Out of all the cold cuts at the grocery store deli counter, chicken is one of the most versatile proteins. You can throw it on a sandwich or cut it up to throw in a salad for a quick lunch. Use thick cuts for dinner or dice it with eggs for breakfast.
But to plan out your meal prep for the week, you need to factor in its rather short shelf life. How long until you have to toss out this packaged lunch meat? How many days of storage time?
Keep reading for everything you need to know about how long you have until the danger zone, common signs of spoilage, and the best way to store it so it lasts longer. After all, nothing is sadder than craving that sliced meat you bought and finding it inedible.
Don’t go hungry! Plan ahead. Here’s what you need to know…
Is It Better to Buy Deli Meat or Prepackaged?
One of the main advantages of buying deli meat is its freshness. Deli meat is usually sliced right in front of you, so you know it hasn’t been sitting on a shelf for too long. In addition, deli meat is usually made with higher quality ingredients, without any added preservatives or fillers. However, it can be more expensive than prepackaged meat.
On the other hand, prepackaged meat can be a convenient and cost-effective option. Prepackaged meat is easy to find in most grocery stores and can be bought in bulk, which can save you money in the long run. In addition, prepackaged meat has a longer shelf life than deli meat, so you can stock up without worrying about it going bad.
However, prepackaged meat can also have its downsides. For one, it often contains preservatives and other additives to keep it fresh, which can affect the taste and quality of the meat. In addition, prepackaged meat is often sliced very thin, which can make it difficult to use for certain sandwiches or recipes.
So, which option is better? It really depends on your personal preferences and priorities. If you value freshness and quality over convenience and cost, deli meat may be the way to go. But if you’re looking for a more affordable and convenient option, prepackaged meat might be a better fit.
How Long Does Deli Chicken Last in the Fridge?
Deli chicken lasts 3-5 days in the fridge. It should be consumed in that time frame for the best quality. Any longer than that, you should look carefully for signs of spoilage before consuming. (Scroll down a bit to learn the signs.)
To make deli meat last longer, you can put it in the freezer right away and thaw it as needed. I’ll tell you about freezing deli chicken in a minute, but let’s compare its shelf life to prepackaged chicken really quickly…
How Long Does Prepackaged Deli Chicken Last?
If you bought a premade package of lunch meats, it’s best to eat it within 3-5 days of opening it for the first time. It can last longer, depending on the preservatives in it, but you’ll need to look for signs of spoilage.
Keep in mind it’s always best to check the expiration date on the packaging and follow the storage and consumption guidelines provided by the manufacturer.
How to Tell If Deli Chicken Is Bad
Okay, the dreaded Day 3 has hit. How do you know if the deli chicken is still good or should be tossed? You can use 3 of your 5 senses to tell. Here are some things to look out for in bad deli meat…
- Discolored Appearance: Turning gray, green, or yellow? Yeah. Throwing it away is a good idea.
- Off Smell: Take a whiff of the deli meat. Spoiled chicken deli meat may have a strong, foul odor or sour smell.
- Slimy Texture: Check the texture of the deli meat. If you have yourself some slimy deli meat, or it’s tacky to the touch, it may be spoiled.
If you notice any of these signs, it’s best to play it safe. Throw the chicken deli meat away. Saying “it’s probably fine” is a great way to get a foodborne illness. No thanks!
How Do You Keep Cut Deli Meat Fresh Longer?
I get it – 3-5 days is quite a range. It makes a difference of half a week’s lunch versus a full week! You want it to last as long as possible. Here’s how you make deli meat last longer…
- Store in the refrigerator ASAP: Nothing says pathogenic bacteria like leaving fresh meat out too long. Keep it in the original packaging or transfer it to an airtight container to prevent it from drying out or picking up any odors from other food in the refrigerator.
- Keep it cold: Deli meat should be maintained at a temperature range of 40 degrees F or below to prevent bacterial growth.
- Check the expiration printed date (if available): Always check the sell-by date on the original package before purchasing. You don’t want to get home and find that it expires tomorrow!
Can I Freeze Deli Chicken and When Should I?
Yes, if you want your deli meat to last longer, your best option is to freeze it! It extends the deli meat’s freshness for several months. Just be sure to freeze it correctly…
When freezing your chicken deli meat, it’s best to do it as soon as possible after purchasing it to ensure maximum freshness. This rule applies to all food, including bagels – you freeze the food when it’s at peak quality.
If you freeze the meat on days 3-5, you’re risking freezing meat that has already started to spoil.
Tips for Freezing Deli Chicken
- Take the deli meat out of its original packaging and put it in an airtight freezer-safe bag or container.
