How Long Does Deli Meat Last? Factors, Facts and Tips

Everyone loves deli meat. It’s yummy, full of protein, and so convenient! Feeling lazy? Just slap some lunch meat between two pieces of bread - and dinner’s ready! Want to go fancy? Serve a cold cut platter with cheese and wine. But how long does deli meat last?

Deli meat includes a wide range of pre-cooked or cured meat. No wonder it’s so popular! It’s also easy to store in the refrigerator or freezer.

Deli meat can last between 2 hours and 8 months. It depends on the temperature and storage method, whether or not the original packaging is opened, and more. 

How Long Does Deli Meat Last?

How lomg does deli meat last

Deli meat is the go-to solution for a quick-fix meal. That’s the reason every household has cold cuts in the fridge. They work well as a quick meal, any time of the day.

But it’s important to know how long after buying lunch meat it is still safe for you to eat. The shelf life of deli meat depends on several factors:

  • Whether the deli meat is fresh or pre-packaged,
  • Whether the pack is opened or not, and
  • Whether it is stored in the fridge, freezer, or at room temperature.

In general, you should keep deli meat at a temperature of 40 F or less because bacteria starts to form on meat at any temperature between 40F and 140 F.

You can also freeze it. In fact, freezing is the best possible storage method for your deli meat to keep it safe and edible for the longest time.

What's the difference between fresh deli meat and pre-packaged deli meat? You can perhaps understand it from the self-explanatory names.

Fresh deli meat includes fresh lunch meat or at least freshly cut. When kept in the pack, freshly cut deli meat can last for 3-6 days in the refrigerator and up to 3 months if you put the pack in the freezer. 

Pre-packaged deli meat, which usually contains preservatives, is sealed and remains fresh until opened. It will likely stay good for 7-10 days in the refrigerator, which is about 3-5 days beyond the Sell By date. However, if you place an unopened pack of pre-packaged deli meat and store it in the freezer, it can stay safe for up to 8 months!

Obviously, pre-packaged deli meat has a longer shelf life because of the use of preservatives. 

What happens when you open the pack?

If it is freshly cut lunch meat, you can expect it to last for 5-6 days in the refrigerator. It’s best to keep it in the freezer for no more than 3 weeks.

But what about the pantry? So far, we have only talked about deli meat stored at 40 F or less in the fridge or freezer.  The average room temperature can range between 68 F and 72 F unless you live in an icy region.

But if you don't, leaving your deli meat out of the refrigerator or freezer’s cool temperature is a sure short way to invite bacteria to start growing on the meat and make it unsafe for consumption.

Deli meat, whether packed, unpacked, pre-packaged, or fresh, must not sit out for more than 2 hours at room temperature.

The time reduces to 1 hour if the temperature in your location is 90 F. Whether you have thawed frozen deli meat in the fridge, you can refrigerate it for another 3-4 days. 

Deli meat that has already been used in a meal

Dali Meat in a Sandwich

You know how deli meat is excellent in sandwiches, burgers, and more. All of these have multiple ingredients. So, the deli meat used in such preparations will last only as long as the ingredient with the shortest shelf life used in the dish.

Different types of deli meats can vary based on whether they are pre-cooked or salt-cured, the kind of meat used, chicken or pork, and fat content.

There are hard salamis, bologna, different sausages, and more. The time they will last can vary accordingly. Therefore, it’s a good idea to look for signs of spoilage.

How to Know if Deli Meat has Gone Bad?

The deli meat in your stock may have gone bad within a day of buying. It's also possible that you're about to throw away good meat since you're unsure, as it has been sitting in the fridge for a while.

Determining if deli meat is safe just by following the thumb rule about its shelf life might be futile. Does it mean you should ignore all of what we have discussed so far? Absolutely not.

You should always be careful about meat that has been sitting out for too long, an opened pack of cold cuts, or frozen lunch meat sitting for a year! But when confused, look for signs that indicate that it’s spoilt.

