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How Long Does Lunch Meat Last?

How Long Does Lunch Meat Last?

Lunch meat from the deli has been a go-to quick lunch staple in homes forever. Who doesn’t love a juicy and robust turkey sandwich? We’ve all been there, tired, don’t want to cook, and want a quick bite. We run to the fridge and reach for the lunch meat and make a quick delicious sandwich. However, with lunch meat or cold cuts, we have to be watchful. Anytime you forget how long your cold cuts have been in the refrigerator, proceed with caution. 

That’s because lunch meat does not last for weeks and can go rancid. It would be best if you consumed lunch meat considerably soon after you purchase it. So how long does lunch meat last, well that all depends on a few factors such as its expiration date, how long it has been open in the fridge, etc. To avoid becoming sick, here are some key factors to help determine how long lunch meat lasts and if your lunch meat is good.

How To Tell If The Meat Has Gone Bad

It is so crucial to be aware of what you are consuming. Make it a habit to practice proper food safety techniques and hygiene to prevent foodborne illness. Always inspect your food before you purchase it and after its storage in your refrigerator. Learn to recognize the signs of spoiled food. We all know spoiled food can be the cause of various health problems, so enjoy your food while it is fresh. Below are some ways to decipher if your cold cuts have gone bad.

Look At The Expiration Date

One way to determine if your lunch meat is still good is to look at the sell-by date. All lunch meats sliced by the deli or sold prepackaged in the store contain a sell-by date. The sell-by date is notifying the store how long to display the product for sale. Never purchase the product after this date. Although it is not the most accurate indicator of how long the meat can last, it’s always a good start.

If “Best if used by” is displayed on the package, it means the flavor, taste, and quality of the product will be reduced after that date. It has no relation to the freshness or safety of the cold cuts.

Ultimately, according to, an unopened package of cold cuts is good for two weeks in the fridge after the sell-by date. Now, let’s talk about after you’ve opened prepackaged deli slices. Once the cold cut package is open, you should eat it within three to five days. The same goes for fresh-cut deli slices. Ideally, you want to eat it within three to five days after bringing it home.

Which Cold Meats Have A Longer Shelf Life?

So we have established that deli slices should be eaten within three to five days. Some meats can extend a little longer. For instance, Bologna and hard salami contain a higher concentration of fat and, therefore, will last a bit longer than other meats. When Bologna and salami begin to spoil, you will typically notice the edges will start to turn gray or brownish. In the end, the life span of lunch meat can vary, and it is up to you to use these tips to make an informed decision.

Smell For Foul Odors

Before you make that sandwich do yourself a favor, stop and take a whiff of the cold cuts. If you smell something weird or out of the ordinary, you should toss it. When lunch meat goes foul, it can smell sour and like ammonia, vinegar, or yeast. Always trust your senses because it can save you a visit to the emergency room.

Examine The Meat

What more efficient way to determine if your lunch meat is still fresh than to take a good hard look at it. Examine the lunch meat and look for anything suspicious, and when in doubt, toss it out. If parts of the slices are hard, dried out, or discolored, then it is not good. Also, if you notice a slimy substance or film on it, throw it away. If you see mold, oh man, forget about it, dispose of the turkey, ham, or pastrami so far away.

See Also: How Long Can You Keep A Frozen Turkey?

How Should You Store Lunch Meat/Cold Cuts?


Lunch meat is very volatile and should be stored in a particular way to prolong freshness. Bacteria can reproduce in hot temperatures. When you return home from purchasing your deli slices, you should store the lunch meat in the refrigerator immediately. However, do not place it on the side of the door. Alternatively, it would be best if you set it in the coldest part of your refrigerator. Place the deli meats inside of an airtight container to maintain freshness and keep moisture at bay.


You also have the option to prolong the deli meats if you store them inside the freezer with a freezer-safe container. The freezer will preserve the taste of the cold cuts. An opened or closed package of lunch meat can last one to two months in the freezer.

Related Question: Can You Freeze Meatloaf?

Facts About Deli Meat

  • Most cold cuts are recognized as processed meats because the meat is preserved by curing, smoking, or salting in addition to chemical preservatives.
  • Lunch meat contains beneficial vitamins and minerals such as zinc, iron, and vitamin B12. It is also high in protein.
  • On the other hand, cold cuts are high in sodium, which is not suitable if you’re suffering from heart disease or high blood pressure. The American Heart Association suggests that you should not intake more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day.
  • Ham and turkey are considered lean cold cut meats.
  • If possible, opt for low-fat lunch meat which contains three grams or less per serving of sodium than regular cold cut meat.
  • For centuries, salting and smoking were used to preserved meats and keep them fresher longer.

Lunch meat can be a quick and delicious food option. However, we must remember that it can only stay fresh and edible for so long. To maximize the shelf life of cold cuts, always store it properly, note the date on the package, and inspect it thoroughly before consuming it. Furthermore, although it’s satisfying, remember to limit the number of cold cuts you eat. Most of us love sandwiches, and we can continue to enjoy them while being mindful of our health.