A partially cooked ham is a ham which has been heated while it is processed to eliminate the larvae of the trichina parasite, which causes trichinosis. Partially cooked hams still need to be cooked before they will be safe to eat, but the risk of food-borne illness is drastically reduced by purchasing a ham partially cooked and cooking it to a safe internal temperature. By contrast, it is also possible to purchased cooked hams, which are safe to eat as is, or raw hams, which must be cooked longer to reach the recommended internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius).
Trichinosis is an unpleasant parasitic infection which starts with the intestinal tract. When left unchecked, it can attack the central nervous system, causing severe damage and sometimes death. The leading cause of trichinosis is consumption of undercooked pork, followed by consuming undercooked game meat, as pigs and game carry the trichina worm which causes the disease. To eliminate the risk of trichinosis infection, it is extremely important to thoroughly cook pork.
This can be challenging with a big cut like a ham, because different parts of the meat cook at different rates, and it is possible for one section to remain underdone while others are safe to eat. To circumvent this problem, many pork and ham producers partially cook their meat before sale, so that consumers can be confident that the trichina larvae are killed, thereby ensuring that they will not pass the infection on.
A partially cooked ham is heated to a temperature of at least 137 degrees Fahrenheit (58 degrees Celsius), but not more than 148 degrees Fahrenheit (64 degrees Celsius). The internal temperature of the meat is tested in multiple places with a thermometer to ensure that the meat has been heated all the way through, and then the meat can be packaged and sold as a partially cooked ham.
Partially cooked ham needs to be refrigerated before cooking, to ensure that it does not attract harmful bacteria. When consumers are ready to cook the ham, they can prepare it using whatever they technique they prefer before baking it. Long, slow baking at lower temperatures yields a more juicy, flavorful ham, especially when the meat is regularly glazed during the cooking process. To test the temperature of the meat, insert a thermometer into the fleshiest part of the ham, well away from the bone, and allow the temperature reading to stabilize before confirming that the partially cooked ham has reached a safe temperature.