Signs that tell Deli Meat has gone bad:

a) Change in Appearance

You can relay on your visual sense to detect any change in the appearance of deli meat. There might be discoloration, especially around the edges. The color may also start to turn grey or green, indicating spoilage. If you notice mold growing on the surface, that’s an obvious sign that the meat has gone bad. 

b) Change in Smell

Generally, deli meat has a salty or smoky smell - depending on how it has been treated - with a meaty hint. However, if it starts to go bad, it will begin to smell a little funky. But trust your dependable sense of smell will warn you. Odors of ammonia, vinegar, sulfur, or yeast show that it's time to discard the meat. 

c) Change in texture

If deli meat develops a slimy film on the surface, it means that it has gone bad. Besides being sticky, rotten deli meat can be off in texture. It can be too dry and flaky because it has dried out. Or, it can feel stringy or spongy. Fresh meat has a springiness, which deli meat will lose when it goes bad.

Don’t confuse slime with the meat’s protein and fat content’s natural moisture, which is not sticky or gooey. You should be alarmed if you see multiple signs of spoilage, especially after it has been sitting for a  while after the Sell By date. You might have to put your best judgment to use in that case.

Despite noticing signs of spoilage, it’s always heartbreaking to throw deli meat, right? But if you forcefully eat rotten deli meat, you will end up feeling ill.

You can get a tummy ache, feelings of nausea and bloating, or diarrhea. Eating deli meat that has gone bad causes food poisoning, especially in kids. 

So, even if you feel tempted to wash or wipe a sausage or microwave a piece of salami to salvage rotten deli meat, don't do it. Accept the truth - it belongs in the trash can!

But to avoid facing such a situation, make sure to store newly-bought deli meat properly and ensure that you use up your stock in time. 

How to Store Deli Meat to Last Longer

As you must have understood by now, the key to extending the shelf life of deli meat is by storing it properly at a low temperature by refrigerating or freezing the meat.

You also need to pay attention to the method of storage. That includes whether you’ve ripped open the original pack. If you're not planning on digging into the fresh stock of deli meat right away, it's best to keep the original packaging intact.

At a deli or market, the meat is at a controlled temperature. The temperature all around rises on your way back home. Put it in the refrigerator or the freezer as soon as you bring it home. 

frozen packs
Once you have opened the pack and used some of the meat, refrigerate or freeze the rest of the pack’s content immediately. 

That will help to keep the meat fresh for a long time. You can put the meat in a container that keeps out moisture and contaminants. Make sure to seal the box tightly.   

It’s better to go for a freezer-safe container if you are planning on freezing the deli meat. Here’s a little trick that will ensure no icicles form on your deli meat: wrap it tightly in aluminum foil. After placing it in a container, seal it with cling film before putting the lid to cover the box. 

One good thing about pre-packaged deli meat is that it often comes in a resealable pack. If so, you can keep the new meat in the same package and store it in the fridge or the freezer.

However, if the deli meat you have picked does not come in a sealable pack, you can just follow our storage suggestions. 

If you want to be extra careful, especially when it comes to freshly cut deli meat, you should add an extra layer of coverage on top of the original pack. You can wrap it with anything like plastic or aluminum wrap, or freezer paper.

By doing this, you will not only extend its shelf life but also prevent freezer burns. You should store at 40 F or less, though it will last the longest at 0 F.

If you live in a cold region, you can keep deli meat in a cool and dark spot inside the pantry, as long as the temperature does not cross 40 F. Humidity and sunlight can ruin the meat. The stable temperature in the fridge is the best. 

If you have thawed deli meat, you can store it in the fridge for a few more days. Don’t try to freeze it again. This only applies if you thaw the frozen deli meat by keeping it in the refrigerator.

If you have thawed the meat in the microwave or cold water, you can’t store it again. You must use it immediately. 

Do you want to store food items like sandwiches, burgers, or wraps in which you have used deli meat? It’s simple! All you have to do is cover it tightly in cling film or parchment paper and keep it in the fridge. For some added protection, you can also put it in a container and keep it sealed tightly.

Exciting Ways to Use Deli Meat Before it Goes Bad

How do you enjoy deli meat? Sandwiches, burgers, and wraps. The answer is pretty much the same unless some genius with a Masterchef's mind says something unique.

So, why not be that Masterchef of your house and use deli meat in interesting recipes to ensure that your stock doesn't go bad?

1) Deli Meat Platter

On a fancy wooden board, arrange various types of deli meat with a range of gourmet cheese. Serve it with the finest Italian wine - and there you have it: a meal fit for superstars!

To get more creative, you can even add grapes. You’ll surely impress your guests or your special someone with this quick fix.

