Keeping food in the refrigerator extends its lifespan and maintains its freshness. However, if you enjoy eating cured meats, especially prosciutto, you may wonder if it needs to be refrigerated.
So, does prosciutto need to be refrigerated? Although it’s reasonable to assume that cured meats won’t go bad if they sit outside for a long time, this is not always the case.
Whether or not prosciutto needs to be put in the fridge depends on many things. For instance, a whole chunk of prosciutto that has been properly made should not require refrigeration. In contrast, store-bought prosciutto that is vacuum sealed (or just in a package) and is already sliced definitely needs to be kept cool.
So, let’s take a closer look at when this salty treat needs to be refrigerated.
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Salting is an essential process in manufacturing prosciutto. It draws the moisture out and eliminates the possibility of harmful bacteria development.
After two months, the meat is washed multiple times to remove the salt. Then, the ham is moved to a dark, ventilated room, where it stays until it’s completely dry. The length of this period depends on the ham’s size and the climate.
The complete manufacturing process of prosciutto can take from nine months to three years.
Does Prosciutto Need to Be Refrigerated?
Now that we’ve covered the manufacturing process, we can address the question.
The answer depends on whether you’ve purchased pre-cut or whole prosciutto or whether you’ve made it yourself.
Also, if you’ve purchased the meat, the answer depends on whether you’ve opened the package.
Prosciutto is a type of ready-to-eat ham; you can consume it right out of the package.
If you’ve purchased pre-cut vacuum-sealed prosciutto in a store, you’ll see the expiration date on the packaging. Since prosciutto is pre-cut, it should always be kept in the fridge.
In most cases, the expiration date varies between 60 and 90 days. However, this only refers to an unopened package.
If you’ve opened the package of your cut prosciutto, you can use it for about two to three days after opening. This is because the packaging usually has a seal that will keep the freshness of the meat even after opening.
Since there’s no moisture in prosciutto, the development of harmful bacteria is reduced. But, after the periods mentioned above, there’s no guarantee.
According to USDA, since it’s a perishable type of food, you should consume prosciutto within the recommended time frames.
If you’ve purchased pre-cut prosciutto at a deli, the expiration date is usually the same as for an opened package of prosciutto (two to three days). Always keep this in mind when purchasing it: you don’t want to buy large quantities if you’re not going to eat it relatively quickly.
When it comes to buying and storing a whole, uncut prosciutto leg, it’s safe to keep it at room temperature for about one year. If you can hang it in a dry, cool place.
However, even though it won’t go bad during this period, the quality of the ham might deteriorate. If you’ve cut the leg, cover it in airtight wrap, and keep it in the fridge for up to two months. Changing the wrap weekly will keep the meat fresh.
Let’s take a look at homemade prosciutto.
If the leg is uncut, you’ll be happy to know it’s safe to keep it at room temperatures for up to one year.
If it’s cut, the best would be to keep it in the fridge to maintain the quality. Make sure to wrap the cut part in tin foil or wax paper. You can use rubber bands to make sure it’s airtight. If you want to keep the prosciutto fresh, change the wrap once a week.
After you’ve cut the prosciutto, regardless of whether it’s bone-in or deboned, it’s safe to consume it within two months if you keep it in the fridge.
Signs of Spoilage
If you’re not sure whether prosciutto is still safe to consume, check for the following signs:
- Color – when fresh, prosciutto is bright red/pink with visible white stripes of fat. If you’ve noticed the meat is turning grey or dark, or the color has faded or changed in any way, the prosciutto has gone bad.
- Mold – if you see any mold on the meat, discard it right away.
- Smell – if you love prosciutto, you’ll recognize the distinctive smell. If you’ve noticed any changes to the smell, it means the prosciutto is spoiled, and you should toss it.
- Storage – if you’ve kept an open package of prosciutto in the fridge for a long time, discard it, even when it looks like there’s nothing wrong with it. If it’s gone bad, it can cause sickness, so it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
How Long Can You Keep Prosciutto at Room Temperature?
As noted above, if the prosciutto is well-made (whether deli-bought or homemade), in one whole piece, and has even been vacuum sealed, then it will stay fine at room temperature for a full year, or even longer.
However, if the prosciutto has already been sliced, especially if it has not been vacuum sealed, then three days is the limit, maybe four days at most, but that is pushing it. Sliced Prosciutto really does need to be refrigerated.
Whether you’re buying or making it, prosciutto needs to be stored in a certain way.
Although it’s dry-cured, which reduces the possibility of harmful bacteria development, it doesn’t mean it can last forever. If not stored correctly, or if stored for an extended period, prosciutto can go bad and cause all kinds of problems if you eat it.
Hopefully, I’ve been able to answer the question of whether your prosciutto needs to be refrigerated, and now you can enjoy your prosciutto without worrying about its safety.