K-State Research and Extension News
April 09, 2009
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Eliminate Guesswork in Cooking Ham

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Food labels are meant to inform consumers, yet some who will be shopping for a spring ham can be confused by the labels. When, for example, should a fully cooked ham be cooked?

Most markets will offer the choice of a fresh, canned, fully-cooked or ready-to-eat spiral cut hams, said Karen Blakeslee, Kansas State University Research and Extension food scientist, who answered frequently-asked questions about choosing, preparing and serving ham: 

Q: What qualifies as a ham?

A:  A ham is the meat from the hind leg of a hog.

Q: Why do hams have a special association with spring and summer meals?

A: On family farms, hogs were typically slaughtered in the fall and, without the benefit of refrigeration, cured during winter months to be ready for spring and summer meals and picnics.

With the growth of and improvements in commercial food processing, ham can be enjoyed throughout the year.     

Q: What does curing mean?

A: Curing is a meat preservation process. Today, most hams are cured in commercial processing plants operating under guidelines established by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. The process typically eliminates foodborne pathogens, and each of the hams undergoing the process will be stamped to verify USDA-approved processing.

Q: Why are hams marketed in different forms?

A. A ham may be labeled “fresh,” “cured,” or “cured and smoked.” A cured ham will typically be deep rose or pink in color, while a fresh ham, which has not been cured, will be light pink or beige in color, similar to a pork roast. A country ham or prosciutto are dry cured and may range in color from pink to a mahogany color.

Cooked hams will typically carry a “ready to eat” label; uncooked hams will include a “Cook Thoroughly” label and cooking instructions.

Q: When is reheating a cooked, ready-to-eat ham recommended?

Cured and fully-cooked hams are inspected before leaving USDA approved processing plants and should be free of foodborne pathogens as they begin their trip to the marketplace.

Reheating a cooked, ready-to-eat ham can deter foodborne illness, if an interruption in refrigeration or other misstep has occurred during transportation to the distribution center or market or other food safety mistake has occurred after purchase.

Reheating is particularly important for individuals who may be at higher risk for foodborne illness, such as infants whose immune systems are not yet fully developed; the elderly, whose immune systems may be compromised by illness or medical treatments (chemotherapy is an example); pregnant women or persons with HIV or other chronic conditions.

To reheat fully-cooked ham slices, cover ham (or ham slice) to prevent drying and reheat to steaming hot or 165 degrees F.

If reheating a whole ham, cover the ham with heavy foil and set the oven to 325 degrees; allow about 10 minutes per pound. The ham should reach 140 degrees F on a food thermometer.

Wrap and store leftovers in the refrigerator for use within three to five days, or wrap and freeze for future meals within one to two months.

The USDA provides complete instructions for choosing and preparing ham at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Ham/index.asp. More food and food safety tips are available at county and district K-State Research and Extension offices and on Extension Web sites: www.ksre.ksu.edu, www.rrc.ksu.edu, www.ksre.ksu.edu/humannutrition and www.ksre.ksu.edu/foodsafety/.



K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by: Nancy Peterson
K-State Research & Extension News

Karen Blakeslee is at 785-532-1673 or kblakesl@ksu.edu.