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How Long Is Lunch Meat Good For And How To Store It?

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Lunch meats, luncheon meats, cooked meats, cold meats, sliced meats, sandwich meats, cold cuts, or deli meats, are all terms that apply to the same types of meats. Those types of meats are precooked or cured meats that are sliced and served cold or hot.

They can be cut at the deli counter or stored in the packaging that we buy from the grocery store. However, these types of meat are not very shelf stable and that means they need to be handled properly.

So, you need to know the exact shelf life of every type. And then the main question arises “How long is lunch meat good for?”. Well, lunch meat is quite sensitive and it needs to be kept at cool temperatures, ideally in the refrigerator.

If you store it the right way, it can last for a couple of days.

So, let’s learn more about the shelf life, how to store it, and what are the spoilage signs of lunch meat.

How Long Is Lunch Meat Good For In The Fridge?

top view of sliced lunch meat

As I already said, the refrigerator is the best place for lunch meat if you store it properly. However, it still spoils at some point. Its exact shelf life in the fridge depends on its type and whether or not it has been opened. So, let’s see.

How Long Does Unopened Lunch Meat Last In The Fridge?

If you bought the package of lunch meat at the grocery store and you store it in the fridge that way, it should stay good for quite some time. However, the exact shelf life of meat depends on the types of deli meat you want to store in the fridge.

If you are dealing with pre-cooked lunch meat including corned beef, roast beef, baked ham, baked meatloaf, roasted turkey, or roasted chicken breast, they would stay good up to the expiration date or use-by date.

If there is a sell-by date on the packaging, you can still consume it 7-10 days past that date.

When it comes to smoked lunch meat including pastrami, smoked ham, smoked turkey breast, or chorizo sausage, this type of lunch meat should also be consumed up to the use-by date.

However, if there is a sell-by date on the packaging, eat smoked lunch meat within 3 days past the sell-by date.

Finally, there is cured lunch meat and it includes delicatessen like pancetta, prosciutto, serrano, jamon iberico, mortadella, bologna, as well as salamis like capicola, pepperoni, and Genoa.

Some of these don’t even require refrigeration and some might last for only a couple of weeks, while others may last for a couple of months.

So, in most cases, you will find safe-handling instructions and expiration dates on the packaging.

So you should rely on that information.

How Long Is Lunch Meat Good For After Opening?

packaged lunch meat

Once you open the packaging that contains lunch meat, you immediately shorten its shelf life. Once again, the exact shelf life of opened lunch meat in the fridge depends on its type.

So, once you open the packaging of pre-cooked lunch meat, you must consume it within 7-10 days if stored in the fridge properly. This is also the case with anopened package of precooked meat that has a sell-by date on the packaging.

The same goes for opened smoked lunch meat. It should be consumed within 7-10 days after opening if stored properly in the fridge. If it has a sell-by date, it should be consumed within 3 days of a sell-by date.

When it comes to cured lunch meat, safe-handling instructions and a use-by date on the packaging should be helpful since there is no correct information about the exact shelf life of various types of cured lunch meat.

How Long Does Sliced Deli Meat Last In The Fridge?

Once again, it depends on the type of lunch meat.

Freshly cut pre-cooked lunch meat should stay good for up to 5 days if properly stored in the fridge. That is the case if the meat contains a high amount of preservatives.

However, if there is a minimal amount of preservatives in it, it will stay good for up to only 3 days.

Smoked lunch meat is usually loaded with preservatives, so all freshly sliced smoked lunch meats should stay good for up to 5 days in the fridge.

Once again, cured lunch meat doesn’t have the exact shelf life. So, it is best to ask the butter for how long freshly sliced cured lunch meat will stay good in the fridge.

How Long Is Deli Meat Good For At Room Temperature?

lunch meat varieties

There is no type of meat that likes to be at room temperature for a long time and the same goes for deli meat. Once again, there are some differences between types of deli meat when it comes to the shelf life outside the fridge or the freezer.

So, if you are dealing with precooked or smoked deli meat, you shouldn’t let it stay at room temperature for more than 2 hours, according to the USDA. That is especially the case if the packaging is opened or if the meat is unprotected from the air.

In that case, I would recommend you store it in the fridge immediately because, well, better safe than sorry.

Also, if it is very warm in the kitchen or in some other place where you are dealing with this type of meat, i.e. if the temperature is above 90 degrees F, you shouldn’t let the meat stay there for more than 1 hour.

When it comes to cured deli meat, things are a little more complicated, i.e. some types of cured deli meat do not even require refrigeration while others do.

It is therefore best to ask a butcher for more information. Or, if you are dealing with packaged cured meat, both sliced and unsliced, it is best to follow the storage guideline written on the packaging.

