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Aug 27, 2003 01:39 PM

Slimy Cold cuts

  • d

This seems like a stupid question, but ...

I don't tend to buy cold cuts much these days as I usually eat out for lunch. But lately I've been trying to scrounge for vacations and have gone back to packing my lunch. Why is it that every time I buy cold cuts (mostly ham and turkey), after they sit in the fridge for 4+ days they tend to get somewhat slimy? The meat does not smell funny and after rinsing it tastes fine, but the sliminess is not so appetizing. The brand does not seem to matter but it's generally only ham, turkey and chicken, the roast beef is fine. What is the shelf life of the average cold cut in the refrigerator? I keep them in the deli bags always and sometimes in tupperware too. Do they need to "sweat" or something?



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  1. I believe it's just the early stages of decomposition. I don't suppose it's likely to make you sick if it doesn't smell bad, but I toss them if there's visible slime. The link below recommends 3-4 days maximum storage for cold cuts.


    1. Real deli cold cuts (as opposed to packaged cold cuts such as Oscar Meyer) are one of those hyper-spoilable commodities. It ranks up there with:

      -ground meat of any kind
      -white, non-fatty fish (cod, halibut, etc)

      in it's nearly instantaneous spoiling potential. I never keep cold cuts in the refrigeratore more than 3 days. If I'm going to make sandwiches, I buy it that day, and then maybe use it the next day. Anything that isn't used that second day I try to whip into something (cut up sliced chicken and make into fried rice, cut up sliced corn beef and make into creamed corned beef or corned beef hash, etc) that will be eaten the next day. There's just no way around it -- so the trick is to buy only the amount you think you'll use.

      A couple of the Italian cold cuts may keep a little longer if they are wrapped very loosely and can breathe -- basically they dry out. These are dried-type anyway -- like air-dried Italian beef, prosciutto, etc. The wetter kinds (sliced turkey, chicken ,ham, etc) are just going to spoil no matter what.

      I'm famous at my local Italian deli for buying only an 1/8th of a pound of their fantastic imported corned beef. That's enough for one sandwich for me, and sometimes that's all I need!

      22 Replies
      1. re: Mrs. Smith

        Thanks. So basically they're not practical if I'm shooting to buy a lb and make sandwiches for two weeks, it's better to buy like a 1/4 lb at a time. Unfortunately, my closest grocer is not very convenient. Next time I fire up my smoker (currently located a friend's house) I might as well cook up a couple extra fryers - smoked meat tends to last longer.

        1. re: Dax

          Yes, that would probably be ideal. Uncovered, or covered loosely, in the refrigerator, I'll bet those smoked birds would last quite a while. I think it's probably best if you leave the birds as whole as possible, and refrigerate as soon as they've come to room temperature, but you probably know all that.

          Lucky you, with access to a smoker. I take it it's an outdoor kind? I'm interested to know what equipment you use.

          1. re: Mrs. Smith

            Just a brikmann offset. It is the outdoor kind.

            Didn't do a whole bird this weekend, but did 3 racks of ribs, 6 lbs of wings and about 50 jalapeno appetizers.

          2. re: Dax

            Have you tried putting some in the freezer? That way you could buy a pound and bag them in 1/4 pound packs.

            1. re: Barbara

              +1 on freezing.

              I'm not far from a fabulous ethnic grocery with great colds cuts and cheeses. But the crowds make it a pain to go to too frequently. So when I go, if I want cold cuts or cheeses I buy in bulk, then freeze in much smaller servings.

              This way I still get great prices and quality - but over a much longer period of time.

              (And fyi, tfor best results, thaw in the fridge for a day or two before needed.)

            2. re: Dax

              My dh made himself so sick from deli ham that he sandwiched up and took on a range project, every day for a whole week, unrefrigerated, I thought he was going to turn inside out at both ends. What folks are telling you is right on- don't try to make it last.

              1. re: Dax

                omg why do you eat slimy meats if u know its inhealthy #love me some meats

              2. re: Mrs. Smith

                WARNING: ONE WORD "86". If they are even the slightest "SLIMY", throw them out. Your playing "Russian Roulette", you may get away with "FOOD POISONING", some of the time, but no-one gets away all of the time. Belive me, that's a experience that you never want to have to go through. Anytime your suspicious of anything ediable it much smarter to be safe then sorry.

                1. re: Irwin Koval

                  4 days? Oh dear god- I'm slightly horrified/ slightly incredulous.

                  My mom always gave cold cuts a life of 10 days. And, especially during some leaner times in college, I've waited until the very last day to eat them, without incident too. I give em a week now, though I may have to rethink that...

                  Side note- As I understand it (and I'm certainly no authority) you really can't get sick from the decomposition of food. It has to do with a chemical process, I think. Bacteria and germs, however, are a different story. Hmmm... Is there a biologist in the house?

                  1. re: Kevin

                    I'm not a microbiologist, but decomposition of food *is* due to bacteria and germs.

                    That said, I often eat cold cuts 10 days after purchase. I've even eaten slimy stuff because that's the way it came out of the package and I assumed that's just how it was. It tasted fine as far as packaged cold cuts go. i.e. not good, but not spoiled. I've never purchased that brand again, though.

                    I don't obsess over cleanliness and germs and spoiled food because it's my opinion that we need to build up immunity by being exposed to small doses occasionally. I'm never sick, and the people around me who are sick most often are those who scrub their entire homes with germ killer and soak their vegetables in germ killer and throw out food the day before the date on the package. They never give their bodies a chance to develop immunity!

