Does Ham Have Sulfites?

Ham is a popular processed meat that many people enjoy. However, some people with sulfite sensitivity wonder if ham contains sulfites. The answer is not straightforward and depends on the specific type and brand of ham. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at sulfites in ham and provide tips on choosing safe options.

What are Sulfites?

Sulfites are chemical preservatives commonly added to foods to prevent browning, bacterial growth, and spoilage. They go by names like sulfur dioxide, sodium bisulfite, potassium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, and potassium metabisulfite. People with sulfite sensitivity can experience allergy-like reactions to sulfites including asthma attacks, hives, flushed skin, headaches, and stomach pain.

The FDA estimates that about 1% of people have sulfite sensitivity, with higher rates among asthmatics. Thankfully, the FDA bans sulfites from being added directly to fresh meat. But they are allowed in processed meats to help preserve color and extend shelf life.

Do ALL Hams Contain Sulfites?

No, not all ham contains sulfites. Fresh ham or uncured ham does not contain any added sulfites. However most mass-produced deli ham and holiday hams are cured or processed in some way. This introduces the risk of sulfites being present.

Here are the most common types of ham and whether sulfites may be present

  • Fresh ham – No sulfites
  • Cooked ham – May contain sulfites
  • Cured ham – May contain sulfites
  • Smoked ham – May contain sulfites
  • Deli ham – Likely contains sulfites
  • Canned ham – Likely contains sulfites

As you can see, fresh unprocessed ham avoids the sulfite risk altogether. But most other types of ham commonly found at the grocery store may contain sulfites.

Identifying Sulfites in Ham

Reading the ingredient list on ham packaging is the only surefire way to identify if sulfites are present. Sulfites may be listed by name or identified by their E-numbers:

  • Sulfur dioxide (E220)
  • Sodium sulfite (E221)
  • Sodium bisulfite (E222)
  • Sodium metabisulfite (E223)
  • Potassium metabisulfite (E224)
  • Potassium sulfite (E225)

Ideally choose hams with no sulfites or preservatives in the ingredients. Be especially wary of generic grocery store deli ham which almost always contains sulfites. Opt for premium artisanal hams when possible.

Tips for Choosing Sulfites-Free Ham

Here are some tips for finding sulfite-free ham:

  • Check the ingredients: This is the only sure way to know if sulfites are present. Try to find hams with minimal ingredients.

  • Look for uncured or no-nitrate hams: Curing salt contains nitrites that can convert to sulfites. No-nitrate hams avoid this risk.

  • Choose fresh hams: Fresh ham is less likely to contain preservatives like sulfites.

  • Buy from trusted suppliers: Quality butchers and artisanal ham producers are less likely to use unnecessary preservatives.

  • Opt for premium brands: Mass-produced generic ham more often contains sulfites. Spend a little more for a quality sulfite-free ham.

  • Consider making your own: It takes time, but making your own fresh ham at home guarantees no sulfites.

What to Look Out For

When evaluating a ham for sulfites, here are some red flags to watch out for:

  • Contains nitrites or nitrates
  • Includes anti-caking agents
  • Uses celery juice or celery powder (may contain sulfites)
  • Has a very long ingredients list
  • Is imported from certain countries like China
  • Is generic grocery store deli ham
  • Is brightly colored and ultra-inexpensive

Hams with these characteristics are more likely to contain sulfites as preservatives. Of course, always check the ingredients list for sulfites just to be safe.

Cooking and Serving Ham

To get the most sulfite-free ham health benefits:

  • Cook ham thoroughly to 165°F internal temperature
  • Trim offouter edges and fat before cooking – this is where some preservatives concentrate
  • Limit the amount of pan drippings used for gravy
  • Pair with lots of fresh fruits and veggies

Thorough cooking, trimming, and pairing with fresh foods helps reduce any trace sulfites.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is that fresh unprocessed ham does not contain sulfites. But many cured, smoked, or deli hams may contain sulfites as preservatives. Always check the ingredients and buy high-quality ham from trusted suppliers when possible. With some diligence, you can enjoy delicious sulfite-free ham even with a sensitivity.

What is Sulfite? – Sulfite Sensitivity Symptoms – Dr.Berg


Do meats have sulfites?

Sulphur dioxide/sulphites are food additives used as a preservative in some foods, including processed comminuted (ground) meats e.g. sausages.

What foods are high in sulfites?

Dry potatoes, gravies, sauces, fruit toppings, maraschino cherries, pickled onions, Maple syrup, jams, jellies, biscuits, bread, pies, pizza dough. Dried apricots, and sometimes grapes will be transported with sachets of the sulfite containing preservative. Dried sultanas do not normally contain sulfites.

How much sulfites are in bacon?

Bacon has 600 to 800 ppm sulphites, raisins and dried apricots have over 1000 ppm and canned foods have varying amounts from 250 ppm on up. If you can eat these products and live, you are NOT sulfite-sensitive. If you are on a restricted diet and cannot eat bacon or raisins, they you probably have a sulfite allergy.

Does cooking destroy sulphites?

The results demonstrated that cooking leads to the decrease of sulphites levels in the products, with the highest percentage of reduction (55.3%) obtained by steaming and lowest using oven (13.9%).

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