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Can You Freeze Deli Meat? – How To Freeze Lunch Meat

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Deli meat is one of those food items that are incredibly handy to keep in the fridge. They can be used to make sandwiches, pizzas, or even eaten on their own as a small snack. You might have found a great special for deli meat at your local grocer, but there is one problem, deli meat has a short shelf life.

In order to make the most out of your deli meat, enjoying it before it spoils, are you able to freeze it?

So, can you freeze deli meat? Yes, all types of deli meats and lunch meats can be frozen as long as you place them in airtight packaging. Freezing deli meat extends its shelf life for up to 8 months, depending on the type of meat.

Want to know the details? Well, you’re in luck, because I’ve gone ahead and made this complete guide to freezing deli meat so that you know everything you need in order to successfully freeze your turkey, ham, roast beef, or whatever deli meat you enjoy.

The Best Way to Freeze Deli Meat and Lunch Meat

Freezing deli meat is actually really simple.

The best, and easiest way to freeze deli meat, would be to leave it in its unopened original packing. This can be placed directly into the freezer.

You could also wrap the outer layer of the packaging in aluminum foil, plastic wrap, or place it into a freezer bag. This helps to protect the deli meat against freezer burn, which may happen if the deli meat is left in the freezer for an extended period of time.

If you have purchased sliced deli meat from the butcher counter, or if you are wanting to freeze some slices of deli meat from an opened packet, you will need to protect the slices in a freezer-safe wrapping.

How To Freeze Deli Meat and Lunch Meat

  • Cut individual slices of wax paper, slightly larger than the pieces of deli meat you are wanting to freeze
  • Lay slices of deli meat down, stacking them up alternating between slices of meat and slices of wax paper
  • Once stacked, you can wrap this in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, or place the stack into a freezer bag
  • Press the air out of the freezer bag to preserve the flavor and texture of the deli meat
  • Label the bag or wrapping with the name of the contents date of freezing, so you can easily identify the type of meat in the freezer, and so you know when to eat it by.

Freezing individual slices, separated by wax paper, allows you to remove slices one by one from the freezer. This way, you do not have to defrost the whole lot just to get a few slices out to make a sandwich.

Without the wax paper layers, the slices of deli meat will stick together and it will be nearly impossible trying to separate them without having to defrost it all.

When kept in the freezer, and this is especially true for deli meats which have a high water content, ice crystals and freezer burn form within the meat, when thawed, this can greatly affect the texture of the deli meat by destroying cell walls.

To try and prevent this, you should tightly wrap the deli meat in plastic wrap, and then with aluminum foil, and remove as much air from the freezer bag before placing it into the freezer.

If you have a large chunk of deli meat, it can be frozen without being sliced.

To freeze larger pieces, you simply need to wrap it in plastic wrap, the more layers the better, and you could even finish it off with a layer of aluminum foil or place it in a freezer bag.

Just note that you will have to defrost the whole piece of deli meat when you want to use some, as it will be impossible to slice it while it is frozen, and you should avoid thawing, slicing, and refreezing the meat.

Which Deli Meats Can Be Frozen?

All deli meats can be frozen, but some freeze better than others.

Cured meats such as bologna and sausage hold up really well when frozen. This is thanks to their dense texture and their significantly lower water content.

When it comes to deli meats such as chicken, ham, and roasted turkey, you are still able to freeze them, however, there is a chance that the deli meat will have a wet surface once thawed.

You can choose to freeze deli meat in large portions or in slices, depending on how you plan on using it later, and how much you wish to eat at a time.

How to Store Deli Meat

Deli meats need to be refrigerated when brought home from the store, and you should never leave them out at room temperature for a period longer than 2 hours.

If you leave the deli meat out for longer than two hours at room temperature, you are increasing the risk of bacteria growth, which could lead to food poisoning and other food-borne illnesses.

The danger zone for bacterial growth is between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If exposed to this temperature range for an extended period of time, the deli meat, and other fresh produce, sees rapid growth in the number of bacteria it contains.

This is why deli meat should be refrigerated at all times, and as soon as you get home.

When stored in the fridge, deli meats should be kept in their original packaging if unopened. If opened, keep the slices in an airtight plastic container, or in a tightly sealed plastic bag. Place these in the fridges meat drawer to further extend their shelf life.

Once the packaging has been opened, deli meat should be eaten within 5 days. However, this heavily depends on the type of deli meat.

Cured meats last longer, and these are safe to eat within 6 days, whereas deli meats with little preservatives should be eaten within 3 days.

How long your deli meat will last will also depend on the age of the meat it was sliced from and how long the packaging had been left open.

Deli meats that are precooked or smoked tend to last a bit longer. Always check the sell-by date or expiry date on the packaging, but these types of meats should stay fine to eat for up to 10 days in the fridge. 

Cured meats, as mentioned above, generally have a longer shelf life as well, but these are more difficult to generalize.

Most of the cured meat variations need to be refrigerated, but some dry products which are still in their original unopened packaging can be kept in the pantry.

Once again, you should check the expiry date on the package to be safe, and use the deli meat before this time. Cured meats can stay good in the refrigerator if left unopened for a few weeks, and can be kept for one or two weeks opened.