- Label the container or freezer bag with the freezing date so you can track how long it’s been frozen. Its quality will start to wane after about 4 months.
- Keep it at a constant temperature of 0°F or below. This helps to prevent freezer burn and ensures the deli meat maintains its quality.
- When it’s time to thaw the deli meat, it’s best to transfer it to the fridge and allow it to thaw slowly over several hours or overnight. Avoid thawing at room temperature or in the microwave, as this can increase the risk of bacterial growth and compromise the meat’s quality.
Can You Eat Deli Meat after 7 Days?
It’s not recommended you eat fresh deli meat after 7 days. The same goes for prepackaged, vacuum-sealed deli meat once you open it. It’s always best to eat deli meat within 3-5 days of being opened or by its expiration date, whichever comes first.
Keep in mind harmful bacteria, such as Listeria monocytogenes, can cause serious illness through food poisoning, particularly in pregnant women, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.
The bottom line is, it’s better to err on the side of caution when it comes to deli meat. If you’re not sure how long your deli meat has been in the refrigerator or whether it’s still safe to eat, it’s best to play it safe and dispose of it.
How Is Deli Chicken Made?
Take one look at one of these roasts in the deli display case and you can tell deli meat is not the same as rotisserie chicken. Unopened pre-packaged deli meat is about the size of a football – far larger than a chicken’s torso.
This means it’s not just one pure whole chicken – it’s processed, with preservatives and additives. And for a good reason. So long as it stays in an unopened package, perishable foods like this can last a whole lot longer (and give stores more of a grace period to sell it).
This prepackaged variety, sometimes with flavors like buffalo or mesquite, are cold meats but certainly not raw meat. It’s a pre-cooked product because you can slice off a piece and eat it safely right then and there.
So how’s the “sausage made” to increase its shelf life beyond a couple of days?
Here’s the short answer. The first step is finely chopping chicken into smaller portions. Then the meat is seasoned and formed into a symmetrical shape using a mould.
Ingredients of Chicken Deli Meat
Chicken deli meat ingredients can vary depending on the brand and type. However, most are made with similar, basic ingredients, including chicken, cold water, and a variety of seasonings:
- Salt: used for flavor and as a preservative.
- Spices: such as black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika, which add flavor and depth to the chicken.
- Sugar: used in some chicken deli meats to balance out the savory flavor of the spices and to add a slightly sweet taste.
- Sodium phosphate: a common additive that helps the meat retain moisture and prevents it from drying out.
- Carrageenan: a natural thickener that helps bind the meat together and improve texture.
- Sodium erythorbate: a preservative that helps keep the meat fresh by preventing oxidation and discoloration.
There are others, too. All are difficult to pronounce that have their own scientific purpose in increasing the shelf life of lunch meat, such as fillers or artificial preservatives.
SAFETY TIP: Avoid deli meat that contains sodium nitrate. It’s used to maintain its appetizing color but has an increased risk for cancer. You can ask the person at the deli which meats are nitrate-free. Citric acid can be used to protect the meat’s color too and is not much risk to your health.
Deli Chicken vs. Other Types of Deli Meat
Compared to other types of deli meat, deli chicken is generally considered to be a healthier option, as it is lower in fat and calories than some other types of meat. It’s also a good source of protein, making it a popular choice for people who are trying to eat a healthier diet.
One thing to keep in mind is that deli chicken, like other deli meats, can be high in sodium. Asking for the low-sodium version luckily doesn’t sacrifice flavor.
Rest assured that no matter the type of deli meat, including ham and roast beef, they also last around 3-5 days. So it’s not like you’re being strategic as far as shelf life by going with different meat products.
Is Deli Chicken Healthy?
Many brands offer a variety of products boasting their own nutritional profile. Some upper-tier brands offer a range of options free from artificial preservatives, fillers, and gluten. Spend a little more for a great choice for those with specific dietary restrictions.
To give you an idea, here’s the nutritional breakdown for a top-tier deli brand for a 2 oz serving:
- 50 calories
- 1.5 grams of fat
- 1 gram of carbohydrates
- 0 grams of fiber
- 0 grams of sugar
- 10 grams of protein
- 390 milligrams of sodium
There you go – now you can safely enjoy your tasty chicken deli meat!
For best quality, always remember to check the expiration date before buying, and store in the fridge as soon as possible so it lasts those 3-5 days. The key to longer shelf life is proper storage! If you don’t plan on eating it right away, you can always freeze it!
If you’re unsure about it still being safe to eat, use your senses. Look for any signs of discoloration, smell for any off odors, and feel for any sliminess or stickiness.
My general guideline is if I’m approaching that three-day mark and still have a lot left, I eat more the next day or two! Or make some sandwiches for your colleagues.