How long does lunch meat last? 

In this brief guide, we have answered the question, “How long does lunch meat last?” and methods to store lunch meat.

How long does lunch meat last?

Lunch meat can last for up to 3-7 days.  Lunch meat containing a reduced moisture content like salami would last longer than the ones containing chicken.

Both unopened and opened lunch meat would last for 3-5 days. The sliced ones would last on the counter for probably 3-5 days.

The shelf-life of lunch meat would vary on the type of lunch meat. Below are the shelf-life of some of the popular types of lunch meat.

Type of lunch meatApproximate Shelf-life (opened)Approximate Shelf-life past the sell-by date (unopened)
Salami2-3 weeks3-4 weeks
Deli turkey4-5 days6-7 days
Prosciutto3 months3-4 months
Ham4-5 days6 days
Bologna1-2 weeks3 weeks
Roast beef4-5 days5-6 days
Pepperoni2-3 weeks4 weeks

Freshly cut meats have a shorter shelf-life and should be consumed within 5 days.

Certain fresh-cut meats are made without the addition of preservatives. Such fresh cut meats would have all the shorter shelf-life and would need to be consumed immediately. 

What is lunch meat?

Lunch meat refers to already cooked and cured meats. Lunch meat goes by many names. It can be called Deli meat, sliced meat, cold cuts, luncheon meat, or sandwiched meat. 

Lunch meat can be available in three types:

  • Whole/ cut: Roasted beef/ corned beef or other flavored varieties
  • Processed meat: hot dogs or sausages
  • Sectioned meat: ham

How to detect spoilt lunch meat?

  • Wetness on the surface of the meat can result in the formation of bacteria on the surface of the meat. As a result, avoid consuming slimy lunch meat.
  • If you observe any discoloration on the lunch meat, it is better to discard it.
  • A sour or foul odor coming out of the lunch meat is another indication of spoilage. 
  • If you observe any mold growth on the lunch meat, you should throw it away.
  • If the lunch meat has to gray or brown around the edges, it is better to not use it. This is observed in lunch meats that have a higher fat content.

How to store lunch meat?

  • Refrigeration is the best method to store lunch meat. Remember to seal the meat appropriately to prevent spoilage. Always choose to reheat lunch meat before consuming it.
  • You can also store lunch meat in an airtight container.
  • You can also freeze the entire lunch meat in a freezer bag or keep the slices separately and freeze them.
  • Keep lunch meat away from cooked and raw foods to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Look at the sell-by date on the package to understand how long the lunch meat can be stored. Lunch meat does not have an expiry date but a sell-by date.

Other FAQs about lunch meat you may be interested in.

Can you freeze lunch meat?

Yes, you can freeze lunch meat. An important point to remember while freezing lunch meat is to avoid freezer burns. This can be prevented by wrapping the sliced cuts in aluminum foils or plastic wraps.

You can keep the unopened lunch meat in a container or freezer bag. You can also separate the slices of lunch meat and put them separately in an airtight container or freezer bag as well. Lunch meats with low moisture content freeze efficiently. 

Avoid defrosting meat at room temperature as this would provide more room for the bacteria to grow. Cured meats would last longer in the freezer than pre-cooked or smoked lunch meats.

How long can lunch meat remain at room temperature?

Lunch meat should not be kept for greater than two hours at room temperature. At temperatures between 40 to 140℉, there is an increased activity of microbes that can spoil lunch meat.

How to buy good quality lunch meat?

  • Avoid buying damaged lunch meat and buy only the ones that are properly sealed.
  • Choose to buy lunch meat placed on the back of the pantry as the ones in the front are always subject to change in temperature because of the opening and closing of the pantry door.
  • Always look at the sell-by date mentioned on the lunch meat before buying. 

Is it healthier to consume cold meat?

Cold meat contains sodium, nitrite, preservatives, and fat. Increased consumption of sodium can elevate the risk of developing hypertension. Nitrites have been associated with cancer. As a result, avoid consuming cold meat regularly. 


In this brief guide, we have answered the question, “How long does lunch meat last?” and methods to store lunch meat.