2) Pasta

Bits of lunch meat in every bite of pasta can be quite exciting. To give your favorite carbonara or mac and cheese recipe a twist, all you have to do is dice up ham and crisp them with some bacon pieces in a heated pan to add to the dish.

Or, try Dr. Sheldon Cooper’s favorite - spaghetti with hotdog cut up in it!  

3) Pizza Topping

Granted, not many of us like to make pizza at home. But if you do try to whip up some homemade pizza in your humble oven, deli meat can make an excellent topping - probably better than pineapple!

Have fun as you experiment with these. Don't forget to throw in loads of cheese and delicious sauces.

4) High-Protein-Low-Carb Snack

You’re probably used to stuffing lunch meat into the mouth when nothing else in the fridge looks good. But you can actively turn deli meat into a high-protein, low-carb snack.

All you have to do is roll up slices of ham or bologna with cream cheese or a stick of string cheese! It’s fun for both children and adults!

5) Taco Filling

The best thing about tacos is that you can get as creative as you want with the filling - and it will still taste good. So why not throw in some deli meat in the filling?

Add cheese and scrambled eggs to make them healthy, delicious taco filling. From weekend breakfasts to picnic lunches - these tacos are perfect. 

6) Meaty Eggs

Lunchmeat can make a great team with eggs and give you a filling breakfast that will help you power through all your morning meetings, classes, webinars, and more.

Omelet, quiche, scrambled eggs - no matter what you're making, diced deli meat is just what you need to add to the mix for a great meal!

7) Dip

Everyone loves dips. They go well with everything from chips to chicken nuggets and are easy! The ingredients are present in our pantry or fridge.

Why not take your dip game to the next level? Add bits of deli meat to a creamy dip with cheese or yogurt. Don’t miss spices, herbs, and sauces for all the zing!

8) Soup Topping

Soups are light, healthy, and quick, but they can also be a little boring sometimes. The easiest way to transform a dull soup recipe into an exciting one is by topping it off with chopped and crisped deli meat.

It's more than just a garnish! Deli meat can add flavor and texture to the soup and make it a filling meal.   

9) Salad

Salads are not just leaves, salt, and pepper! A good salad needs a healthy dose of protein, along with a delicious dressing, of course. Your deli meat can do just that.

Add pieces of them to a mix of your favorite greens. You can also add hard-boiled eggs and toss everything in a dressing of your choice. 

10) Fried Rice

If you have some leftover rice, here’s your chance to whip up some fried rice with lunch meat! All you have to do is saute your favorite aromatics in hot oil, add a splash of your favorite sauce, and throw in some veggies, along with diced deli meat before you toss in the rice.

Don’t be afraid to experiment!

Sticks with cheese

There's a lot more you can do with deli meat. You can pair it with potatoes in Philly Cheese Steak Potato or Jacket Potatoes or wrap veggies with a slice of it.

You can sneak a few pieces of deli meat into the crust of a savory pie. Bruschetta, crescent rolls, panini, biscuit snacks - just have fun with your deli meat stock!

How to Choose Healthy Deli Meat?

Deli meat has earned a bad reputation because it contains preservatives and sodium. It also contains saturated fats. Such processed meat varieties are generally unhealthy, linking to various health conditions.

But it is possible to enjoy deli meat as a healthy meal choice as well, here're some tips:

  • Choose freshly cut deli meat as it is minimally processed and contains only natural nitrates. 
  • To aim for low salt consumption, look for lunch meat options that are low on sodium content.
  • Choose lean cuts like roast beef, chicken breast, turkey, or lean ham for higher nutritional value.
  • If you want to buy pre-packaged deli meat, check labels to find low-sodium, nitrate-free options. 

To minimize the health risks associated with deli meat, it is best to plan your purchase wisely.

Don’t buy a huge stock to avoid overeating it. Too much of anything can be harmful, after all - and it’s hard to resist the temptation of an easy meal if you have a massive stock of deli meat sitting in your refrigerator! 

Final Lines

Deli meat is not only tasty but also an easy to use ingredient. It can last for several days in the refrigerator and many months in the freezer.

So, you do not need to worry about this type of meat’s safety, especially if you purchase it well before the Sell By date and provide proper storage methods.

To ensure that the meat you’re eating is in its best condition, make sure to test its texture, color, and smell, besides checking the time for which it has been sitting in the fridge/freezer or at room temperature.

It is quite versatile, but remember to limit your consumption to avoid health problems.   

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