Does Deli Meat Go Bad?

Deli meat is usually a refrigerator staple. Many families keep it on hand in case they need a quick, delicious and healthy lunch. Since you almost always have some in the fridge, you may be wondering if it goes bad. Read on to find out.

Yes, deli meat does go bad. The length of shelf life depends on how it was bought and whether or not it has been cured. Fresh deli meat will only last for about 5 to 6 days. Pre-packaged deli meats are good for 7-10 days. Bologna lasts a little bit longer at 1 to 2 weeks and cured meats like hard salami and pepperoni can last you from 2 to 3 weeks. All of the aforementioned meats last quite a while longer in the freezer: anywhere from 1 to 8 months depending on the meat.


With such a wide variety of deli meats available, you will want to know as much as you can so you can ensure you get the highest quality product.

Does Deli Meat Go Bad? How Long Does Deli Meat Last?

As we have already found out, deli meat does go bad and the length of time depends on the situation and the way it has been stored.

How Long Does Deli Meat Last Outside?

It is no secret that deli meats need to be refrigerated to maintain freshness and have it remain safe to eat. If you are serving a tray of fresh deli meat to guests, it won’t last very long unrefrigerated.

Cold cuts that have been left at room temperature should be eaten quickly. It is not safe to eat them if they have been left out for over two hours.

Whether on a tray or a sandwich, if deli meat has been sitting at room temperature for two hours or above 90° for 1 hour, bacteria can grow quickly.

How Long Does Deli Meat Last In The Refrigerator?

Deli meat should be stored at 41° or below which makes refrigerators the perfect place to keep those meats. In the fridge, they can last anywhere from 5 days to three weeks depending on the type of lunch meat it is.

Fresh deli meats are good for about 5-6 days. Unopened pre-packaged deli meats are good for 7-10 days, bologna is good for 1-2 weeks and cured meats like hard salami and pepperoni can last you 3-4 weeks.

The shelf life doesn’t change if the package has been opened as long as it has been stored properly. It needs to be in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Meat drawers are great for storing those lunch meats.

How Long Does Deli Meat Last In The Freezer?

Storing deli meat in the freezer will make it last quite a while longer. Again, this depends on the type of lunch meat it is.

It is not recommended to freeze fresh deli meat because it can lower the quality. Pre-packaged lunch meats can last for 6-8 months in the freezer while bologna and hard salami will be good for 2-3 months.

Once opened, the shelf life is shortened a little bit. You can freeze bologna for 1-2 months, salami for 2-3 months, and pepperoni from 6-8 months.

As you can see, the best place to store lunch meat short term is in the refrigerator. If you found a great sale and find yourself with an abundance of lunch meat, storing it in the freezer will ensure you can use that meat later.

How To Tell If Deli Meat Has Gone Bad

It can be very dangerous to eat bad deli meat. You could get food poisoning so be sure you know what to look for to ensure you don’t eat spoiled deli meat.

Check the sell-by date: Check the sell-by date first. If it is a day or two past the date it should be okay. If you’re still not sure, look for other signs.

Check the appearance: One sign of spoiled deli meat is it becomes slimy. Deli meat can have a wet surface but if it begins to feel slimy, throw it out.

Check for discoloration: If the meat has begun to turn colors like grayish or brown, turned crusty or hard around the edges, or has grown mold, definitely get rid of it. These are sure signs the meat has turned.

Check the smell: Smell is the next thing to look for. If it smells sour or like vinegar, it is time to throw out the meat. A bad smell can indicate bacteria growing in the lunch meat.

How To Store Deli Meat

The best way to store deli meat is in the refrigerator. Read on for advice on how to store it properly so it lasts as long as possible.

Airtight containers are key: To keep your meat fresh longer, store it in an airtight container. This can be a plastic container with a lid or in a resealable plastic bag.

Keep them cold: Store the airtight container of deli meat toward the back of the fridge or in the meat drawer.

Get rid of store packaging: Some deli meat containers don’t seal very well and the paper that comes with fresh deli meat can cause bacteria to grow faster. If either is the case, get rid of the packaging it came in and store it in your own airtight container or bag.

Can You Freeze Deli Meat?

Deli meat can be frozen and when done so properly, it can greatly extend the shelf life of it.

Slice it first: If you get unsliced lunch meat, you should slice it before you freeze it. This way you won’t have to thaw out more than you can use at once.

Divide into portions: Divide the lunch meat into portions that can be used in 3-4 days. Same as above, you don’t want a bunch of lunch meat you can’t use quickly.

Protect it from the cold: It will last longer in the freezer if it is protected from the cold. You will need to wrap it tightly, maybe in a couple of layers. You can use aluminum foil, plastic wrap, freezer bags, or any combination of the three.

Keep it airtight or vacuum-sealed: If you can vacuum seal it, that will also help protect the lunch meat from the cold temperatures and air. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, removing all of the air before placing it in the freezer will help.

How To Thaw Deli Meat

Thawing out your frozen deli meat is pretty easy to do.

Remove it early: If you are needing to defrost your frozen deli meat, move the package from the freezer into the fridge to thaw overnight.

In a bowl of cold water: If you need it to thaw out quickly you can place the package of deli meat into a bowl of cold water. Do not use warm water to thaw out deli meat.

Frequently Asked Questions About Deli Meat’s Shelf Life

Which lunch meats maintain their quality upon thawing? Higher fat deli meats like pepperoni and salami do better when thawing than turkey, ham, and chicken. Pepperoni and salami maintain their texture and have low water content. When you thaw deli meats like turkey, ham, or chicken the meat may be a little wet. If your lunch meat is wet, pat it with a paper towel before eating.

Is my insulated lunch box cold enough to keep my sandwich all day? Even with an ice pack or two, your insulated lunch box will not stay cold enough to keep a deli meat sandwich at the necessary 41° for longer than two hours. It should still be placed in the refrigerator as soon as possible to ensure it stays safe to eat.


Deli meat is great on sandwiches, good for a quick snack, and a go-to when entertaining guests. Now you know how to properly keep your deli meat fresh and lasting as long as possible.

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