Having deli chicken meat on hand is a great way to create a quick and easy, protein packed lunch, dinner or snack when cooking a whole chicken is out of the question. But how long does deli chicken last? Read on to find out the answer to this question and other tips for this popular type of lunch meat.
How Long Does Chicken Deli Meat Stay Fresh?
Chicken is one of the most popular sources of lean protein options. It acts as a blank canvas for herbs and seasonings and can be used in so many wonderful recipes. From Dutch Oven Chicken to Chicken Fajitas and Easy Chicken Wraps, you just can’t have too many recipes that use chicken. One unsung hero of the chicken world is chicken deli meat. Even though it’s already cooked, you can create so many tasty and quick meals using it as the protein source. From sandwiches to salads, it’s a great idea to have some on hand as long as you know how long it stays fresh and what the signs are that it may be past its prime shelf life.
The shelf life of lunch meat is based on a couple of things. First, is it pre-packaged deli meats like the kind you see hanging next to other cold cuts and hot dogs or is it freshly sliced meat from the deli department at the grocery store? The other factor is how you have stored it since buying it. Here are some general guidelines that should help you decide.
- For an unopened package of chicken sandwich meat that is still in the original package: You should first look at the expiration date on the label. For precaution, if the meat is past that date, it’s best to discard it. Most of the time, unopened pre-packaged deli meat stays fresh for up to a couple of weeks. Once you have opened it, the United States Department of Agriculture says that it should be safe to eat within 3-5 days of opening.
- Fresh deli meat behind the counter at the grocery store: Fresh meat that you have sliced has a shorter shelf life than pre-packaged. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because some brands of sandwich meat hanging on the shelves are loaded with preservatives.
- Deli meat stored at room temperature: If you’re serving party sandwiches that require them to be left out and exposed to air at room temperature, the best option is throw them out after a couple of hours.
What is Deli Chicken?
Deli chicken lunch meat is made by taking freshly cooked and seasoned chicken, deboning it and cutting into smaller chunks. From there, depending on the brand, the chicken is sliced, and vacuum sealed.
There are brands that grind the chicken up and then throw in a bunch of preservatives to extend the shelf life. To determine the type you’re buying, the shape of the slices of chicken should look like the shape of a chicken breast. If it’s being sold in a large log shape, then you will know the chicken has been minimally processed at the very least. That’s why it’s important to read the ingredients on the label.
Tips for Buying Healthy Deli Chicken Sandwich Meat
- Freshly cooked: If you’re fortunate enough to have a great meat market near you, then choosing shaved sliced pieces straight from freshly cooked chicken is always going to have the best quality
- Choose organic: Most grocery stores have a deli counter that sales different types of meat that are organic. Organic should mean the chickens were not given growth hormones or shot full of antibiotics.
- No Nitrates: Even if you can’t find organic luncheon meats or cold cuts, look for brands that do not contain nitrates. Though nitrates are found in a lot of things, even naturally occurring in some veggies, eating foods very often with ADDED nitrates can be harmful to your health.
- Check the seal: If buying pre-packaged sandwich meat, make sure you inspect the package for any breaks in the seal. The best brands will vacuum seal the packages removing access air.
How to Extend the Shelf Life of Deli Chicken Meat
Most prepackaged meat products come in a resealable bag. If you’re like me, I sometimes end up breaking the seal or it just never seals up tight enough. To make sure you’re protecting it the best you can, wrap the package with a double layer of plastic wrap or a layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil and place in the meat drawer in your fridge.
The absolute best way to extend the life of deli meat though is to buy just how much you know you will be eating in the next couple of days. But sometimes things happen, and meal plans change, or if there’s a great deli meat sell that’s too good to pass up, you can also freeze it to give it a longer shelf life.
How to Tell if Your Lunch Meat Has Gone Bad
- Expiration date: The very first step you should do is check the sell-by date that is on the package. Even though it may still be good for several days after this date, for safety purposes, it should be thrown out if its past that date.
- Odor: The first sign of bad deli meat is it will have a sour smell or a yeast like smell.
- Texture: When you open the package if you have slimy deli meat or if there is a film over the surface, that is a sign of spoilage. That slimy texture is a result of bacterial growth which makes the chicken or any type of meat unsafe for consumption.
- Color: The most obvious sign your deli meat has ruined is signs of mold or other discoloration of the meat. You should throw it away if you see a change in color because it’s no longer safe to eat.
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How to Freeze Chicken Breasts Deli Meat?
- Start by taking a smear proof marker and labeling a freezer bag with the date you bought the meat. Count 6 months from that date and write that date as the “Use By” date.
- Next, portion out the types of deli meat into the serving size you think you’ll need at one time. To help prevent freezer burn, dab off any extra moisture with a paper towel, then place it in the freezer bag. By freezing them in smaller portions, you won’t end up with extra you don’t need.
- Close up the bag and squeeze out as much air as you can. If you have a vacuum sealer, this is the perfect time to use it.
- Then just stick in the freezer and use it by the date you labeled on the bag. A tip for saving space is to freeze it lying flat. Then when it’s frozen solid, you can stack the packages or store them on their side to make room other things.
- When you’re ready for it, place the frozen lunch meat in the fridge overnight until the meat has thawed.
What are the Risks of Consuming Expired Chicken?
The main concern when eating expired perishable foods is food poisoning. If you’re on the fence whether the cold meats that you put on your sandwich at lunch were okay to eat, you should know within a few hours up to a day. Symptoms of food poisoning are nausea, stomach cramps. vomiting or diarrhea. If symptoms are severe or persist for longer than a day, you should consult your physician,
Creative Meal Ideas Using Deli Meat
- Chopped up and added to a breakfast casserole.
- Use deli chicken, ham or roast beef to make a protein packed quiche, frittata or omelets.
- You can use some in just about all pasta dishes like a cold pasta salad.
- Make chicken and cheese egg cups for quick bites on the go.
- Cream cheese and dill pickle chicken roll ups make a tasty appetizer.
- Add chopped up deli chicken to soups or stews.
- Adding deli meat to your favorite salad recipe is always a good idea.
How Much Deli Chicken Do I Need Per Person?
Finally, when thinking about ways to prevent your package of lunch meats from spoiling, consider how much you should buy at one time. If you’re feeding a crowd a platter of sandwiches, or just keeping some on hand for your family to make a quick lunch, you can figure on about 3 ounces of deli meat per hearty sandwich.