Can you eat Christmas ham without cooking? (3 Ways to Cook)

In this brief guide, we will answer the question, can you eat Christmas ham without cooking? We will discuss how Christmas ham needs to be prepared before you eat to make it safe and delicious. We will also discuss ways to determine if Christmas ham is precooked.

Can you eat Christmas ham without cooking?

No. you can not eat Christmas ham without cooking, straight from the packaging. If you got your Christmas ham from a butcher, it is usually uncooked. If you eat raw Christmas ham, it can harm your health.

If your Christmas ham is from a deli, it is precooked by smoking, curing, or baking, you can eat it without cooking. To be sure, it is recommended that hot dogs, luncheon meats, and deli meats are reheated to steaming hot or 165ºF before eating (2). 

Some deli meats are served cold, straight from the refrigerator, or heated. It is about preference and heating can sometimes improves the flavor and texture of the ham.

You must read the label of your packaging regarding the serving instruction. If it is uncooked, the packet should state the cooking instructions. 

Fresh ham, on the other hand, needs to be cooked before it is eaten. Meat needs to be cooked thoroughly before it is eaten to prevent catching a foodborne illness. Ham and other pork cuts can cause food poisoning because of the contaminants including Toxoplasma Gondii, Salmonella, and Listeria and E. coIi O157:H7 (1,2,4). 

An estimated 63,153 E. coli O157:H7 infections occur in the United States annually, resulting in an estimated 2,138 hospitalizations and 20 deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the incidence of E. coli O157:H7 infections was 44% lower in 2010 compared with that in 1996 to 1998 (1).

Cured and unfermented meat is semi-cooked. To be sure, you must consult the package before you eat. You can eat ham that says it was fully cooked on the package or if you heat it to a high temperature to make it safe, hence, prevent a food-borne illness. 

Country ham is an uncooked, cured, dried, smoked-or-unsmoked meat product. These hams are salty due to longer curing times and sometimes contain pepper, sugar and nitrate and/or nitrite. Some are smoked with a variety of hardwoods. They are usually aged between 3 and 12 months. Dry-cured ham is also uncooked. For its production, the individual hams are covered with excess salt under refrigeration (37°F) for 10 days. Salt is allowed to diffuse into the hams and water is pulled out by the salt (“taking salt”) and the purpose of salt is for its antimicrobial properties, flavor, and enhances salt penetration and water extraction. Smoked and cured hams are also not cooked. These products must be cooked before consumption to ensure their safety (3).

For some people, even semi-cooked meat can be a threat and it is always to be safe than sorry. 

Why can’t everybody eat semi-cooked or cured ham?

Pork ham that is cooked by smoking, curing, or brining is considered to be semi-cooked. Some individuals who belong to a higher risk group must not eat semi-cooked meat. Such individuals are susceptible to food poisoning as bacteria and parasites stay behind.

Semi-cooked or cured meat, which includes most deli meats, is a potential health threat. As Toxoplasma Gondii, Salmonella, and Listeria, are only reduced, not eliminated from the meat, it can be a health hazard to a few susceptible individuals.

Dry-curing may not destroy the S. aureus but the salt content on the surface inhibits their growth. Upon slicing the S. aureus may be moved to the interior of the ham. This same study also indicated that S. aureus, L. monocytogenes, E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella spp. were controlled by the dry curing and aging process.. Clostridium botulinum have on rare occasions been the cause of illness when dry cured hams were contaminated with this organism (3).

It can cause deadly food-borne illnesses and affects people over the age of 65, pregnant women, and immunocompromised people. 

When it affects a pregnant woman, it can harm the fetus and even cause death. It could cause the fetus to have cerebral calcification, blindness, and other deadly and rare conditions (2).

To be safe, you can freeze your pork dishes, prior to cooking. Freezing your ham for four days immobilizes the parasites. Freezing is an effective means of intervention with a temperature of less than or equal to –12.4°C being the minimum temperature to ensure destruction of the parasite in a short time (4). Be sure to cook it thoroughly before eating. 

What does USDA tell you about ham?

USDA has made the guideline very clear regarding ham. The USDA highlights that both, fresh ham and ready-to-eat ham must be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 Fahrenheit (5). 

Even if your ham was cooked and packaged in a USDA-inspected plant, you must reheat cooked ham to 145 Fahrenheit. In a different plant, cook your Christmas ham at 165 Fahrenheit.

How to cook Christmas ham?

Ham at Christmas is an important part of the festivity, as it resonates with the religious belief that Christian Norse killed a boar to honor one of the Norse Gods. 

Christmas ham is paired with baked Cauliflower and gouda cheese, roasted Brussel sprouts, or sweet potato casserole.

To prepare your Christmas ham, you can either marinade or glaze it. To make your traditional Christmas ham, you will need to simmer your bay-infused cider and roast with mustard and demerara glaze.

  • Marinade your gammon with cider, and add carrots, onion, bay leaves, celery, and peppercorn. Boil and simmer for an hour. Keep the broth aside.
  • Take the skin off the gammon, leaving an inch of fat on the surface. 
  • Make a thick paste by mixing mustard and sugar and adding it to the joint of the ham. 
  • Arrange your gammon on a roasting tin layered with foil. Put it on a rack and pour the cooking liquor to stop the meat from drying out. 
  • Bake the ham for 25 to 30 minutes, until it takes on a golden color. While it bakes, baste it a few times with the broth.

Some other unique recipes to make Christmas ham include Cola Ham with Maple and Mustard glaze, spiced ginger glazed ham, Marmalade ginger and star anise baked ham, spiced pomegranate, and orange-glazed ham.

Other FAQs about Ham that you may be interested in.

Can you eat Christmas ham off the bone when pregnant?

How to store a Christmas ham?

Can you freeze a spiral ham?

Conclusion

In this brief guide, we answered the question, can you eat Christmas ham without cooking? We discussed how Christmas ham needs to be prepared before you eat to make it safe and delicious. We also discussed ways to determine if Christmas ham comes precooked.

Citations

  1. Torso, Lauren M., et al. Escherichia coli O157: H7 outbreak associated with restaurant beef grinding. J Food Protec, 2015, 78, 1272-1279. 
  2. FOOD SAFETY For Pregnant Women, Their Unborn Babies, and Children Under Five. 2022. US Food and Drug Administration.
  3. Ockerman, Herbert W., et al. Comparison of European and American systems of production and consumption of dry-cured hams. Fact Sheet, Pork Info. Gateway, 2002. USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
  4. Baer, Arica A., Michael J. Miller, and Anna C. Dilger. Pathogens of interest to the pork industry: a review of research on interventions to assure food safety. Comprehen Rev Food Sci Food Safe, 2013, 12, 183-217.
  5. Fresh pork from farm to table. US Department of Agriculture. 2013.