What happens if you eat expired ham?

In this short article, we will provide an answer to the question “what happens if you eat expired ham?”. Moreover, we will discuss the health consequences of eating spoiled ham, how to identify spoiled ham and how long it lasts before it expires.

What happens if you eat bad/expired ham? 

Eating bad or expired ham can lead to food poisoning and various health issues (1-3). When ham or any other food item goes bad, harmful bacteria such as Salmonella, Listeria, or Clostridium may grow on it (4). 

Consuming these bacteria can cause foodborne illnesses, resulting in symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fever (1-5).

To minimize the risks of food poisoning, you should handle and store your ham properly.  Always check the expiration date before consuming any ham product! 

Remember that if your ham appears or smells spoiled, it is best to discard it to avoid any potential health hazards.

What are the health risks of eating bad/expired ham? 

Eating expired ham can pose several health risks due to the growth of harmful bacteria on the meat (4). Here, we summarize some of the potential health risks associated with consuming spoiled ham:

  1. Food poisoning: Spoiled ham can contain bacteria such as Salmonella, Listeria, or Clostridium perfringens, which can cause foodborne illnesses (6-7). 

These bacteria produce toxins that can lead to symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fever. The severity and duration of the symptoms may vary depending on the specific bacteria involved and the individual’s overall health (1).

  1. Gastrointestinal distress: Consuming spoiled ham can irritate the digestive system, leading to gastrointestinal issues. This can include symptoms such as stomach cramps, bloating, gas, and diarrhea (5).
  1. Botulism: Although rare, there is a risk of botulism associated with consuming spoiled ham (8). Clostridium botulinum, a bacteria that can grow in improperly preserved or stored food, can produce a toxin that causes botulism (9). 

Botulism can result in muscle weakness, difficulty swallowing and speaking, blurred vision, and in severe cases, respiratory failure. It is a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention (9).

  1. Allergic reactions: Expired ham may also have an increased risk of causing allergic reactions (10). Over time, proteins in the ham can break down and potentially trigger allergic responses in susceptible individuals. 

Symptoms may include itching, hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, or anaphylaxis in severe cases (10).

How long does it take for someone to get sick after eating spoiled ham? 

The onset of symptoms after consuming spoiled ham can range from a few hours to a few days, depending on the specific bacteria or toxins involved (5). 

Common foodborne pathogens like Salmonella can lead to symptoms within 6 to 72 hours, while Listeria infections may take several days to weeks to show symptoms (4). 

You should know that individual responses and the severity of your symptoms can vary, so, if you experience symptoms after consuming spoiled ham, it is best to seek medical attention for proper diagnosis and treatment.

What should you do if you accidentally eat bad/expired ham? 

If you accidentally eat bad or expired ham, firstly, cease consuming the ham and assess any symptoms that may arise and take note of their severity and duration. 

In the event of vomiting or diarrhea, it’s crucial to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids like water or electrolyte solutions to prevent dehydration (11). 

If you experience severe or persistent symptoms, or if you belong to a high-risk group (e.g., elderly, young children, weakened immune system), you should seek medical advice immediately. Remember: Your safety comes first!

What are the signs of spoilage in ham? 

Several signs can indicate spoilage in your ham. Here, we summarize some common signs to look for:

  • Foul odor: A strong, unpleasant smell is one of the most noticeable indicators of spoiled ham. If the ham emits an off-putting or rotten odor, it is likely no longer safe to consume. So, throw it out immediately!
  • Changes in texture: Spoiled ham may become slimy, sticky, or excessively dry. These changes in texture can occur due to bacterial growth or improper storage conditions.
  • Discoloration: Check for any significant changes in the color of the ham. While ham naturally varies in color, if you notice a greenish, grayish, or moldy appearance, it suggests spoilage.
  • Mold growth: Visible mold on the surface of the ham is a clear sign of spoilage. Even if the mold is only present in a small area, it is best to discard the entire piece of ham, as the mold can release spores that may contaminate the rest of the product.

Be careful with molds! they produce dangerous mycotoxins that can make you very sick (12)

  • Expiration date: Always check the expiration date on the packaging. If the ham has passed its expiration date, it is always best to err on the side of caution and avoid consuming it.

If you observe any of these signs or have any doubts about the ham’s freshness, it is advisable to discard it to prevent the risk of foodborne illness.

How long does ham typically last before it expires and goes bad? 