Here is a short guide on the freezer life of different types of deli meats:

  • Pre-packed deli meats – 6-8 months
  • Bologna – 2-3 months
  • Salami – 2-3 months

While the deli meats will still be fine to eat after this amount of time, the texture and flavor of the meats will have deteriorated, and will not be as enjoyable to eat as they would have been if used before these freezer time limits.

How To Thaw Deli Meat

The absolute best way, and safest way, to thaw deli meat, is to leave it in the fridge overnight, or in the fridge for a good few hours.

You should never leave the deli meat to thaw at room temperature, as this just creates a great environment for bacteria to breed, which then could lead to foodborne illnesses.

Once thawed, the lunch meat can remain in the fridge for up to 5 days, but it is best to use it within 3 days.

If you are very short on time, you can try to defrost the deli meat in the microwave using the defrost function, but this deli meat should be eaten straight away and not kept in the fridge afterward.

Thawing the deli meat in the refrigerator overnight is the best way to keep the texture and taste intact, whereas this might be ruined in the microwave, with the deli meat becoming slightly soggy.

During the defrost function in the microwave, the deli meat will be slightly warmed, which is why it needs to be consumed immediately and not placed into the refrigerator for longer storage.

With a little bit of planning the day before, your deli meat can be safely thawed in the fridge and still kept safe in the fridge for a few days.

Can You Refreeze Deli Meat?

As a rule of thumb, you should never thaw and refreeze meat. This increases the chances of bacterial growth. However, there are some instances where it is safe to refreeze deli meat.

Here are some tips to help you decide whether or not you should refreeze your deli meat:

  • If you have thawed the deli meat in the fridge overnight, and it has not risen above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it should be fine to place the deli meat back into the freezer within one day. It is even better if there are still ice crystals present on the deli meat.
  • If the deli meat has been heated up at all, it should not be placed back into the freezer and should be eaten immediately. Only place deli meat into the freezer or fridge which has not been heated up previously.
  • You cannot rinse deli meat to rid it of bacteria. This actually increases the chance of bacterial growth, as the bacteria thrive off of fresh air and liquid. The best way to be rid of bacteria is to cook the deli meat above the boiling point, but it should then be consumed straight away.
  • Freezing deli meat, or any food does not kill off bacteria like heating it to the boiling point does. Freezing only causes the bacteria to become inactive, but the bacteria will ‘reactivate’ when the deli meat is thawed.
  • Never refreeze deli meat if it has been left in the fridge for longer than a day, or if it has been left out at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. If you are not planning on eating it straight away, place it in the fridge for 3 days, and if not eaten within this time, discard of the deli meat.

How to Tell If Deli Meat Is Bad

The last thing you want to do is take a bite of spoiled deli meat, and even worse, eat deli meat that has spoiled and become sick as a result.

There is no doubt that deli meat can go bad, even if it is kept in a vacuum-sealed package. Some meats do last longer than others, but you should always check for signs of spoiling.

You should first take a look at the appearance of the deli meat. If the surface has a slimy texture, it is a sign that it is about to go off. Most deli meats are brined, and the slime that appears when deli meat begins to spoil is the brine coming back to the surface.

In some cases, it is still fine to eat the deli meat at this point, but nobody wants to eat slimy food, and it is safer to just throw it away. Keep in mind that some deli meats may have a watery texture when thawed.

Another surface appearance you should look for is any signs of mold or any discoloration. Any deli meat displaying this should be thrown away immediately.

The next way to tell if deli meat has spoiled is to smell it. If the slices of deli meat smell stale or off, throw them away. Often, deli meat develops an off smell before the slime appears, so always be sure to have a whiff of the meat before eating it.

To further err on the side of caution, you should keep a close check on the expiry and sell-by date on the packaging. Use this as a guide to look for any off appearances or smells.

If you are unsure, it is best to just throw the deli meat away.

Related Questions

Does sliced corn beef freeze well?

Sliced corn beef freezes really well, whether it is frozen as a large piece or as individual slices. It is best used from frozen within 2-3 months, as this will allow it to retain some great taste and texture.

Freeze it wrapped in plastic wrap, or layered slices with wax paper between each slice, stored inside of a plastic freezer bag.

Can you get sick from old deli meat?

You most certainly can become ill from eating old deli meat, and the illnesses range from slight food poisoning to cases of listeriosis, which is a severe type of food poisoning.

It is always best to heat up your deli meat if possible, as this reduces the chance of foodborne illnesses. If you are unsure whether your deli meat has spoiled, it is best to just throw it away and buy a new pack.

Freezing Deli Meat

It is completely possible to freeze deli meat, and this gives you a great opportunity to have an abundance on hand for when you need a quick fix for sandwiches, pizzas or even pasta. Some deli meats freeze better than others, but it is possible to freeze just about any deli meat.

Remember to practice proper handling and storage to ensure that the deli meat you refrigerate or freeze is safe to consume when it is time to be eaten.

Keep a check on the expiry date, label the freezer packaging with dates of freezing, and look out for any signs of spoiling.

Up Next: The Best Freezer Bags For Meat

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