Is slimy lunch meat safe to eat? (Main risks)

In this brief guide, we will answer the question “Is slimy lunch meat safe to eat?”, and will discuss how lunch meat spoils and the shelf life of munch meat.

Is slimy lunch meat safe to eat?

No, slimy lunch meat isn’t safe to eat. Slime formation is an early indication of spoilage by bacterial contamination, often occurring before the product’s sell-by date. This can lead to food poisoning as lunch meats, including cold cuts, hot dogs, and pâtés, are well-documented sources of Listeria-related illnesses.

This is primarily because Listeria can easily proliferate within food items, on surfaces like deli slicers, and hands. Listeria is a resilient microorganism that can be challenging to eliminate once it has entered a deli or a food processing facility. It can thrive and reproduce in cold refrigerator temperatures. (1, 2)

What are the reasons for sliminess in lunch meat?

Slime and other spoilage signs like the development of off-odors and pigments have been attributed to microbial growth, these are the most frequent quality changes that may occur in lunch meat. Lactic acid bacteria are the major bacterial group associated with the spoilage of refrigerated vacuum-packed lunch meat.

Based on the product’s composition, processing techniques, and storage conditions, distinct microorganisms can dominate within their respective micro-ecosystems, resulting in particular issues or defects. (1, 3)

Why does lunch meat spoil?

Lunch meat is a favorable environment for microbial proliferation due to its rich content of glucose, proteins, amino acids, nucleotides, and lipids.

Consequently, the availability of nutrients is not a constraining factor for their growth. The factors that influence microbial growth and, consequently, the quality alterations in the lunch meat products are affected by the inherent attributes of the product such as pH, water activity, salt and nitrite levels, etc.

Storage conditions such as temperature, packaging atmosphere, and the initial microbial presence also have a great influence on the quality and shelf life of the product. (1, 3)

What are the risks of spoiled lunch meat?

Eating expire­d lunch meat can result in food poisoning. While most cases lead to gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, and vomiting, they can also cause additional symptoms that affect neurological or systemic functions.

The severity of these symptoms varies, ranging from no visible signs or mild discomfort that doesn’t require medical attention to severe cases necessitating hospitalization or even leading to fatalities.

Listeria infe­ctions, common in spoiled lunch meat, can cause muscle aches,mfeve­r, headache, stiff neck, tiredne­ss, loss of balance­, confusion, or even seizures.

It poses a particular risk to certain groups such as pregnant women, individuals aged 65 or older, and those with we­akened immune syste­ms. This heightened dange­r arises from Listeria’s ability to spread beyond the gastrointestinal tract and invade other parts of the body leading to a condition known as invasive listeriosis. (2, 4)

How to store lunch meat?

Before opening, packaged lunch meats can be safely stored in the re­frigerator 40°F (4°C). Lunch meat can be kept for up to two weeks. However, once a package is ope­ned or if you buy sliced lunch meats from a deli, it’s important to refrigerate the­m for three to five days only.

To ke­ep the meat fre­sh, maintaining your refrigerator at a tempe­rature of 40°F (4°C) or lower is essential. Additionally, for optimal quality, you have the option to free­ze these lunch meats for one to two months. It’s worth noting that frozen foods remain safe indefinitely when store­d at 0°F (-18°C). However, in warmer ambient conditions, signs of spoilage emerge within a shorter span of 3 to 5 days. (5)


In this brief guide, we answered the question “Is slimy lunch meat safe to eat?”, and discussed how lunch meat spoils and the shelf life of munch meat.

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BORCH, Elisabeth; KANT-MUERMANS, Marie-Louise; BLIXT, Ylva. Bacterial spoilage of meat and cured meat products. International journal of food microbiology, v. 33, n. 1, p. 103-120, 1996.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]. Listeria Outbreak Linked to Deli Meat and Cheese. 2023.


MOSCHOPOULOU, E. et al. Food quality changes during shelf life. In: Food quality and shelf life. Academic Press, 2019. p. 1-31.


C. Rius Gibert, Food Poisoning: Epidemiology, Encyclopedia of Food and Health, Academic Press, Pages 67-71, 2016.


U.S. Department of Agriculture. Website. Washington, DC. How long does lunch meat stay fresh? 2023.