                    1. re: Sarnie

                      Finally, someone with the same opinion about germs and bacteria that I've held for years. I also think it's important to eat foods from different geographic areas to become exposed to a wider variety of mostly harmless micro-organisms.

                      1. re: Middydd

                        Count me in! Cleanliness is fine, but IMHO, obsessive cleanliness exposes one to greater danger outside the home. Cheers.

                        1. re: Phil

                          I'm serious when I mention RUSSIAN ROULETTE. I've been all over the world. Traveled every where and eaten everything. Many foods i'm sure you couldn't imagine. Fear Factor isn't even close. I always felt that my system was learning how to adapt to local, water, foods, etc. Well I was very lucky, never careless, mostly ate with natives who were familiar with the foods we ate, so we wouldn't have eaten anything suspect. It only took one occurance eating, as many of you indicate, slightly slimy cold cuts. I took one bit, spit it out and rinsed my mouth out with very strong tea. Two of my friends "POH PAHED ME", said it's only a little ripe, tastes great. Both were hospitalized for 3 days with food poisoning. They never suffered so much misery so quick in their lives. One said that having natural childbirth for her twins, or breaking her leg in two places didn't even come close to how they suffered. I still receive foods from all over the world to try, test and offer opinions on in conjunction with the USDA, but if they are suspect they are 86'd.

                          1. re: Irwin Koval

                            I don't care how sick they were, if they said it was more painful than natural childbirth, they were lying.

                            1. re: jessicaklonsky

                              Not necessarily.

                              I've had a partial intestinal blockage that was more painful than both my natural childbirths. Had both my children drug, epidoral (sp), free too. Maybe my deliveries were out of the ordinary, I don't know (but don't think so, considering one took 23 hours). But intestinal blockages would make you wish you were dead. I'd assume a severe case of food poisoning could feel just as bad.

                              1. re: jessicaklonsky

                                dont knock it unless youve tried it (nat childbirth, not food poisoning).

                                1. re: jen kalb

                                  I'm not knocking it, but it hurts. A lot. More than food poisoning. Sorry if I've started something NAF.

                                2. re: jessicaklonsky

                                  Yeah, stomach ailments are the most painful thing the human body can endure - if you thought childbirth was bad, pray you never suffer from colitis, appendicitis, diverticulitis, etc. Its pure hell.

                                3. re: Irwin Koval

                                  Fair enough, but like Middydd, I was talking generally, not specifically in relation to cold cuts. What's the old saying? We all have to eat a peck of dirt before we die.....

                            2. re: Sarnie

                              Decomposition of food isn't necessarily due to germs & bacteria, though it is primarily so. Certain enzymes in food, oxidation processes, and even radiation can cause food to spoil. See the link below...


                              1. re: Kevin

                                Thanks for the link, Keven. OF COURSE I knew about enzymes and such in theory, but hadn't really thought about the impact in practice. D'oh!

                              2. re: Sarnie

                                I agree. But you don't want to make a target for yourself, either, bacterially speaking.

                        2. As I mentioned, I keep deli cold cuts in the frig for 10 days or more with no sliminess. Two questions I'd ask if they spoiled in 4 days:

                          Am I buying from a store with a high deli meat turnover?

                          Is my refrigerator cold enough? I don't have a thermometer in mine, but my soft drinks are icy cold when I take 'em out. Oh, and third question, Do I store them in the refrigerator, not on the door? My milk used to go bad early when I kept it on the door. It must be quite a bit warmer there than in the refrigerator proper.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Sarnie

                            Yeah I question the 4 day thing too. You know they can sit 4 days in the supermarket just fine. I suspect exposure to air plays a part in it but not that soon.

                            1. re: pdxgastro

                              Not just exposure to air, its exposure to hands that introduces bacteria to things like deli meats and cheeses. IF at all possible simply touch the slices to be used (With just washed hands of course)... Do not touch even the wrapper or inside the bag. Never put things back inside original wrapper (as they will be contaminated). Try this: buy two bags of shredded cheese. Open both simultaneously. One of them you use by shaking some off the bag for using, the other: you insert your hand in it to "grab" some for using. Do not touch again for a week... See which one goes BAD the quickest? (This trick amazingly enough does not happen to walmart cheap brands... I suspect there is some strange ingredients in those cheap "Great Value" items, they last forever seemingly without going bad).

                          2. I consider deli sliced cold cuts a totally off limits food because of the risk of food poisoning. I never, ever buy them unless I'm desperate and it's a hard cured thing like prosciutto. Beyond that I stick to the factory packaged types only or buy an individually packaged cut of something and slice it myself at home. Think about how many times that big hunk of meat is handled and exposed to potentially germy hands and surfaces during it's life in the deli case. I knew someone who worked in a supermarket deli--the stories she told about the grazing and other unsanitary things that go on were absolutely disgusting.
                            OTOH, that "slime" could also be whatever the meat is injected/cured with oozing out.

                            1. Yes, the factor to consider is that as coldcuts go ham, turkey and to a lesser extent chicken are the ones which get injected with the most water. This will seep out, leading to a slimy jellylike coating which resembles aspic. Since the OP said the meat tasted fine after rinsing, I don't think contamination is a factor in this case.

                              I will also add that I agree entirely with the kayMP's no-handling recommendation. Once they are sliced and brought home, I don't eat coldcuts that are more then three days old. The only exceptions are cheese, dry salami and prosciutto, which were created (originally before refrigeration) specifically to last longer. And even with those I won't push it to more than a few extra days.

                              No matter how long things might be able to stay good uncut in the deli case, I don't recommend taking chances.