It’s so tempting to stock up on deli meat when there’s a good sale, or to buy a few weeks’ worth of food at a time to limit trips to the grocery store. Of course, you can only eat so many sandwiches at a time. So, how long will all of those packages of sliced deli meat last in your fridge?
Does deli meat go bad?
Though deli meats are cured, once sliced, they begin to spoil rather quickly. Prepackaged deli meat can last in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, as long as it remains sealed, but only stays fresh five or six days after opening. Fresh sliced meat from the deli counter has an even shorter shelf life, and should be consumed within three to five days. Storing deli meats in tightly sealed bags, or storage containers, can help to stretch the shelf life to the five day point.
Image used under Creative Commons from Rajiv Patel (Rajiv’s View)
Exceptions to these shorter shelf lives are bologna and salami. Because these meats have a higher fat content than most sliced meats, they actually last much longer. Bologna can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks after slicing, and sliced salami will remain fresh in the refrigerator for three to four weeks. These meats should also be kept in airtight containers, and should not be eaten once they show signs of spoilage.
Signs of Spoiled Deli Meat
There are a few ways to tell if deli meat has started to spoil. The first sign is that the typically moist surface of the meat will become slimy. This is most often caused by the brining solution slowly seeping out of the meat, and congealing. While this is ultimately harmless, a slimy surface can also be caused by bacteria or yeast growth, and so the meat should not be consumed at this point. A rancid or sour smell will also develop with spoiled deli meat, though not necessarily right away, so it’s better to err on the side of caution once meat has been in the fridge for more than five days.
Coloration is another indicator of spoilage. Higher fat content deli meat that has started to spoil, like salami or bologna, will begin graying or browning around the edges. This discoloration will spread to the middle of the meat, and is a clear sign that the meat has spoiled. Any mold spots also indicate that deli meat has gone bad, and in any of these cases, the meat should not be consumed.
Storing Deli Meat
Storing deli meat is as simple as freezing it. Frozen deli meat will keep for up to four months, if properly stored. While the texture does change a bit when frozen, because of the water content of deli meat, it won’t be as noticeable in sandwiches. However, using previously frozen deli meat for an antipasto platter is not recommended. Because of their high fat content, bologna and salami will freeze better than most sliced deli meats, retaining their original texture when thawed.
To maintain the best texture and taste, the deli meat should be kept tightly sealed in an airtight container. Any exposed meat will dry out in the freezer, and will be a bit hard once the meat has thawed out. To preserve moisture, you could wrap a damp (but not dripping) paper towel around the meat before placing it in the bag or freezer container.
To prevent the slices of meat from clumping together once frozen (imagine trying to peel slices of frozen deli meat apart!), separate the slices into sandwich-sized piles, and place a sheet of wax paper in between each stack before placing in the container, or freezer bag. This will make grabbing just the right amount of deli meat a breeze! Frozen deli meat is best thawed while still wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator.