Nothing beats a turkey sandwich when you are swamped with work throughout the day. Pick up some sliced cheddar, a pound of turkey, and some bread, and you are good to go!
However, the freshness of meat and cold cuts is greatly affected by how you store them.
So, How long is deli meat good for? Is it immune to spoilage?
Unfortunately, no. Packaged lunch meat is good in the fridge for 2 weeks till opened. If you open them, consume them within 3 to 5 days. Freeze them, and you can enjoy them for a good month or two without compromising on quality.
Does Deli Meat Go Bad?
Yes, they do. Deli meat is only eligible for so long because it starts to dip in quality and eventually spoil. How fast your deli meat will go bad depends on the way you store it.
If you open a sealed cold-cut package, 3 to 7 days is what you are looking at. Meat with less moisture, such as salami and pepperoni, will last longer than chicken, tuna or ham. If you get your meat sliced at the deli counter, you are looking at 2 to 5 days. The estimates will change depending on your storage method.
Here is a table for convenience:
|Type of Deli Meat||Shelf Life in Refrigerator|
|Unopened pre-packaged cold cuts||3 to 5 days past the “sell-by” date|
|Opened pre-packaged cold cuts||3 to 7 days|
|Lunch meat sliced at the deli counter||2 to 5 days|
When I say “deli meat”, there are too many varieties of meat and sellers to cover. So it is always a good idea to check the best-by date before anything else. Every time you pick up cold cuts, check the label printed on them for information about the dates of manufacture and expiry.
How to Store Deli Meat For Longer Shelf Life?
Below are the different scenarios of how to store meat and what to expect in every storage method:
Deli Meat On the Counter
Left lunch meat over the counter for over 2 hours, or an hour over 90°F? It’s time to throw it out. Depending on the ambient temperature, you can be a little flexible with it. On a winter day, 3 hours without being refrigerated might be okay. But the same does not hold on a warm day.
The range between 40°F and 140°F is deemed the danger zone. This is where bacteria start multiplying rapidly, and cold cuts go bad.
Deli Meat in the Fridge
If you are refrigerating packaged meat, 2 weeks is its normal shelf life. Refrain from consuming it after 1 or 2 days past the expiry date. If opened, it’s a different story. Then you are looking at 3 to 5 days at most. 7 days if you are storing drier cold cuts.
If you get your meat sliced up at the deli counter and refrigerate it, you are good for 2 to 5 days. Either way, do not leave your cold cuts on the counter for long before tossing them in the fridge. That diminishes their shelf life significantly.
Also Read: How Long Does Ground Coffee Last?
How Long Is Deli Meat Good For in the freezer?
Freezing deli meat is the way to go! Unless you freeze cold cuts, you risk them going bad sooner than expected. I have learned it the hard way.
Having said that, there is a way to freeze deli meat properly. If you follow the best practices, you can enjoy them for much longer. Here’s how you should freeze lunch meat:
1. Portion Your Slices
Divide the slices into portions to avoid defrosting all the pieces whenever you need a few. Have enough meat for 2 days in one portion. Store each portion in individual freezer bags.
2. Pack the Meat
Storing them for more than a few weeks? Wrap them with plastic wrap or aluminum foil to prevent freezer burn. Remove excess air from the bag and seal it.
3. Label Before Freezing
Add labels to each freezer bag and freeze them. Double-wrapped deli meat should be good for 2 to 3 months. If you single-wrap them, 4 to 6 weeks is the limit.
Place the meat in the fridge the previous evening to thaw it in time for the next meal.
How to Tell if Deli Meat Has Gone Bad?
When it comes to deli meat, it is relatively easier to tell when it is going bad. I have noticed a few tell-tale signs to identify spoiled meat from good ones. I always recommend trusting your senses before anything else:
Discoloration is the easiest sign of spoilage to detect. Salami, bologna, and other higher fat-content meat turn brown or grey around the edges. The discoloration eventually spreads to the middle. This is your cue to throw it out without a second thought.
Also, look for moldy spots. They usually mean your deli meat is past its expiry.
If your cold cuts are spoiled, you will notice them emitting a sour or stale smell. It can often smell like vinegar or ammonia. However, it takes some time for the meat to smell distinctly bad.
So, I suggest tossing it out when an opened package has been in the fridge for more than 5 days. You can make exceptions for only dry meat like pepperoni.
If your deli meat appears normal and smells okay but tastes a bit sour, that’s a red flag right there. Toss it out as soon as you notice an odd, unusual taste.
After a while, the brine will begin to seep out of the cold cuts, and the meat will start congealing. If you feel the wet surface of the meat becoming slimy, toss it out. Slimy surfaces are indicative of yeast or bacteria growth.
Also Read: How Long Do Bell Peppers Last In The Fridge?
Why Should You Avoid Spoiled Deli Meat?
Cold cuts become a breeding ground for bacteria as they begin to spoil. You can contract a serious case of food poisoning if you consume rotten deli meat. You will experience vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and even a fever.
The worst-case scenario is contracting Listeria monocytogenes. It is the bacteria that grow on spoiled meat.
I say when in doubt, toss it out. Go the extra mile and sanitize anything that has come in contact with the juices of the processed meats.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q1. Can you eat deli meat after 7 days?
Ans. It depends on whether you have opened the packaging and how you are storing it. If it is on the counter, then absolutely not. If it is frozen, you can consume it for a month or two. If packaged meat is refrigerated, 3 to 7 days is the limit. If you get them sliced at the deli counter and then refrigerate them, 2 to 5 days is good.
Q2. Is deli meat good after 9 days?
Ans. Deli meat is only good after 9 days if it is frozen. Frozen deli meat lasts for as long as 1 to 2 months. Refrigerated opened deli meat is good for 3 to 7 days. The normal shelf life of deli meat is 2 weeks, but once opened or sliced at the deli counter, it is best to have it within 5 days.
Q3. How long is sliced deli meat good for out of the fridge?
Ans. Sliced deli meat left on the counter will spoil within 2 to 3 hours, depending on the ambient temperature. But if you refrigerate sliced deli meat, you are looking at 2 to 5 days. After that, it is best thrown out.
Q4. How can you tell if deli meat is bad?
Ans. Look for gray or brown-tinged edges to know if deli meat is going bad. An ammonia or vinegar-like sour, off-putting smell is another dead giveaway. Spoiled meat will start to get mushy on wet surfaces. It will also taste sour or just generally unpleasant. The best-by date printed on the package should help you know if your meat is about to go bad.
Q5. Can you eat 5-day-old deli meat?
Ans. Depends. If packaged meat is refrigerated, you can have it for up to 2 weeks. If opened, 3 to 7 days is the limit when refrigerated. If sliced at the deli counter, 2 to 5 days is the maximum you should stretch it for. However, deli meat sitting on the counter for more than 2 to 3 hours is best thrown out.
The Bottom Line
If you err towards deli meat for your quick breakfast or even heavier meals, make sure to buy fresh packages. Always check the best-by or sell-by date before purchasing. Keep the shelf life in mind, and do not push the expiry date by a lot. Remember, spoiled meat can be fatal. Nothing is worth risking your life over.