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USDA shares safety tips for holiday ham

The Food Safety and Inspection Service is the public health agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture responsible for ensuring that the nation’s commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products is safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged.

As such, the FSIS ham some advice for making sure that Easter ham is prepared, cooked and served to perfection for an enjoyable holiday meal.

There are so many kinds of ham – including fresh, cook-before-eating, cooked, picnic and country types – and their storage times and cooking times vary. This background information serves to carve up the facts and make them easier to understand.

Ham, which is the cured leg of pork, may be fresh, cured or cured-and-smoked.

Fresh ham is an uncured leg of pork. Fresh ham will bear the term “fresh” as part of the product name and is an indication the product is not cured.

“Turkey ham” is a ready-to-eat product made from cured thigh meat of turkey. The term “turkey ham” is always followed by the statement “cured turkey thigh meat.”

The usual color for cured ham is deep rose or pink; fresh ham, which is not cured, has the pale pink or beige color of a fresh pork roast; country hams and prosciutto, which are dry cured, range from pink to a mahogany color.

Hams are either ready to eat or not.

Ready-to-eat hams include prosciutto and cooked hams; they can be eaten right out of the package. Fresh hams and hams that are only treated to destroy trichinae – which can include heating, freezing or curing in the plant – must be cooked by the consumer before eating.

Hams that must be cooked will bear cooking instructions and safe handling instructions.

Hams that are not ready-to-eat but have the appearance of ready-to-eat products will bear a prominent statement on the principal display panel indicating the product needs cooking – for example, “cook thoroughly.” In addition, the label must bear cooking directions.

When buying a ham, estimate the size needed according to the number of servings the type of ham should yield: a quarter to a third pound per serving of boneless ham or a third to a half pound of meat per serving of bone-in ham.

Whole or half, cooked, vacuum-packaged hams packaged in federally-inspected plants, as well as canned hams, can be eaten cold, right out of the package.

However, these cooked hams can be reheated in an oven no lower than 325 degrees to an internal temperature of 140 degrees, as measured with a food thermometer.

For cooked hams that have been repackaged in any other location outside the processing plant or for leftover cooked ham, heat to 165 degrees.

Spiral-cut cooked hams are also safe to eat cold. The unique slicing method, invented in 1957, reduces carving problems.

These hams are best served cold because heating sliced whole or half hams can dry out the meat and cause the glaze to melt and run off the meat.

If reheating is desired, hams that were packaged in processing plants under USDA inspection must be heated to 140 degrees, or 165 degrees for leftover spiral-cut hams or ham that has been repackaged in any other location outside the USDA-inspected plant, as measured with a food thermometer.

To reheat a spiral-sliced ham in a conventional oven, cover the entire ham or portion with heavy aluminum foil and heat at 325 degrees for about 10 minutes per pound. Individual slices may also be warmed in a skillet or microwave.

Consult a cookbook for specific methods and timing of cooking a ham.

Country hams can be soaked four to 12 hours or longer in the refrigerator to reduce the salt content before cooking and can then be cooked by boiling or baking. Follow the manufacturer’s cooking instructions.

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