The shelf life of ham can vary depending on several factors, including the type of ham, how it is processed, and its storage conditions (13). The following table summarize the general shelf life of different types of ham:

Type of HamRefrigerator Shelf LifeFreezer Shelf Life
Uncooked Fresh Ham3 to 5 days6 to 9 months
Cooked Ham (Uncured)3 to 4 days1 to 2 months
Cured Ham7 to 10 days1 to 2 months (sliced), 2 to 3 months (whole)

Please note that these are general estimations. So, you should always check the label or packaging of the specific ham product for accurate information regarding its shelf life and storage recommendations.

If your ham shows any signs of spoilage before the indicated expiration date, it is also recommended to discard it.


In this short article, we provided an answer to the question “what happens if you eat expired ham?”. Moreover, we discussed the health consequences of eating spoiled ham, how to identify spoiled ham and how long it lasts before it expires.


1. Lennard LB. Food microbiology and food poisoning. In: Food & Nutrition [Internet]. Taylor & francis Gr…. Routledge; 2020 [cited 2023 May 30]. p. 132–54. Available from: https://www.taylorfrancis.com/chapters/edit/10.4324/9781003115663-11/food-microbiology-food-poisoning-louise-lennard 

2. Brandwagt D, van den Wijngaard C, Tulen AD, Mulder AC, Hofhuis A, Jacobs R, et al. Outbreak of Salmonella Bovismorbificans associated with the consumption of uncooked ham products, the Netherlands, 2016 to 2017. Eurosurveillance [Internet]. 2018 Jan 4 [cited 2023 Jun 20];23(1):17–00335. Available from: https://www.eurosurveillance.org/content/10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2018.23.1.17-00335 

3. Hächler H, Marti G, Giannini P, Lehner A, Jost M, Beck J, et al. Outbreak of listerosis due to imported cooked ham, Switzerland 2011. Eurosurveillance [Internet]. 2013 May 2 [cited 2023 Jun 20];18(18):20469. Available from: https://www.eurosurveillance.org/content/10.2807/ese.18.18.20469-en?crawler=true 

4. Bintsis T. Foodborne pathogens. AIMS Microbiol [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2023 May 16];3(3):529. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6604998/ 

5. Milaciu M V, Ciumărnean L, Orășan OH, Para I, Alexescu T, Negrean V. Semiology of food poisoning. Int J Bioflux Soc [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2023 May 10];8(2):108–13. Available from: http://hvm.bioflux.com.ro/docs/2015.108-113.pdf 

6. Ha JW, Kang DH. Inactivation kinetics of Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella enterica Serovar Typhimurium, and Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat sliced ham by near-infrared heating at different radiation intensities. J Food Prot [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2023 Jun 20];77(7):1224–8. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24988034/ 

7. Cruzen SM, Cetin-Karaca H, Tarté R, Sebranek JG, Dickson JS. Survival of Clostridium perfringens, Staphylococcus aureus, Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella enterica in alternatively cured ham during cooking and process deviations. LWT [Internet]. 2022 Jun 15 [cited 2023 Jun 20];163:113347. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0023643822002821 

8. Mazuet C, Sautereau J, Legeay C, Bouchier C, Bouvet P, Popoff MR. An atypical outbreak of food-borne botulism due to clostridium botulinum types B and e from ham. J Clin Microbiol [Internet]. 2015 Feb 1 [cited 2023 Jun 20];53(2):722–6. Available from: https://journals.asm.org/doi/full/10.1128/jcm.02942-14 

9. Ting PT, Freiman A. The story of Clostridium botulinum: from food poisoning to Botox. Clin Med (Northfield Il) [Internet]. 2004 May 5 [cited 2023 May 3];4(3):258. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15244362/ 

10. Patel P, Komorowski AS, Mack DP. An allergist’s approach to food poisoning. Ann Allergy, Asthma Immunol [Internet]. 2023 Apr 1 [cited 2023 May 5];130(4):444–51. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36334721/ 

11. McRobert GR. THE TREATMENT OF BACTERIAL FOOD POISONING. Br Med J [Internet]. 1934 Aug 8 [cited 2023 May 10];2(3841):304. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2445530/ 

12. Tola M, Kebede B. Occurrence, importance and control of mycotoxins: A review. http://www.editorialmanager.com/cogentagri [Internet]. 2016 [cited 2023 Jun 12];2(1). Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23311932.2016.1191103 

13. Vasilopoulos C, De Vuyst L, Leroy F. Shelf-life Reduction as an Emerging Problem in Cooked Hams Underlines the Need for Improved Preservation Strategies. http://dx.doi.org/101080/104083982012695413 [Internet]. 2013 Aug 24 [cited 2023 Jun 20];55(10):1425–43. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10408398.2012.695413 

Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!