Ham can be a good source of protein for babies. However, there is a huge amount of variation in the quality and composition of hams. Should you feed it to your baby though?
Babies can eat ham as long as they are cooked. However, it is not advisable until at least they are more than 1 year of age because of high salt content and possible infection from pathogens especially botulinum from honey.
What types of ham can babies have and how can you prepare it to make it safer for them? Find out below!
Can Babies Eat Ham? Is it Safe?
Babies can eat ham as long as it’s thoroughly cooked, does not contain honey, is cut up into small pieces, is not given regularly, and they are more than 1 year of age.
Most hams are partially cooked. This makes them susceptible to microbial contamination (source: USDA).
Hams are predominantly made from pork, although some make them with lean turkey meat.
They are sold based on cutting, curing, aging, smoking, or cooking. For example, ham can be partially boned, spiral, dry-cured, cold-smoked, aged, and boiled.
Hams are also available pre-cut into thin or thick slices. An example of a thick slice is Christmas ham and thin ham prosciutto.
The following table shows at what ages ham is allowed for babies:
|Age in months
|Allowed or Not Allowed
Some popular hams include:
Sliced regular ham
This type is pre-cut into slices and can either be cured, smoked, both, or cooked. Most of the time, it is cured.
Smoked honey ham
This ham is smoked ham added with honey usually by curing.
City ham uses wet curing techniques. Most hams in the U.S. are city hams.
City ham is a dry-cured ham made from the hind leg of the pig. It has roots in China.
Prosciutto is an Italian dry-cured raw ham. It is not smoked and is most often flavored with peppercorns.
Parma ham is also called Prosciutto de Parma. This is because it is basically prosciutto made in Parma, Italy. Parma ham is Protected Designation of Origin (PDO).
This ham hails from Spain and comes from pure black Iberian pigs and is similar to prosciutto.
This ham is dry-cured and aged. It is exclusively produced in Smithfield, Virginia.
Ham should be cooked to reach a safe temperature of 145 ºF or 63 °C (source: USDA). And since the baby is the one eating, we recommend using a food thermometer to make sure you reach this temperature when cooking ham.
To safely prepare the cooked ham, defrost ham in the microwave or refrigerator. Use separate cutting boards for raw ham and cooked ham (source: Florida Department of Health).
Can Babies Have Honey Baked or Roasted Ham?
You should avoid giving infants less than 12 months of age hams made or topped with honey. This is because babies are highly vulnerable to botulinum spores.
Honey is an infamous off-limits food for infants. This is because it can contain Clostridium botulinum. However, botulism in babies, called infant botulism, can be different from that of adults.
Infant botulism is intestinal. This means that when babies eat and ingest botulism spores from the bacteria, the spores activate in their intestines. Whereas in adults, botulism is foodborne.
This implies that the spores activate while they are still in the food. It is unknown why babies are vulnerable to spores activation in the gut (source: California Department of Public Health).
Even though heating foods at 212 °F (100 °C) for 10 minutes will destroy the botulinum toxin present, the spores may still survive. Botulinum spores are heat-resistant and they can withstand sustained heating.
To kill Clostridium botulinum spores, any food (in this case ham) should be heated under pressure to temperatures extensively greater than 212 °F (100 °C) (source: NIH).
Is Uncured Ham Safe for Babies?
The salt content and ham preparation to prevent choking are discussed in the next sections.
Is Ham Too Salty for Babies?
In general, ham is one of the many high-salt foods that are not recommended for infants. Foods with less salt are preferred (source: CDC).
Here are some of the many different types of ham and their sodium content:
|Sliced regular ham
|1 slice, 28 g
|1 slice, 13.5 g
|Smoked honey ham
|1 slice, 9.2 g
|1 slice, 12 g
Sodium is naturally present in some foods and should not be added to the baby’s food when he or she is 12 months and below.
Introducing salt at an early age will make them habituated to, and wanting the salty taste. This will make them eat more of these foods. Consequently, this will affect the health of the child like the blood pressure, as he or she grows (source: NIH).
However, salt is not recommended to be completely removed from the baby’s diet, as a deficiency in sodium is associated with further liking the salty taste, as well as some medical issues.
Salt can also affect the baby’s kidneys (source: NHS).
The idea is to not repeatedly expose infants to salty foods (source: NIH). This means that salt is okay, as long as the baby is of age and it should be given in moderation.
In Europe, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) suggests that ½ teaspoon or 1,100 mg of sodium should be safe for babies aged 1–3 years per day (source: European Food Safety Authority).
In the U.S., less than half of a teaspoon or 800 mg of sodium is considered safe for children 1-3 years old per day (source: Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium (2019).
How to Serve Ham to Baby
We recommend giving babies cooked low-sodium hams. It can be partially cooked (like regular ham) but has to have low sodium.
Hams are loaded with salt because it helps prevent bacterial growth that could spoil the ham and pose risk to humans.
Babies can be fed ham in bite-sized pieces for babies, with each piece not going beyond half-inch in length to avoid choking.
Thinly-sliced hams are best but if only thick cuts are available, they have to be cooked to a point that a fork can easily pierce the pieces (source: USDA).
We hope this article helped answer your questions regarding giving hams to infants!