How Do I Know if Lunch Meat Is Processed?


"Lunch meat," "deli meat,""cold cuts" or whatever you call the slices of meat that grace your sandwiches and party platters are a staple for quick meals or catered gatherings. This staple, however, is often made from pressed meats that have been processed and cured with chemical compounds and include added flavorings, water and sodium -- even sugar. Any type of lunch meat may be processed, whether you get it freshly sliced from the deli counter or pre-cut in vacuum-sealed packages.

Consider the Type

  • To find out if your lunch meat is processed, you may have to look no further than the front label. If a lunch meat is labeled "sausage," or doesn't resemble whole meat -- such as bologna or salami -- you can be pretty sure that it's been processed. "Today" reports that about 200 varieties of these sausage-type cold cuts are available in U.S. stores. Any type of meat may be used to create a sausage, including beef, pork, veal and poultry.

Consider Price

  • Whole cuts, which are usually an entire section of meat that has been roasted and sliced, tend to be more expensive than more processed versions. Some specialty stores roast meat on the premises and slice it for you. Mass-marketed whole cuts are not pieced and pressed together pieces of meat, but may still be injected with chemical preservatives and flavorings -- which qualifies them as processed. If you're picking up a package of lunch meat for $1 a package, however, you can be pretty sure it's highly processed.

Inspect the Ingredient List

  • The ingredient list is the best way to determine whether a lunch meat is processed. Even if the label says "whole" or "natural" and the price is hefty, do a further inspection of the label. Lunch meat that contains nitrates or nitrites, parts, broth, sodium and binders have likely been "restructured." Restructuring means that chunks and parts of meat were processed to bind together, shaped and cooked to create one unit in a perfectly round, oval or rectangular shape. Turkey rolls, ham and multi-part turkey breast are examples of such processed meat.

Make Your Own

  • If you are adamant about avoiding processed lunch meat, you're best off skipping the deli counter altogether. By preparing your own roast beef or turkey breast, you can be sure of the ingredients. Coat the meat with spices, herbs, salt and pepper before roasting for an hour or longer at 300 degrees Fahrenheit. After roasting, cool the meat completely and slice to the thickness of your liking. Unlike processed lunch meats which contain preservatives to extend the shelf life, this meat only lasts three to four days in the refrigerator.

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