Can Deli Meat Go Bad?

Deli Meat on an Antipasto Platter

Deli meat is so convenient to have around for packing a quick lunch, or adding some protein to your salad. So, it’s definitely a good idea to stock up when there’s a sale, right? Can deli meat go bad, and how can you tell if deli meat is starting to spoil? Read more to find out!

Can Deli Meat Go Bad?

While it may seem like brining or curing meat would make it last for a really long time, once it’s sliced, deli meat actually begins to spoil quite quickly. Prepackaged and sealed deli meats that have not been opened, will stay fresh in the refrigerator for about a week past the printed expiration date. Deli meat that has been sliced at the counter has a shorter shelf life, and should be kept no more than five days past the purchase date.

Some exceptions to this are fattier deli meats, like salami, pepperoni or bologna. An unopened package of bologna or pepperoni will stay fresh for up to two weeks past the printed date, while an unopened hard stick of salami will actually last for up to a month past its stated expiration date, in the refrigerator. Once opened, bologna and pepperoni should be consumed within two weeks, and salami should be consumed within three.

Deli Meat on an Antipasto Platter

Image used under Creative Commons from Alpha

How to Store Deli Meat

To preserve the shelf life for as long as possible, fresh deli meat should be stored in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator. Exposure to air will increase the likelihood of spoilage, and you may find the meat going bad far more quickly than if it had been properly sealed.

You can store deli meat for longer periods of time in the freezer. For most deli meats like roast beef, ham or turkey, freezing will extend their shelf life to up to four months. Bologna and salami will keep for up to three months in the freezer. Pepperoni fares the best in the freezer, and can actually be kept for up to eight months!

Because the texture of deli meat may change slightly in the freezer, using previously frozen deli meat to top a salad, or on an antipasti platter is not recommend. Thawed deli meat is better suited for sandwiches, or in dishes where they will be cooked. To thaw frozen deli meat, leave overnight in a sealed container. Do not thaw at room temperature!

When freezing deli meat, be sure that the container is tightly sealed. Wrapping the meat in a damp paper towel before freezing will help to preserve moisture. For easier use after thawing, try freezing sandwich sized portions of meat in between damp paper towels in a tightly sealed container.

Signs That Deli Meat Has Gone Bad

How do you tell if deli meat has gone bad? Appearance is a strong indicator. If the meat appears slimy, it has begun to spoil. Often, this shiny appearance is caused by the brining solution mixing with the fat in the meat, and is not actually harmful, but yeast and bacteria growth in the meat can also lead to a shiny appearance. It’s better to err on the side of caution when meat is concerned, and to discard any meat that seems to be slimy.

Mold growth is another strong visual indicator that meat has spoiled. Deli meat should be discarded at the first sign of mold growth. Another sign of spoilage is the coloring of the meat. If you notice that spots of the meat are becoming darker, the meat has begun to spoil. Often, the discoloration will begin at the border and work its way in towards the center of the meat.

Your sense of smell is another way to see if meat has begun to spoil. If the meat has a sour, or rancid smell, it has gone bad and should not be consumed.

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