The Quickest Tell That Deli Meat Has Gone Bad

Whether you're packing a lunch for school or work, or you're simply looking for a quick meal that takes little effort, deli meat (AKA cold cuts) can be a lifesaver. Though we might limit how often we indulge in processed meats due to their nutritional profile, a pile of turkey and cheese in between two slices of white bread (with mayonnaise or mustard, depending on your preference) is a treat we need to allow ourselves to enjoy once in a while. Plus, it is hard to deny the convenience factor of one of those sandwiches.

It's also easy to over-buy meat at the deli counter because it's sold in increments of a pound; how much is too much? When that happens, you might find the meat left sitting in your refrigerator for longer than expected. Thankfully, there are several ways to tell if deli meat has gone bad, with one quick way of knowing whether to toss those leftover cold cuts in the trash.

Check your deli meat for slime

If you're concerned about how long your slices of salami have been in the refrigerator, a physical inspection is key. If the meat has any sort of slimy coating or film, it's too old and should be discarded. If it sounds gross, that's because it is — that slime you're seeing is actually bacteria that have multiplied. If you touch it and it's sticky, that's also the feeling of too many bacteria on the surface. While there might not be visible mold (which forms from fungi rather than bacteria), the slimy texture still means it's a risk to consume the meat.

There are other telltale signs that deli meat has passed its expiration date. Of course, the expiration date itself could be a good indication; if the meat has expired, you should use other methods to determine its freshness. Smell the deli meat; if there is any foul odor, it's best to toss it. Mold is a clear sign as well, or any discoloration on the meat.

How to properly store deli meat

There are a few ways to store deli meat that will help keep it fresh for longer. This might go without saying, but deli meats should always be refrigerated; don't leave them at room temperature for more than two hours. Beyond that, most deli meats come in resealable packages; take advantage of these and always seal the deli meat after placing it back in the refrigerator.

If unopened, deli meat can last in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. However, once opening the meat, the USDA says it should be consumed within three to five days. Up until the three-day mark, you likely won't have to inspect the meat too closely. Once you hit that time period, though, make sure to take a quick second look at it before adding it to your sandwich. If you don't think you'll use the meat for a while, it's perfectly fine to freeze it for up to two months.