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Can You Freeze Deli Meat?

Diane Westphal
Last Updated on
by Diane Westphal

Most home chefs are fine with the idea of freezing seafood, chicken breasts, and other raw meat. When it comes to lunch meats, however, many people ask themselves: can you freeze deli meat?

Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to freeze deli meat to extend its shelf life. Read on to find out everything you need to know about how to safely freeze deli meat so that it comes out of your freezer delicious and ready to use.

Can You Freeze Lunch Meat?

Deli meat
Deli Meat

If you find yourself with extra cold cuts that are about to spoil, you may be asking, “Can you freeze lunch meat?”

Fortunately, it’s easy to freeze lunch meat for later use. With proper packaging and preparation, it keeps for much longer in the freezer than it does in the fridge.

Also known as lunch meat, sandwich meat, or cold cuts, you can freeze just about any deli meat that you buy at the supermarket. Just remember that meats such as turkey, chicken, ham, and roast beef tend to lose water when frozen. They may be slick when you take them out of the freezer, especially if it’s been a few months.

Cured meats such as salami, sausage, and bologna tend to hold up better in the freezer than other deli counter meats. They have a higher salt content and a lower water content, so not as much moisture escapes during the freezing process.

How To Freeze Deli Meat

Freezing deli meat isn’t difficult, though it does require a little bit of prep work. Here, we’re going to give you step-by-step instructions on how to freeze deli meat, from whole cuts to counter slices.

Many people choose to buy pre-sliced lunch meats from the deli counter. If you freeze sliced meat all together, however, it can be difficult to thaw as needed. Instead, take steps to ensure that meat can be easily separated after storage:

  1. Peel off each individual slice and pat dry with a paper towel to remove excess moisture.
  2. Layer under each slice with pieces of parchment paper, wax paper, or even aluminum foil.
  3. Place in an airtight and freezer-safe container or plastic bag and store in the freezer.

If you prefer to save by slicing your own deli meats at home, you probably opt for large hunks of roast turkey, ham, or other meats at the store. This type of lunch meat is also easy to store in your freezer:

  1. Pat the meat as dry as possible around the exterior.
  2. Cover in several layers of tight plastic wrap.
  3. Place in an airtight freezer bag or container, then pop in the freezer.

Pre-packaged lunch meats from the grocery store are perhaps the easiest to freeze, provided you leave the packaging sealed. You can throw it directly in the back of your freezer and let it sit for a few hours. If you want extra protection against freezer burn, it’s a good idea to wrap that packaging in another layer, such as a shopping bag or aluminum foil. Try to squeeze out as much air as possible. Not only will this help to save space, but it allows frozen meats to maintain a more even temperature.

Always make sure to label any bags or containers with frozen deli meat inside. Make sure that the label includes both the contents and the date frozen. This way, you can be confident that the meat you defrost is safe to eat. Labeling also makes it easier to clear out your freezer when it comes time to clean.

How Long Will Deli Meat Last In The Fridge/Freezer?

Frozen Raw Meat On Table

In the fridge, a package of open deli meat will only last a matter of days. Within around 48 to 72 hours, you’ll likely notice a shiny, greasy film appear on the surface of each cut. There may also be a sour or rotting smell.

Unopened packages can last slightly longer in the fridge. Regular deli meats can last for up to two weeks when sealed, while cured meats last for as long as two months. As soon as you open the package, however, the countdown starts. Germs from your hands, the air, and around your kitchen can quickly get into opened meat and cause spoilage.

Lunchmeat lasts much longer when kept in your freezer. It’s best to store it towards the back of the compartment. This way, you won’t change the surrounding temperature each time you open the door. This will keep deli meats and other frozen goods safe for longer.

Deli meat that’s properly wrapped can last for one to two months in the freezer. Like in the fridge, unopened packages will last longer than those you pack yourself. With an airtight seal, meats such as turkey and ham are more likely to stay good a full two months after freezing.

Thanks to their low water content, cured meats store even longer in the freezer. You can keep packaged lunch meats such as sausage, pepperoni, bologna, and more for as long as three months if properly packaged.

Frozen deli meats, especially those that remain sealed, may technically be safe to eat even after the two to three-month mark. However, even if they don’t lead to food poisoning, you may find that the texture and flavor have deteriorated. It’s best to throw out frozen deli meats that have passed their unofficial due-by date.

How To Tell If Your Frozen Deli Meat is Bad

It’s easy to tell whether frozen deli meat is bad by feeling the surface. While defrosted deli meat may be a little bit wet, it should never feel slimy to the touch. Always avoid defrosted meat that has a slick, oily residue on the top. You may also notice a slight smell of vinegar or ammonia, indicating that your meat is rotten.

Always throw away any meat you suspect has spoiled immediately. Accidentally eating a slice could lead to severe food poisoning. If you suspect that you’ve eaten spoiled meat, make sure to rest, stay hydrated, and watch out for common signs of food poisoning.

This includes symptoms such as high fever, nausea, and vomiting. Symptoms can appear anywhere from hours to days after eating spoiled food. Serious cases with frequent vomiting, diarrhea, or intense abdominal pain may require a visit to your local emergency room.

What To Do With Frozen Deli Meat

When you want to use your deli meat, simply move it to the fridge overnight to safely defrost it. If you’re pressed for time, you can speed up the defrosting process by placing sealed meat in a bowl of cool water. It’s easiest to use deli meats with individually packaged slices, as you can control exactly how much you defrost at once.

It’s best to use frozen deli meat as soon as possible after thawing. This is when it will taste its freshest. If the surface feels wet, simply pat dry with a paper towel. You should eat all thawed deli meat within three to four days of defrosting it to ensure it doesn’t spoil.

You can use frozen deli meat much in the same way you would fresh meat, especially if it maintains its texture and flavor throughout freezing. Thawed deli meats go well on sandwiches or as a pizza topping. You can even snack on whole slices if you’re feeling peckish.

Often, however, lunch meats lose some of their taste when frozen. As water escapes, it can also cause dryness and affect consistency. If your thawed meat isn’t looking its freshest, you can still make good use of it by cooking it into other dishes.

Frozen deli meat makes a great addition to casseroles and pasta dishes, adding a little bit of extra flavor and color. You can also add chopped deli meat to dishes such as scrambled eggs and omeletts, quesadillas, soups, and salads.

Adding deli meat to a dish does more than just elevate the taste. Most cold cuts are rich in protein as well as essential nutrients like zinc, iron, and B vitamins. Just remember that deli meat also tends to be high in sodium since salt is often used as a preservative. If you follow a low sodium diet, you should be careful about how much prepackaged meat you add to your meals.

In Conclusion

With such a short shelf life, it’s easy to accidentally let deli meats spoil in the fridge. They can go bad just a few days after purchase, which is why many people ask the question: can you freeze deli meat?

With the right preparation, you can freeze deli meat for months at a time. It’s easy to thaw for use, and there are plenty of delicious ways to enjoy frozen deli meat for any meal. You won’t have to worry as much about wasting food or money as long as you know how to safely freeze your deli meats.

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About Diane Westphal
Diane Westphal
Diane lives with her husband and 2 children on a small ranch in Southern California, where she's able to grow a good portion of the food that she prepares for her family in a variety of kitchen creations.Diane has been formally trained and has spent stints in multiple noted restaurants in her region and currently consults with commercial catering businesses. She enjoys writing about food as much as she engages in making her creations.
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