Looking for an alternative to the traditional turkey feast for the holidays this year? Turkeys grace the table at many homes, but hams offer another easy option.
"Ham is easy to prepare," said Judy Harrison, a foods specialist with the University of Georgia Extension Service. "It's relatively inexpensive, and there are many ways to serve it."
There are many ways to buy ham, too. Those many options can confuse shoppers and put their families' safety at risk.
Grocery and specialty stores offer hams as fully-cooked, smoked, honey-baked, cured and fresh. Each type may require different preparation and storage.
Harrison said these guidelines can help keep hams safe for your family feasts:
* Smoked hams aren't always fully cooked. Read the label carefully to find if the ham is fully cooked or if it needs further cooking.
* Any ham that is fully cooked will say so on the label. "If it doesn't say 'fully-cooked,' cook it to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees to be safe," she said.
* Treat fresh hams just like any fresh pork cut. Buy the meat only two to three days before you plan to use it. Refrigerate it until just before cooking, and cook it to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees.
* Serve a honey-baked ham immediately after bringing it home from the store or deli. Separate leftover slices into small containers and refrigerate. Reheat the slices to 165 degrees before serving.
* Store whole country, or dry-cure, hams in a cool, dry place. Many stores sell country ham slices in vacuum packaging that keeps the meat safe. Store cut or opened vacuum-packaged country hams in the refrigerator.
* Treat leftovers carefully. Get leftover ham into small containers and into the refrigerator as quickly as you can after a meal. Serve it within two to three days. Freeze any meat that won't be used within that time.
"To ensure that the ham is prepared safely, use an oven temperature of at least 325 degrees," Harrison said.
All those hams still have you confused? Harrison offers one last piece of advice: "If you're unsure, cook the ham until it reaches at least 160 degrees, and use a meat thermometer to check doneness."