How To Store Deli Meat Properly?

sliced lunch meat

A refrigerator is, by no doubt, the best place for most types of deli meat except for shelf-stable cured deli meats that I talked about previously.

So, if you just bought a package of sliced or unsliced deli meat, it is best to put it somewhere deep in the fridge in its original packaging. Deep in the fridge, far away from the fridge door, the temperature is more stable and your deli meat will be perfectly safe.

If you are dealing with an opened package of deli meat, make sure that you wrap it properly by using aluminum foil, butcher paper, or plastic wrap. If you are dealing with unsliced deli meat, wrap the whole thing.

On the other hand, if the meat is sliced, you should wrap all slices individually. Double-wrap is not a bad idea as well if you want to play it safe. Once you wrap your meat properly, I wouldn’t recommend you put it back in its original packaging.

It is much better and safer to put it in an airtight container where it will be 100% safe from unwanted air.

Can You Freeze Deli Meat?

Freezing is always an option when you want to extend the shelf life of your food. And the same goes for deli meat. However, some types of deli meat freeze better than others.

So, I would suggest you avoid freezing lean meats like chicken and turkey because they don’t freeze well. Freezing salami and pepperoni provide better results because they contain more fat.

Also, it’s not safe to refreeze meat thawed at room temperature if it was left for more than 2 hours on the countertop.

How To Freeze Deli Meat?

How To Freeze Deli Meat

In order to freeze your deli meat successfully, you need to follow these steps.

STEP 1: In most cases, when people are dealing with deli meat, they are dealing with sliced deli meat. If that’s the case, you should first divide those slices into smaller portions in order to handle them easily after the freezing process.

STEP 2: Then, you should wrap each pile using aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Since deli meat is a very sensitive food, it is not a bad idea to double-wrap each slice, especially if you are planning to leave it in the freezer for longer.

STEP 3: After that, you should put the wrapped meat in the freezer bag. You should suck out all the excess air to protect your meat from the freezer burn. It is best to do that by using a vacuum sealer, but if you don’t have one, you can use your hands as well.

STEP 4: Label the bags with the exact date of storage and put them deep in the freezer where the temperature is stable.

How Long Does Deli Meat Last In The Freezer?

If you freeze your deli meat by following the rules explained above, deli meat will remain good for up to about 2-3 months if it is double-wrapped.

On the other hand, if you do everything else correctly, but you only single-wrap your deli meat, it will last for only about 4-6 weeks.

How To Defrost Deli Meat?

After pulling your meat out of the fridge, it is time to defrost it.

The absolute best way to defrost your deli meat is to transfer it from the freezer to the fridge and let it thaw overnight. That is without doubt the best and safest way.

However, if you don’t have that much time, you can also defrost it in cold water by just transferring the wrapped deli meat from the freezer to the bowl of cold water and changing that water frequently until the meat is defrosted.

Avoid defrosting your deli meat at room temperature because that increases the risk of harmful bacteria. It is also not a good idea to defrost the microwave because that can seriously deteriorate its quality.

How To Know When Deli Meat Goes Bad?

lunch meat gone bad, sad smiley face

As I already said, deli meat is a very sensitive type of meat, so it is always worth inspecting it over and over again. Of course, you are doing this for your own good, i.e. to avoid food poisoning or any type of foodborne illness. 

So, here are the signs that can reveal you spoiled deli meat.

Discoloration: There are many types of deli meat and each type has its unique color. However, when that meat spoils, a yellow, brown, or pale gray hue appears on the surface and that is a clear sign that you need to discard it.

Slimy Texture: If you haven’t noticed any different colors on your deli meat, but are still not sure that it is good, it is best to touch the surface of the meat with your fingers. If the meat is sticky or slimy, it is definitely spoiled and you should get rid of it.

• Bad Smell: Bad smell is always a sign of bad food. Deli meat is not an exception. In general, if you sense any bad smell of your deli meat, especially a sour smell, it is best to get rid of it because it is probably bad.

• Mold: Finally, there is also a sign that most of you are very familiar with and that is mold. Although deli meat doesn’t get moldy quite easily, if you see any mold on the surface, you know what you have to do.

Know The Shelf Life Of Your Deli Meat

No matter if it is beef, pork, poultry, or some kind of blend, deli meat is an excellent snack for our lunch packets and sandwiches, as well as some other types of dishes like hot dogs.

However, it is a very sensitive food, so it needs to be handled properly. In order to do that, you need to know the shelf life of your favorite meat, so the question is “How long is lunch meat good for?”.

As you could have seen in the article, that mainly depends on the type of deli meat and the way you store it. Aside from that, you were able to learn how to store deli meat properly, as well as some major spoilage signs of deli meat.

All in all, that is all you have to know about the shelf life of deli meat, food storage, and spoilage signs in order to handle your lunch meat properly.

How Long Is Lunch Meat Good For And How To Store It