How Long Does Lunch Meat Last? (Plus 3 Signs It’s Gone Bad)

updated May 29, 2024
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Cutting a huge ham and cheese sandwich in half
Credit: Maria Midoes

The grocery store deli counter has long been a haven for easy packed lunches. Pick up a pound of turkey and some sliced cheddar, and you’re halfway to a week of easy sandwiches for the family. By Thursday or Friday, however, the lunch meat often begins to look a little suspicious, and you’re left wondering if those last slices are safe to eat. The sell-by or use-by date isn’t always the best indicator, so instead here are three surefire signs to look for.

Quick Overview

How Long Does Lunchmeat Last?

Per foodsafety.gov and the USDA, refrigerated lunchmeat lasts 3 to 5 days after opening or up to 2 weeks in an unopened package. Lunchmeat can be stored the freezer for 1 to 2 months.

How to Tell If Your Lunch Meat Has Gone Bad

In addition to considering how long it’s been since you opened a package of lunchmeat, and the expiration date, here are some tips for figuring out whether your sandwich ingredients should be thrown away.

  1. Check the color. The first step in determining whether your lunch meat has spoiled is to examine its color. Has it changed in any way? If the meat has taken on a pale gray, brown, or yellow hue, it’s probably not safe to eat. It’s also time to toss it if it’s grown any mold.
  2. Smell it. Next, take a whiff. If the lunch meat smells foul in any way (when bad, lunch meat often takes on a sour or vinegar-y scent), that’s not a good sign. Don’t risk it; just toss it.
  3. Feel for a film. Finally, if there’s a slimy, sticky film on the lunch meat, or if parts of the meat feel very hard, it’s likely that it’s spoiled.

The Best Way to Store Lunch Meat

Whether you buy prepackaged lunch meat or ask for it freshly sliced from the deli counter, tuck it into the coldest part of your refrigerator as soon as you get home. It’s best to keep your fridge at 40° F to keep foods fresh as long as possible. Once open, lunchmeat should be eaten within five days. Freshly sliced deli meat should also be eaten within five days.

Recipes to Make Use of Your Lunch Meat