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Foods -- Meat and Poultry

Is it okay for mold to grow on a country ham?

Rating: 68

A country ham is meat taken from the hind leg of a pig and processed during a dry cure. The dry cure is the addition of salt and sodium nitrate to meat for preservation, color development, and flavor enhancement. In the dry cure technique, the meat is rubbed with the dry curing mixture and allowed to stand until the meat is permeated. The preservative effect of salt and sodium nitrate is primarily to control the growth of bacteria, which is why country hams often show signs of mold growth. In fact, it is normal to see mold growth on country cured (Virginia) hams. It is the same mold found on aged cheeses. It is formed during the curing process by a reaction of the moisture from the ham with heat and humidity in the air. To remove, simply wash it in hot water and scrub off the mold with a stiff vegetable brush. The best way to prevent mold growth is cut off its source of oxygen - vacuum packaging. I could not find any information that described how this would affect the ham so I would not recommend this practice. Simply have the individual store the hams in a cool place (slows the mold growth) and dry (slows the mold growth). In the past it was recommended that one rub hard cheese, in which mold was removed, with a solution of vinegar and water to kill mold spores. This could be done but could alter the taste of the ham. Commercially prepared cured meats that are shelf stable can be sent through the mail. However, we do not recommend sending home-processed meat because the acidity and moisture content of these products are often unknown.

PREPARED BY: Angela M. Fraser, Ph.D., Associate Professor/Food Safety Specialist, NC State University in July 2004

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