If you find yourself doing a weekly fridge clean out, you’re far from alone. Hectic weeknights can quickly lead to leftovers stacking up and hiding in the back of the refrigerator.
One thing leads to another, and you find yourself with a fridge full of spoiled food — we’ve all been there. The good news is that with a little planning, it’s easy to transform cooked ham leftovers into a five-star meal for the next day.
Learn how long cooked ham can last in the fridge and what you can do to make the most out of your food.
How long can cooked ham stay in the fridge?
When working with leftover ham, it’s important to remember that not all products have the same shelf life. Plus, once you open and use some of the ham, it’s an entirely different timeline. FoodSafety.gov provides several guidelines for safe ham storage depending on which type of product you have on hand:
- A full, vacuum-sealed ham: Two weeks
- Slices, half or spiral cut: Three to five days
- Luncheon meat: Three to five days upon being opened
In short? Once you open a package of ham, or if it comes open — like if it was sliced at the deli counter— you can safely eat your leftovers for up to five days.
In addition to these dates, it’s always best to stick to the use-by date printed on the ham’s package. A use-by date is the last day a manufacturer recommends consuming a product while at peak quality. While it’s not always unsafe to eat a piece of ham that has passed this point, you might notice it doesn’t taste as great as you expect.
How to spot the signs of spoiled ham
It’s all too easy to lose track of exactly when ham was put in the fridge. If you’re not certain of how long it’s been since you grocery shopped or first had your ham for dinner, keep an eye out for these signs:
- An “off” texture: One of the first signs of spoilage is best described as a texture that just looks weird. If your ham appears dully or somewhat slimy, it’s likely that the early stages of spoilage have kicked in.
- Unpleasant odor: The nose always knows. Fresh ham should smell salty and possibly even smoky depending on how it was flavored or cooked. However, if you pick up anything “funky” — think of a sulfur-type odor — it’s time to toss that ham.
- Color changes: Due to the nature of ham, it’s common for the meat to remain pink even after it’s fully cooked. Some uncured products may look a little paler or even beige. On the flip side, any spot on the inside of the ham that looks gray, brown or green is a strong indicator of spoilage.
If you don’t notice any of these signs but you’ve passed the use-by date on the packaging, it’s best to toss the ham just in case.
One thing to keep in mind: If you’re not sure how long the ham has been in your fridge or whether it’s not spoiled, it’s always better to err on the side of caution. There’s nothing worse than waking up the next day only for your suspicions to be confirmed by a case of food poisoning.
Freezing ham and other techniques to keep it fresh
It’s happened to the best of us. You plan on doing leftovers the day after you had your cooked ham, and then things get in the way — traffic, after-school activities or just a craving for something different. In the event that you don’t have the time to eat your ham as planned, you still have a secret trick to keep it fresh for even longer: the freezer.
The same guidelines provided by FoodSafety.com explain that the freezer can add months to the lifespan of your cooked ham. To keep your ham as fresh as possible, follow these tips for freezing it:
- If you’re freezing a whole ham, wrap the product tightly in either aluminum foil, plastic wrap or designated freezer paper.
- Place the ham in an air-tight container or a freezer-safe bag, making sure that it’s covered and sealed tightly. Squeeze out as much air as possible when closing up your container of choice.
- Using a permanent marker, label the bag with the date you placed it in the freezer
And just like that, you’ve added months back to your ham’s shelf life. Another option is to freeze slices or portions of your ham. This way you can thaw it out as needed, and it will take less time. If you do decide to store small pieces in the freezer, you don’t have to wrap them before placing them inside a freezer-safe container.
How to thaw frozen ham
Once you have frozen ham, it’s easy to thaw out and enjoy it for another day. Depending on how much time you have before sitting down to eat, there are several different methods of thawing:
- Refrigerator: Take your ham out the day before you plan to use it and leave it in your fridge to slowly dethaw.
- Cold water: Place your food in a leak-proof package and submerge it in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes. Estimate that you’ll need about 30 minutes per pound of ham.
- Microwave: Microwave your ham for 15 to 45 minutes on the defrost setting. If your microwave doesn’t have a defrost setting, set the microwave to its lowest power setting.
If you plan to thaw your ham using cold water or the microwave, it’s important that you cook it immediately to ensure that the meat stays at a safe temperature for consumption.
Best ways to use up your precooked ham
Leftovers have often received a bad rap due to being a more “boring” version of last night’s dinner. So let’s change that. With just a little bit of creativity and prep work, it’s easy to turn your cooked ham leftovers into a brand new, equally delicious-tasting meal.
Some of our favorite ways to repurpose leftover ham include:
- Adding a delicious glaze: An easy way to transform your ham is to add a home-made sauce or glaze. One of our favorites is a simple Apricot glaze that features brown sugar, nutmeg and cloves to create a delicious and slightly sweet flavor.
- Putting a twist on breakfast: Introducing a savory spin on a breakfast classic: ham and cheese french toast. Repurposing leftovers for a different meal entirely can be a great way to explore new dishes in the kitchen while also making the most out of your groceries.
- Creating an entirely new dish: You’ve been asked to bring a dish to a party or be in charge of a side for a family get-together. Good thing you have leftovers ready to go. Dethaw your ham and whip up a delicious broccoli, cauliflower and ham au gratin that will leave everyone asking for seconds.
Remember: These are just a handful of examples of what you can do with your cooked ham. Always feel free to explore new recipes and find different ways to test your culinary skills. Plus, you never know — you might just discover your family’s new favorite meal.
Make the most out of your meals
With just a little bit of planning, it’s easy to turn one night of cooked ham into a week’s worth of new meals and creative recipes. Plus, if you ever find yourself with too much food on hand, your freezer can make for the perfect long-term storage solution.