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How Long Can Deli Meat Be Left Out?

Posted in Food Safety on December 31, 2021

Most everyone has deli meats around the house, as they are convenient for making lunch or a quick snack. However, it is important to note that deli meat can only be left out at room temperature for two hours.

Why Is There a Two Hour Rule?

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends the “2-Hour Rule” for any perishables left out at room temperature. If the food is left out in temperatures of 90°F or higher, then only one hour. After this time, the food becomes unsafe to eat, and you risk food poisoning. Trace amounts of bacteria can be found on foods, such as staphylococcus aureus, salmonella enteritidis, E. coli, Campylobacter, clostridium perfringens, or Bacillus cereus. Bacteria will grow most rapidly between 40°F to 140°F, and deli meats are one of the foods most associated with staphylococcal food poisoning. Keeping deli meats refrigerated will not stop the growth of bacteria but will slow it down. The most common signs of food poisoning include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

If I Heat My Deli Meat After Leaving It Out, Will It Make It Safe?

Heating deli meat may not make it safe if it has been left sitting out at room temperature for longer than two hours. When food is left out too long, some bacteria, such as staphylococcus aureus (staph), can form heat-resistant toxins that cooking cannot destroy.

How to Tell if Deli Meat is Bad

If the surface of deli meat begins to feel slimy, it is about to go bad, so it is best to throw it away. If the deli meat is not brined and there is just extra water or juice from the meat in the package that is causing it to feel slimy, then it should still be okay to eat. If you spot any discoloration or signs of mold or parts that have turned hard, discard it. Discoloration typically starts at the edges, occurs in small patches, and may appear in yellow, brown, or grayish tones. It generally happens when the meat becomes oxidized and loses its protein. Other ways to tell if deli meat is bad includes:

The Smell

If there is an offensive smell, or it just smells off, it is safest to throw it away. Sometimes deli meat will start to smell off first before getting that slimy feeling.

Soft Spots

On hard deli meat, like salami, you may find soft spots, which means moisture or bacteria penetrated the meat.

If in doubt or if it is past the best-if-used-by date, throw it away. It is not worth the risk of food poisoning.

Deli Meat Shelf Life

Unopened Fridge Freezer
Past Printed Date Past Printed Date
Fresh Deli Meats 5-6 Days
Pre-packaged Deli Meats 7-10 Days 6-8 Months
Salami (hard) 3-4 Weeks 2-3 Months
Bologna 1-2 Weeks 2-3 Months
Opened Fridge Freezer
Fresh Deli Meats 5-6 Days
Packaged Lunch Meat 7-10 Days
Salami (hard) 2-3 Weeks 2-3 Months
Bologna 1-2 Weeks 1-2 Months
Pepperoni  2-3 Weeks 6-8 Months