To eat or not to eat that slimy ham in the fridge? Here’s why you probably shouldn’t.
Ah, ham, such wonderful meat!
You bought a big piece of ham and whipped up a finger-lickin’ good omelet for yourself and your family. But, as much as you and everyone else enjoyed it, you all had enough of it for now. So you did the right thing—and you threw it in the fridge.
Maybe time flew by a little too quickly. Or maybe you waited a little too long. Whatever happened, the next time you came back, you found that the ham had become sticky and slimy.
What gives? And is the ham safe to eat?
Ham that’s slimy on the outside may not be safe to eat, nor will it become any safer if you cut out the slimy surface. Sliminess can be a sign of bacterial growth and spoilage. Spoiled meat can not only stress your immune system but give you a bad case of food poisoning.
You’ve probably noticed that some pieces of ham turn slimy in only a day or two, whereas others can last for a good few days before they show any signs of spoilage.
We attribute this to how the ham was stored and/or cut at the store, and whether or not it was left to sit out at room temperature for longer than permissible. When it comes to food safety, some merchants are simply more punctual than others.
For example, the meat may have been handled on an unsanitized countertop or cut with a machine whose blade wasn’t properly cleaned. You just as well could have touched it with dirty hands at home, introducing bad bacteria onto the surface.
Ham, like any other perishable food, shouldn’t be left for more than 2 hours, or bacteria may form on/in it and replicate to dangerous levels. On sultry summer days, this time is shortened to 1 hour, at least if you follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food safety guidelines.
If you left the ham in the trunk of your car too long while you were shopping, the slime could mean you left it there a little too long. Things happen, you know, and meat spoils quicker than we think.
Ham comes in many shapes and forms: cooked and uncooked, smoked and unsmoked, whole-piece or sliced paper-thin. Depending on the type of ham you bought, the storage life will vary.
How Long Ham Lasts
Ham, like every other type of meat, eventually goes bad. And the unfortunate thing about ham is that, as delicious as it is, it doesn’t really have a long shelf life.
The golden rule is that opened ham lasts for 3 to 5 days as long as it’s wrapped in plastic, paper, or foil and refrigerated continuously. That shelf life, however, will vary with the type of ham at hand.
Of course, you should always check the expiration date on the label if you bought the ham from the butcher shop or grocery store. That is by far the easiest way to tell whether the ham is still edible or should go in the bin.
How to Tell If Ham Has Gone Bad
In case you discarded the original packaging—or cooked the ham yourself—the best way to tell if it’s gone bad is to use your senses.
When the meat smells, looks, or tastes off to you, throw it away. For those of you who want to be a little more thorough than that before throwing away food items, here are the three signs of spoilage to look out for:
You want that piece of ham to be pink, and any fat on it should be white, not yellow. Throw it away if you notice the meat turning moldy (basically, developing a green or blue hue) or taking on a “dead” gray color.
As for the smell, you’ll notice a distinct difference. You’ve probably smelled a traditionally cooked ham before, and it smelled wonderful, right? Well, a bad ham has an off, rotting-pork smell that makes you feel bad. If the ham smells sour or rancid, err on the side of caution and throw it away.
The next sense that will tell you if the ham has gone bad is your sense of taste. That being said, you should never go that far if you already suspect that the ham is going bad.
It’s difficult to describe the taste of spoiled ham, and we hope you never have to experience it. It tastes kind of sour and makes you go “yuck.” When you bite into it, the meat is mushy and unlively; there’s no spring to it. (In contrast, fresh ham tastes like just-cooked pork, and the protein gives you some resistance when you bite into it.)
Storing Ham Safely
Honestly, it makes no difference whatsoever what type of ham you bought. If you want to extend the life of your ham and keep it longer, always pack it well and tightly and put it in the fridge.
If you bought packaged ham from the store, there’s a high chance that you won’t be able to reseal the package the same way. So wrap it tightly in saran wrap, butcher paper, or aluminum foil before refrigerating it.
If for some reason you don’t have any of these, you can try using a freezer bag or an airtight food storage container. These measures will preserve the moisture and freshness of the ham, as well as its aroma and flavor.
Now, if you consider yourself a real connoisseur, you can get yourself a ham storage bag, also known as a calico bag. These bags are made from 100% cotton, and they allow the meat to “breathe” as it rests in your fridge. Some say this storage method extends ham’s shelf life.
Is It Possible To Freeze Ham?
Ham—and pork as a whole—freezes well. Freezing ham, as a matter of fact, is the best way to preserve it for a long time, especially if you have bought it in large quantities at a discount.
When you thaw the ham, it is important that you do it right. The safest way to defrost ham is to take the meat out of the freezer and put it in the refrigerator the night before you plan to eat it.
Remember to place the ham in a bowl, soup plate, or rimmed tray to keep the moisture and juices from dripping onto the other foods in your freezer. This is not only unsanitary (who lives their apples to taste like pork, anyway?!) but it can also be dangerous.
What Happens If You Eat Bad Ham?
You should always try to take preventive measures to avoid eating bad foods. This can be difficult, especially when we try to stay frugal and/or eco-friendly by minimizing food waste. But, even when you consider these two factors, they are still not worth risking your health over.
Consumption of expired or spoiled ham can lead to food poisoning, which can manifest itself in the form of vomiting, diarrhea, persistent nausea, headache, and even flu-like symptoms.
It is important that if you experience any of these symptoms after eating ham, you seek medical attention immediately and try to drink enough fluids, as the loss of fluids can cause severe dehydration.
In some cases, it can take up to 30 days to recover from severe food poisoning, so always keep an eye on your ham!
Ham is great!
Seriously, there’s a reason why it’s one of the most popular types of meat at any store. You can use it in sandwiches, soups, salads, or any other recipe the heart desires (and the mind comes up with).
But, as with many other types of meat, you can get sick from eating ham if that ham is spoiled. Happily, the easiest way to tell is that it’s become slimy on the surface.