked-ahead or leftover corned beef within 3 to 4 days or freeze 2 to 3 months.
If you have any other questions, feel free to contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at AskKaren.gov (English and Spanish).