Does Deli Meat Go Bad? – Full Analysis

Does Deli Meat Go Bad? – Full Analysis

Another word for deli meat that most are familiar with is lunch meat or cold cuts. These are cured or pre-cooked meats that are sliced and then served cold or hot. You can get them at a deli and have them sliced to order or chosen from the selection already sliced. They also come pre-sliced in vacuum packs. 

Some examples are ham, chicken, turkey, roast beef, salami, bologna, and many more. Deli meats are something that everyone has around the house to make lunches or a quick snack. These meats make it convenient to make sandwiches. 

Does deli meat go bad? Yes, it does go bad, even if the package has been vacuum sealed and never been open. Every deli meat has its own particular shelf life but you don’t have to remember them all. The general shelf life of deli meat is a few days but if it is unopened it is best to use by the use-buy date. 

How long depends on whether it is sliced or unsliced, opened or closed, and a variety of other things but deli meat does go bad.

How Long Does Deli Meat Last? Shelf Life [Chart]

Deli Meat Refrigerator Freezer
Pre-packaged Unopened A few days past the “best-used” date Opened packaged or fresh 1-2 months
Opened or Unsliced from Deli 5-6 days Unopened fresh 1-2 months
Opened and Sliced from Deli 3-4 days Unopened packaged 2 months
Thawed After Freezing 3-4 days Unopened cured 3 months

How to Store Deli Meat

Make sure that once you open deli meat, the pre-packaged type or the unsliced from a deli that you make sure it is well wrapped before you put it in the refrigerator. 

Use plastic wrap, aluminum foil, or freezer bags. If you can reseal it, you can use the package it came in. If you are at a picnic or out somewhere, do not leave deli meat out for more than two hours or one hour if the temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Can You Freeze Deli Meat?

Yes, you can freeze deli meat but some will freeze better than others. The ones that tend to freeze better are the ones with a higher fat content like salami or pepperoni. Lean deli meat like chicken or turkey does not freeze as well but you can freeze them. When freezing deli meat, it is best if it is sliced and not left in a hunk. 

To make sure you do not thaw too much and waste the deli meat, think about proportioning it before freezing it. You could freeze enough for a couple of sandwiches or enough for a couple of days. Make sure that you wrap it tightly before freezing to protect it from the cold temperatures and freezer burn. 

If you are going to freeze it for a few weeks, you can get away with single wrapping it in plastic wrap or aluminum foil and then put that package into a zip lock freezer bag. If it is going to be longer than a few weeks, double wrap it before you put it in a freezer bag or airtight container. 

To help the slices from sticking together, you can put a piece of wax paper between the slices and wrap it. If the deli meat is pre-packaged and not opened, you can just put it in the freezer without doing anything to it but if you want to help protect it from freezer burn, wrap it in aluminum foil or a plastic grocery bag. When storing it in a zip-lock freezer bag, squeeze as much air out as you can to help preserve texture and flavor.

To thaw it, take it out the night before and let it thaw in the refrigerator and not thaw it in the microwave. Before you use the thawed deli meat, you should use a paper towel to remove any excess water. If the deli meat has lost some of its flavors or starts to shred, you can use it to top a pizza or put it in a casserole.

How to Tell if Deli Meat is Bad

Appearance: If you go to take a slice or two of deli meat from the package and the wet surface feels slimy, it is about to go bad. When deli meat is processed, it usually involves brining and that slimy feeling is the brine being released back. This can encourage bacterial activity so it is best to throw it away. 

Sometimes the deli meat is not brined and there is just extra water or juice from the meat in the pack and that is what is causing the slimy feel. Throw it away if it is moldy or discolored. It can also turn hard all over or just on the edges. Mold mainly occurs if it has been frozen past its date, left in the refrigerator too long, or left out on the counter too long.

There can also be a discoloration change in color; yellowish, brownish, or grayish tones. This generally happens if the deli meat loses its protein because it became oxidized. The discoloration usually starts at the edges first and occurs in small patches.

Smell: If it smells off, stinks, or has a stale, pungent smell, throw it away.

Package date: Always not the package date on the package. If you bought it from the deli and kept it in the pack it came in, the price tag should have the date bought on it.

Soft spots: This is mainly found on hard deli meat like hard salami but if you find any soft spots or parts this is a sign that moisture or bacteria has penetrated the deli meat. It can also happen to soft deli meat.

Sometimes deli meat when it goes bad will start to smell off before it starts to get that slimy feeling. If in doubt or it is past the best-used-by date, throw it away. It is better to waste money than to get food poisoning.


  • Most deli meat can be stored in the freezer for up to two months and after that time, the flavor and texture will start to deteriorate.
  • When storing deli meat, always write the date you put them in there so you will be able to eat them before they go bad. You can write it on the zip-lock freezer bag with a permanent marker
  • The shelf life of deli meats declines faster after you slice it
  • Hard salami can be kept unopened in the refrigerator for three to four weeks but opened it is edible for two to three weeks
  • Always check the best-buy date to get a more accurate read on how long deli meat will be good for.
  • Keep deli meat’s exposure to room temperature to a minimum. This means there should be a short time between buying it and getting it home and it should be put in the refrigerator first as soon as you get home.
  • Store them in the coldest part of the refrigerator, which would be in the furthest corner and not on the door.
  • Because salami and bologna have a high concentration of fat, they will last longer than other deli meats. In the refrigerator, salami will last 2-3 weeks and bologna 1-2 weeks after opening.
  • Always make sure that when you are storing deli meat in a zip-lock bag that you get as much air out as possible to help prevent it from spoiling faster.