How Long Can Ham Sit Out? Four Signs It is Bad

August 28, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

Generally, ham can sit out for about 2 hours before going bad. With that said, note that the time it takes for food to spoil depends on factors like the curing process and the rooms’ humidity and temperature.

I’ve cooked ham for years and had tasty ham slices go bad on my watch. Frankly, it’s not pleasant. The sheer waste of effort and money stung and could’ve been avoided if I knew what I know now.

So, in today’s post, I’ll help you avoid making the same mistakes I did. I’ll share how long this piece of pork can stay out on the counter, and also the best ways to store it.

how long can ham sit out

How Long Can Ham Sit Out on the Counter?

According to the USDA, ham can sit out for two hours before going bad. Meat that is left between 40 and 140 degrees has a high risk of quickly developing harmful bacteria.

So, you should avoid letting ham, whether it is cooked or uncooked, sit out all night at room temperature. You run the risk of contracting food poisoning because of the bacteria that grow on the meat.

Even sliced ham stays good for two hours at room temperature. Afterward, it starts to rot and grow harmful bacteria.

However, in hotter conditions, the ham may only stay fresh for just an hour. Remember that ham stored in an moisture proof bags or containers will remain fresh for up to five days in the fridge or up to four months in the freezer.

Best Ways to Keep Ham Fresh

Ham should be kept out of the 40-to-140-degree temperature range to prevent harmful bacteria from growing quickly. You can achieve this by warming the meat or storing it in a fridge or freezer. Here are more tips on how to keep cooked ham fresh.

Slow Cooking

  • Slow cooking can keep the ham warm and moist for your guests. You can keep sliced ham edible for more than two hours if you use a chafing dish or slow cooker to keep it warm. If the ham stays at 140 degrees, the heat will prevent bacteria from growing.


  • Ham can be securely kept for 3–5 days at a temperature of 40 degrees or lower.
  • To prevent the cooked meat from drying out due to air exposure, ensure it is properly covered before refrigerating. If the package is opened, re-wrap it firmly in aluminum foil, plastic wrap, or food storage containers. Then, store it in the coldest section of the fridge.
  • Bear in mind that cooked ham leftovers should be stored in the fridge as quickly as possible.


  • Ham should be frozen if it won’t be eaten within 4 to 5 days in the refrigerator.
  • Cooked ham should be carefully wrapped again if it has been taken out of its original packaging. Then, use moisture proof bags and containers to properly store the cooked food. Ensure that you double-wrap the ham to preserve the quality, and make sure to wrap it tightly on the meat to help retain the moisture.
  • Cooked ham can be stored in the freezer for longer than is advised, but the meat’s quality will deteriorate. Remember to freeze the ham as soon as you can. Place the package in the freezer’s coldest areas—against the wall or the freezer floor—to quicken the freezing process.
  • I always recommend freezing cooked food in a freezer unit rather than a refrigerator freezer. Why? Meat can be kept for longer periods in the freezer because it maintains a temperature of 0 degrees or below. Keep in mind that the ham should be eaten sooner if it is kept in a refrigerator freezer instead of a freezer unit.
A Spiral Cut Ham with Grapes and Apples

Should Ham Completely Thaw Before Cooking?

Not necessarily. Even though it may take longer, you can cook a frozen ham. However, it’s always better to let the ham sit and thaw.

The most important thing is to ensure the internal temperature reads 145 degrees Fahrenheit once you’ve started cooking. I recommend using a meat thermometer to get the most accurate readings.

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Four Signs of Spoiled Ham

Cooking spoiled ham is clearly very dangerous for your overall health. So, it helps if you know how to spot rotten ham. Here are four signs that your ham is bad.

Expiration Date

To be sure your ham is still usable before cooking it, check the expiration date on the label. When it comes to cooked ham, remember, storing this meat in the fridge allows it to be used safely for up to 5 days. If you decide to store cooked ham in the original package, mark the day you started holding it with a label or ink.


The ham’s smell is one of the surefire ways to tell if it’s rotten. Fresh ham may have a slight salty or smoky smell, depending on how it was treated. However, if your ham has a pungent, sulfuric odor, it’s time to throw it out.


Typically, ham appears in different shades of pink depending on whether it is raw or cooked. If you notice any other strange colors, like green or brown, it’s best to toss the ham in the trash.


In addition to color and smell, the texture is another indicator of rotten meat. Your ham should feel supple and slightly moist. However, if the ham feels slimy or sticky, it’s going bad.

Sliced Pork Ham with Orange Slices and Spring Onions

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How Can I Reheat Leftover Cooked Ham?

First, ensure the ham is still good. Then, set your oven to 135–140 degrees Fahrenheit and put the ham in it. Reheat the meat until it reaches 145 degrees. Then, bring the leftover ham out of the oven and slice it into thinner pieces.

2. What Happens if I Eat Bad Ham?

Bad ham is a great breeding place for harmful bacteria. This means you may suffer food poisoning symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, etc., after eating it. Mild symptoms can be treated for a few days with medication and a better diet. However, if the symptoms are severe, see a doctor right away. For this reason, take food safety seriously to prevent cases of food poisoning.

3. Can I Eat Ham That is One Day Past Its Sell-by Date?

It’s not a good idea to eat ham after its expiration date. However, if you stored the pre-cooked ham properly and haven’t opened it, check its freshness using the signs I discussed above. If the cured ham doesn’t pass the test, simply throw it away.

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Food poisoning is no fun. For this reason, you shouldn’t let the ham sit out for over 2 hours. It’s best to store the meat in the fridge or freezer instead of letting it stay out for that long. Freezing halts the growth of harmful bacteria on the meat. Don’t wait too long to finish your ham, though, because it loses its tasty essence after about 1-2 months of freezing.

Hopefully, by now you have a definitive answer to how long can ham sit out. Follow my storage tips so you can cook a dish that’s delicious and safe to eat.

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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