How Can I Tell If Lunch Meat Has Gone Bad?

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Deli meat can be tricky. While the label tells you it must be sold by a certain date, it doesn’t always tell you how long it can remain fresh in the refrigerator. Despite all of the advances in food preservation and safety technology, foodborne illness remains common in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. While you can spot some signs of spoilage, there are foodborne illnesses, like listeria, that are not so easily spotted. If your deli meat has been improperly stored or you’re concerned it’s spoiled, throw it out.

Step 1

Take a look at the label and find the use-by or sell-by date printed on the label. Fresh packages of deli meats -- those cut at the deli counter -- can be used five to six days past the sell-by date. Pre-packaged deli meats can be used seven to 10 days past the sell-by date. Bologna has a one- to two-week lifespan past the sell-by date, while hard salami can go as long as three to four weeks.

Step 2

Feel the surface of your deli meat. If you feel slime, the meat is sticky, or you notice a film on the surface of the meat, throw it away.

Step 3

Check the temperature of your meat. Deli meat should never be warm to the touch. Improper storage leads to food spoilage; if your deli meat was left out at temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for more than an hour, it should be discarded.

Step 4

Inspect the meat for any discoloration. Dark spots or gray, brown, green and black areas indicate spoilage and potential mold growth. Discoloration, however, can occur if you stored your meat in the freezer; therefore, a slight discoloration is not necessarily a sign of spoilage. However, if you see discoloration present with other signs of spoilage, throw the meat away.

Step 5

Smell the deli meat for an odd odor. Any sulfur or ammonia-like smells, or those that are sour and rotting, mean there is spoilage and you need to discard the meat.