Although cured meat lasts longer than typical fresh, raw meat, it will not last forever. Knowing when and how that happens will allow you to maximize these products, as you’ll learn in this article.
Cured meat can last a few days to a year, depending on the type, packaging, and storage method. But if you take it out and expose it to air, like on a charcuterie board, it is good for two hours only. That’s because it’s been exposed to contaminants that may harm the consumer.
The rest of the article will cover the topic in greater detail.
Cured Meat Shelf Lives
Curing is a food preparation technique to extend meats’ shelf life. It is done by adding salt, nitrates, nitrites, and curing mixtures that help preserve the meat. Thus, unlike fresh meat, which often goes rancid after a few hours or days, cured meats can last a few weeks or even months when packaged well or refrigerated.
To illustrate the longevity of cured meat, here are the estimated shelf lives of some popular cured meat cuts:
|Cured Meat||Shelf Life||Temperature/Storage Guidelines|
|Jerky||Up to 2 weeks||Room temperature (must be in a sealed container)|
|Jamón Ibérico||Up to 100 days||Room temperature (must be vacuum-sealed)|
|Prosciutto||3 to 5 days (Opened packs)|
Up to 1 year (Vacuum-sealed)
|Store in fridge|
|Pancetta||3 weeks (loose rashers wrapped in paper or diced pancetta in a sealed container)|
A few months to 1 year (unopened and kept in sealed packaging)
|Store in fridge; keeps longer if stored in the freezer|
|Guanciale||6 months to 1 year||Kept whole/unsliced, wrapped in paper, and stored inside a fridge|
|Salami||6 weeks to indefinitely (whole and unopened)|
Up to 3 weeks (opened and refrigerated)
|Whole salami lasts indefinitely in the fridge|
|Bologna||2 weeks (unopened pack)3 to 5 days (opened pack)|
1 to 2 months (frozen)
|Refrigerate opened bologna or lunch meat packs at 40 deg F or lower|
|Pepperoni||6 weeks to indefinitely (whole and unopened)|
Up to 3 weeks (opened and refrigerated)
|Whole pepperoni lasts indefinitely in the fridge|
|Summer Sausage||3 weeks (opened)|
3 months (unopened)
|These estimations apply to summer sausages labeled “keep refrigerated”|
|Dry-Cured Ham||1 year (room temp)||It must be whole and uncut|
Although the shelf lives above are good approximations, they should only serve as a guide or secondary reference. If the cured meat you purchased came with expiration dates and other storage guidelines, those would precede the ones mentioned above.
Factors That Affect Cured Meat Shelf Lives
Besides estimated shelf lives and provided expiration dates, here are some other important factors that affect the actual shelf lives of cured meats::
- Temperature. If you store cured meat meant to be refrigerated in ambient temperatures, expect the shelf life to be reduced significantly. Indeed, some cured meats that would have lasted weeks in the fridge or a cool area would spoil within five days when kept at room temp.
- Sliced or unsliced. Whole cuts of cured meat last longer than when sliced. That’s because it’s drier and has less surface area for oxygen, thereby limiting the number of aerobic bacteria that cause spoilage.
- Refrigeration. Not all cured meats are recommended for refrigeration. For example, when kept unopened in their packs, dry sausages or dry-cured hams can be stored at room temp only; thus, they are the ones best for gift packages as they don’t need to be in the fridge at all times. However, some, like deli cuts, must be refrigerated after purchase.
- Opened or unopened. Most packs of cured meat must be refrigerated immediately after opening. That’s because they could be exposed to bacteria and other contaminants. If you leave them in the open air for a long time, like what happens with charcuterie displays, they will spoil and be unfit for consumption; thus, consume them within 2 hours.
Does Cured Meat Have To Be Refrigerated?
As I’ve mentioned, not all cured meats have to be refrigerated. Often, the ones that need refrigeration are sliced meats or vacuum-packaged ones.
Not all cured meat has to be refrigerated. Some are shelf-stable at room temperatures, such as dry sausages and dry-cured hams. Thus, if you keep them in their packs, or at the very least, well-covered and uncut, they will last a few weeks or months in your pantry.
