How Long Do Cured Meats Last?

A 118-year-old ham, thought to be the world's oldest, is displayed at the Isle of Wight County Museum in Smithfield, Virginia.
A 118-year-old ham, thought to be the world's oldest, is displayed at the Isle of Wight County Museum in Smithfield, Virginia.

Dry curing ham gives the meat a rich flavor, and allows it to last longer without refrigeration. But a 118-year-old piece of cured ham now on display at the Isle of Wight County Museum in Smithfield, Virginia, is meant to be seen, not tasted -- though microbiologists say the ham is technically still edible.

The ham was originally cured in 1902 by Gwaltney Foods, and forgotten about in the back of a storage room. When discovered 20 years later, Gwaltney used it to promote its products for many years. Today, it’s kept in a climate-controlled museum display case, watched by a non-stop “ham cam” that streams the footage online. The now-famous ham even has a Twitter account.

Quite a ham:

  • The 118-year-old piece of meat, purportedly the oldest ham in the world, does not appear very appetizing, It’s been said to resemble a dried piece of old leather, or a long-dead human arm.

  • P.D. Gwaltney Jr. called the hock hunk his “pet ham” and took it to expos to demonstrate his company’s expertise at smoking and preserving pork. He attached a brass collar to the ham for portability.

  • Smithfield, Va., is well known for its cured hams. Gwaltney’s Virginia ham business no longer exists, but Smithfield Foods, one of the country’s largest pork producers, is headquartered there.

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    • A 118-year-old ham, thought to be the world's oldest, is displayed at the Isle of Wight County Museum in Smithfield, Virginia.
      A 118-year-old ham, thought to be the world's oldest, is displayed at the Isle of Wight County Museum in Smithfield, Virginia.