Millions of pounds of food are wasted each year due to spoilage, costing each American hundreds of dollars. Proper storing and handling of food is key to preventing this. However, eating spoiled food will not only make you feel ill, it can kill you. Lunchmeat is one of those foods that have the risk of causing some major health issues, since the potential for contamination can come from multiple sources. In order to avoid eating spoiled lunchmeat, we need to be aware of how you can tell if your lunchmeat has gone bad.

Causes of Food Spoilage

Food spoilage comes from many sources. Exposing food to air and oxygen can speed up spoilage. Oxygen deteriorates the cellular makeup of food while acting as fuel for bacteria and increasing the action of oxidizing enzymes. Air also contains moisture, which creates conditions that encourage microorganisms to thrive. While microbes are used to process food, when they are allowed to run rampant and multiply they can cause illness and death in those who eat them. Exposure to light breaks down certain ingredients in food, causing them to go bad. Temperature plays its part as well, since temperature changes can affect the chemical reactions in food and the growth of microbes. Temperature change can also change the amount of moisture in a food.

Lunchmeat Storage

Lunch meats are purchased in two ways; either prepackaged or fresh sliced in the deli. Even if it is the same meat, it needs to be handles differently depending on how it is purchased. Unopened, prepackaged lunchmeat will stay good for up to two weeks or their expiration date if kept in the refrigerator between 35 and 38 degrees–the optimal temperature range for a refrigerator. Deli sliced meats or prepackaged meats that have been opened and exposed to air and light need to be eaten in three to five days. Lunchmeat can always be frozen in small batches for up to two months and thawed if you cannot eat it all right away.

Signs of Lunchmeat Spoilage

The best way to detect if your lunchmeat has spoiled, besides using a microscope, is to use your senses. Examine the lunchmeat using sight, smell and feel. Lunchmeat that is spoiled will have a slimy film on it or has changed color, adopting a grayish or yellowish hue to it. It may also have a funny smell, slightly sour or sharp that is not in line with its usual odor. If your lunchmeat has been in the fridge for more than five days, or displays these signs, it’s better to be safe than sorry. As they say, if in doubt, throw it out. A trip to the hospital costs a lot more than a few ounces of lunchmeat.