Here are specific cured meats that don’t need refrigeration:
- Summer sausage
- Dry pepperoni
- Dry-cured Salami
- Beef jerky (AKA Biltong)
- Whole muscle salumi
- Unsliced chorizo
It’s possible to keep these cured meats without refrigeration because they have very little moisture, making it harder for bacteria to grow. The curing substances, like salt and curing mixtures, also help.
However, note that once you open those cured meat packs or slice them, you’ll have to keep them in the fridge. That’s because the product is now susceptible to contamination or spoilage, making it unsuitable for eating.
How Long Can You Keep Cured Meats in the Fridge?
Low temperatures help inhibit bacterial growth; thus, foods last a bit longer in the fridge than at room temperature. But just how long can they keep spoilage at bay?
Sliced cured meats, like deli cuts, can last only a few days in the fridge. However, packed ones may last a few weeks or longer. It is best to refer to the product’s expiration dates or storage guidelines to know how to refrigerate it.
If the meats don’t have their original packaging, you can use plastic wraps or sealed containers instead. Deli paper is also a good alternative.
You can also keep cured meats in the freezer, but it is not recommended. That’s because freezing can draw out the flavor (especially after thawing or defrosting), and the meat won’t be tender anymore (freezing temperatures make it rigid).
How Long Does Prosciutto Last in the Fridge?
Prosciutto is a dry-cured Italian ham, which may come sliced, whole, cooked, or uncooked. It is often served in packs of thin slices, although some sell it in whole, uncut chunks.
Open packs of sliced prosciutto will last 3 to 5 days in the fridge. Meanwhile, at low temperatures, unopened containers can be kept for a few months. If it is vacuum-packed and uncut, it will last longer, even up to a year.
How Long Does Summer Sausage Last Without Refrigeration?
Summer sausages were developed to withstand spoilage due to intense summer heat, hence, the name. They’re a type of semi-dry sausage, so they have little moisture that allows them to be unrefrigerated for a certain amount of time. It is believed that they can last unrefrigerated until the pack is opened.
Most summer sausages can last a few weeks to 1 month without refrigeration as long as they are kept in unopened packs. Once opened, they’re only suitable for a few days. If you need to store them for longer, they should be kept in the fridge or freezer.
There are summer sausages that have to be kept in the fridge. They are labeled “keep refrigerated.” You should follow that direction to avoid spoilage. Moreover, they last longer in the refrigerator because of lower and more stable temperatures.
If you need a more shelf-stable product, go for dry sausages instead. They are primarily processed to not require refrigeration.
Can Cured Meats Go Bad?
Cured meats can go bad, so you store them according to their package directions. To delay spoilage, curing times are extended, and products are kept in vacuum-sealed packs and stored in fridges or freezers. Despite best efforts, these meats will eventually go bad and unsafe for eating.
Cured meat goes bad faster when you leave it open and exposed to air and bacteria. This often happens when these meats are included in charcuterie boards.
Thus, PennState Extension recommends doing the following when you are serving an open spread of cured meats:
- Clean equipment (serving tools, boards, etc.) with soap and warm water before use
- Serve in small batches
- Leave out the meats for a maximum of two hours only (reduce to 1 hour if the weather is sweltering)
- Store leftovers in the fridge IMMEDIATELY
- Encourage guests to use tongs or toothpicks to avoid contamination
How Long Does Vacuum-Packed Cured Meat Last?
Vacuum packs have little to no air inside. Thus, vacuum-packed cured meats last long because anaerobic or oxygen-dependent bacteria cannot thrive and spoil the product.
Vacuum-packed cured meat can last a few months to a year, especially when kept at low temperatures. It is also crucial that the pack be kept sealed, with no holes or other openings. Once opened, the product’s shelf life is stunted.
For a more accurate projection of your vacuum-packed meat’s shelf life, it’s best to abide by the packaging information. Some products may be suitable for a year or two, while others are best for a few months only.
The shelf lives of cured meats vary per type – some lasting weeks without refrigeration, while others can only be refrigerated for a few days. It is best to refer to the product’s storage guidelines and expiration dates to know how to store it and when you can keep it. Moreover, avoid opening packed meats until needed, as exposure accelerates spoiling.
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