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How Long Does Deli Meat Last?

How Long Does Deli Meat Last?

One of the few luxuries of life is being able to slap some bologna onto a freshly made slice of bread. 

Visiting your local butcher shop or heading down to your local market for some freshly sliced deli meat gets your mouth watering. Just the thought of all that slice goodness makes you immediately start plotting the best sandwich combination in your head.

But what happens when you’re done making your perfect sandwich. You can leave all excess deli meat in the fridge, but for how long? It’s not like it can sit there for unlimited periods, at some point, it’s going to spoil.

So, now you’re standing in front of your fridge, holding a fishy stack of salami slices wondering how long does deli meat last? You certainly don’t want to eat bad deli meat and get sick. So, do you eat the suspicious slice of bologna, or should you toss it? Keep on reading to find out!

In this article, we’ll go in-depth about the deli meat shelf life. We’ll discuss how long can deli meat last, what are the best methods of storing it, and we’ll teach you how to spot spoiled deli meat.

But first, let’s set the stage by talking about different types of deli meat you can buy. 


Let’s go!

What Are Different Types Of Deli Meat

Deli meat, also known as lunch meat or cold cuts, comes in many shapes and sizes. You have countless types of ham, sausages, salami, meatloaf, and smoked meat.

However, this delicious sandwich food can be grouped into three categories: whole cuts, sectioned and formed meat products, and processed meats. Deli meats of different types have a different shelf life (more on that later).

But, before we go into the nitty-gritty of expiration dates and other technicalities, let’s get to know these different deli meats a bit better.

Whole Cuts

Whole cuts are just what their name suggests, they’re whole cuts of poultry that’s been cooked, sliced, and seasoned (i.e., roast beef, corned beef, chicken breast). Whole cuts also include sectioned, formed, and processed products.

Another cool fact about this type of deli meat is that it’s usually more expensive than other cold cuts. Whole cuts are more expensive than other types of deli meat because they’re made from high-quality meat that’s traditionally reserved for sausages and for sale.

Sectioned And Formed Meat Products And What’s Their Shelf Life

This type of deli meat refers to restructured meat products. Common types of restructured meat are multi-part turkey breasts, cooked hams, and chicken breasts. 

This type of deli meat is made from chunks or pieces of meat that are then bonded together to form a single piece. The substances that are used to bind the meat are non-meat additives, meat emulsions, and myofibrillar proteins.

What’s more, most restructured meat products contain steroids that help meat draw in more water, making the product heavier. This allows the meat company to sell more products without having to use more meat, which is quite shady if you ask us.

This type of deli meat is considered highly perishable and won’t last long, even when refrigerated. Thankfully, you can extend its shelf life by freezing it.

Check out our article on how long can you keep a frozen turkey?

Processed Meats

Processed meats, better known as sausages, are referred to as cold cuts. Around 15% of US’ produced meat ends up in one of these products. And the best word that describes processed meat is variety because it comes in over 200 different forms.

Sausages are made out of all types of meat that’s chopped, seasoned, and formed in a tubular shape (i.e., bologna).

There are two main methods for preparing this type of deli meat. The former one involves finely chopped meat that’s mixed with hydrophobic and hydrophilic proteins resulting in sausage with a very fine texture (hotdogs, for example). 

The other method is more traditional and involves grinding meat with fat and seasoning that’s put into a sausage casing and then smoked.

This type of processed meat has a variable shelf life since smoked sausages can last for months while hotdogs won’t last for more than a week in the fridge.

How Long Does Deli Meat Last?

Now that you’re aware of different categories of deli meat, you can see how difficult it would be to list the shelf life of every type of deli meat out there. What’s more, some types of deli meat made by different manufacturers have different expiration dates. This is why we’ll be going to talk about deli meat shelf life in general.

While the shelf life of packaged deli meat is different for each type, all packaging usually comes with a sell-by date. And while meat can last a few days longer after you’ve opened the packaging, don’t get your hopes up.

Once you’ve opened the sealed package of deli meat, you can expect them to stay fresh for around a week and a half. If you feel brave, you can eat two-week-old salami, but don’t get surprised if you end up with a bellyache.

Since we can’t list the shelf life of every type of deli meat out there, we’re going to stick with the most popular choices:

Type of deli meatShelf life if openedShelf life if left unopen
Salami2-3 weeks3-4 weeks
Deli Turkey3-5 days5-6 days
Bologna1-2 weeks2-3 weeks
Ham3-5 days5-6 days
Roast Beef3-5 days5-6 days
Pepperoni2-3 weeks3-4 weeks
Prosciutto2-3 months3-4 months

The table above is based on sliced deli meat you can buy at any deli counter. If you purchase pre-packaged deli meat, you can expect it to last two to three days longer than the meats listed in the table above.

It’s always better to buy prepackaged deli meat because it’ll last longer. This is because the packages are usually vacuum-sealed, ensuring no bacteria can start eating away at your favorite cold cut.

And if you want to prolong the shelf life of prepackaged deli meat, you can simply freeze it. Since it’s vacuum-sealed, it won’t change its texture or taste. Prepackaged deli meat can last for up to a year when frozen, so if you overstock, you can always freeze the excess meat.

How To Tell If Your Deli Meat Has Gone Bad

There are a few ways you can figure out if your deli meat has spoiled or not.

The first sign that lunch meat has started to spoil is if the usually wet surface has become slimy. This is commonly caused by brine slowly seeping out of the deli meat and coagulating. In most cases, slightly slimy deli meat is safe to eat, but there’s always a chance that it’s caused by bacteria or yeast. This is why you should throw away any processed meat that’s started becoming slimy.

Another sign your deli meat has started to spoil is if it has a stale or sour smell. Unfortunately, some types of salami and bologna won’t develop a musty or rotten smell until it’s too late. So, unless you’ve bought long-lasting deli meat like pepperoni, you should throw it out. It’s better to be safe than sorry, after all.

Another sure sign of deli meat going bad is discoloration. Deli meat with a high-fat content that’s started going bad will usually have brown spots along its edges. This discoloration will quickly spread to the center and is caused by bacteria and mold. Once you spot any discoloration, you should throw out the meat immediately.

Can I Freeze Deli Meat?

The best way to prolong the shelf life of your favorite deli meat is to freeze it. And since it doesn’t take any time at all, there are no excuses not to freeze it.

The most important thing about freezing deli meat is to prevent any freezer burns. Thankfully, that’s incredibly easy. All you have to do is wrap the lunch meat tightly with some plastic food wrap. To make sure no air reaches the deli meat, we recommend you double-wrap it. Alternatively, if you have a vacuum sealer, you can use that to pack it for freezing.

Once you’ve packed it, just chuck it into a freezer, and you’re done.

To thaw the meat, we recommend you place it in the fridge and let it sit there for a day. This way, the lunch meat won’t become overly soggy and won’t lose on its overall flavor.

Final Word

This brings us to the end of our little adventure into the shelf life of different deli meats.

As you’ve seen, how long deli meat lasts heavily depends on its type.

We hope you’ve learned something new today. And if you did, we hope you share this article around so other people can learn something new.

And, of course, we’re looking forward to seeing your thoughts in the comments below!