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How Long Deli Meat Is Good For And How You Can Tell If It’s Bad?

Meat that you regularly buy at the neighborhood deli or grocery store should last for around two weeks if kept in its original packaging.

However, once you open the packaging or as soon as the meat is sliced in the deli and left open, you can keep it good for between three and five days in the refrigerator.

Should you be worried that the meat is about to turn bad, largely down to the time it has been out, you can freeze it.

If you do leave it out then you can tell that it has gone bad from the smell or appearance of the meat before even tasting it. 

How Long Deli Meat Is Good For And How You Can Tell If It’s Bad?

How Long Deli Meat Is Good For?

The quality of deli meat depends on how long it is kept out for and how long it is kept in its original packaging.

Particularly in summer, you may find that deli meat does not last for that long.

This is mainly down to the heat exposure which can harm how long it can stay good for and how long it can be stored.

If it takes you a few hours to get home after picking up your meat from the deli then you may want to reconsider that best-by date as it has already been affected.

In The Refrigerator

Some delis will package your meat with a sticker that details the best-by date, just as a grocery store does.

Typically, the deli meat should have a shelf life of around two weeks if kept tightly wrapped in its original packaging in the refrigerator yet you can also go a day or so beyond this printed best-by date.

Once that packaging has been opened the oxidation can occur and that storage time is vastly reduced to only between three and five days.

On The Countertop

At the height of summer, any deli meat that is left out in the sun only has around an hour before it has gone bad.

If you do like a few cuts of deli meat to enjoy while sunbathing or at the beach then bear this in mind.

If it is winter and the temperature is close to freezing then this should help keep the deli meat for longer which is good to know if you have a board of snacks.

Even then, if the temperature is over 40°F (4°C) then you may only have three hours, at most, before the deli meat has gone bad.

How You Can Tell Deli Meat Has Gone Bad?

How Long Deli Meat Is Good For And How You Can Tell If It’s Bad?

Occasionally, the original standard of the meat you have just bought from the deli is substandard straight from the point of purchase.

Perhaps those cold cuts have been left out for a while too long or the temperature is not cold enough to keep the meat in good condition in the deli itself.

You can swiftly tell when it has gone bad after a day or so as it can give off a bad smell. 

Visible Mold

There are other, more discreet signs that a piece of deli meat is going bad which include its color, smell, and the appearance of slime.

However, visible mold is a clear sign that any foodstuff has gone bad and should be swiftly tossed.

It is rare that deli meat should grow mold yet if it has then it may be time to wonder if it has been kept out in the sun or whether you may want to check the temperature in the refrigerator.

Regardless, it needs to be tossed away.

Different Color

Appearances can be obvious when it comes to telling if meat is off.

Meat should look appealing yet if a piece of turkey or chicken is turning brown or gray then it is likely on the way to becoming off.

This may not be obvious if you look at the middle of a piece of deli meat yet if the edges are turning a different color then it is fit for the garbage can.

Off Smell

You may not even have to look at a piece of deli meat to know that it has gone bad.

Having certain expectations of how certain meats should smell is important.

Over time, you may realize that a sour or stale smell is a giveaway that meat has gone bad.

The off smell should make it truly unappetizing too so throw it in the garbage can.

Slimy Appearance

If you can tell that your meat is gleaming when the light is on it then you should probably put it back and toss the rest of it away.

The slime is actually brine which is seeping out of the meat cuts and then congeals on the surface.

It makes the meat feel greasy and should provide the ideal conditions for bacteria to surface.

If you catch your fingers slipping off the slime on a piece of deli meat then it is time to put it in the garbage.

When You May Be Able To Eat Deli Meat Past Its Best-By Date?

How Long Deli Meat Is Good For And How You Can Tell If It’s Bad?

The best-by date is just that, a date by which a product is at its best up until then.

There may be a couple of days in which deli meat is fine and safe to eat after that before it has gone bad.

Occasionally, due to the way the meat is created, such as by curing, it can stay for even longer.

This can also be typical of meats with a high fat content as the salami or pepperoni can keep for a bit longer but even then you should be careful. 

For a meat such as chicken, you are likely better off eating it all before it has a chance to get close to its best-by date to avoid any risks.

You may even want to consider freezing it to keep it ready for when you want to create some sandwiches.

When You May Not Be Able To Eat Deli Meat Before Its Best-By Date?

The best-by date may also be voided if you leave deli meat out at room temperature.

This is because the best-by date accepts that meat should be kept in a chilled environment at all times.

That’s at the deli and as soon as you get it home so it should be kept in the refrigerator.

Should deli meat be left out at room temperature for even a couple of hours, especially on a hot day, you should likely throw it out as it is a perishable food.

Of course, if it is winter and the room is still chilled then you may be able to extend that timescale to three hours yet even then it is risky.

If you have a thermostat in the room then pay attention to it so you can keep deli meat out of the ‘danger zone’.

This is where perishable food is kept in an environment where the temperature is above freezing at around 40°F and up to 140°F (4°C to 60°C) which should be unbearably warm for any living thing.

At this temperature range, bacteria multiplies really fast which turns perishable food bad inside a couple of hours. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is It Possible To Freeze Deli Meat?

Yes, it is possible to freeze deli meat but, like most foodstuffs, it may not be ideal.

If the deli meat has a high fat content then it does tend to do better in the freezer and that includes salami and pepperoni.

Lean deli meat with less fat, such as chicken or turkey, tends to suffer from freeze burn more readily but can still be used in sandwiches once thoroughly defrosted.

There are certain steps you should take when freezing deli meat which you can follow in general when freezing any foodstuff.

Ensure that the deli meat is portioned out appropriately, perhaps for enough for a single sandwich so you have it conveniently ready to use.

In the freezer, slices of deli meat will freeze as one so should be separated first and even packed in their own Ziploc bag or in plastic wrap.

Before putting them in the freezer, you should label them so you are not left wondering what they are.

How Should Deli Meat Be Stored?

Sometimes, simply using the original packaging for deli meat is ideal yet once that has been opened you may want to move it to an airtight container.

This is to prevent oxidation which can drastically cut short the shelf-life of deli meat.

Ensure that all deli meat is kept in the refrigerator, no matter if it has a high-fat content like pepperoni or is a lean piece of chicken.

After that, it is a case of keeping the deli meat well-wrapped in plastic wrap or a resealable piece of packaging or in an airtight container/Ziploc bag.

Any container that can keep the air out is ideal as it can prevent oxidation and any moisture from drying up.

If you want your deli meat to remain as fresh as can be, keep the air out and keep it in the refrigerator.


How To Tell If Deli Meat Has Gone Bad

Active Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes

Deli meat is best enjoyed fresh, and you can find out if your meat is fresh by checking the color, odor and taste. Make sure that it tastes and smells normal.


  • Deli meat


  • Knife


  1. Check the meat for any mold: The first tell-tale signs of bad meat is mold. Check the deli meat carefully to see if there is any mold growing on the surface.
  2. Check the smell and color: Depending on the type of deli meat, the color and odor of the meat may have changed significantly if it is not fresh anymore.
  3. Cut the meat to check the taste: It can be worthwhile cutting a small piece of meat to check if the meat still tastes fine. If it tastes "furry" or slimy, then it's best not to eat the rest of it.
Jess Smith

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