Deli Lunch Meat vs. Prepackaged Lunch Meats

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Choose either deli or prepackaged lunch meat on the basis of many factors.
Choose either deli or prepackaged lunch meat on the basis of many factors. (Image: Hemera Technologies/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Let the buyer beware when deciding between deli lunch meat and a prepackaged one. Deli lunch meats are seemingly fresh or at least freshly sliced. Prepackaged lunch meats are sealed and fresh until opened, but this may be at the cost of added preservatives. The issues necessary to decide which specific lunch meat is the best for you are verified by facts including what is printed on the label as well as what you observe with your own eyes.

Deli Lunch Meat Cleanliness and Sanitation

Multiple personnel handle deli lunch meat from the moment it is removed from its original packaging. A contaminated knife used to open the packaging introduces bacteria into the meat. Lunch meat is handled multiple times because it is displayed in a cold display case and is removed from the cold temperature when an order is placed. It is unwrapped and placed on the slicer where every slice is touched. Wearing gloves cross-contaminates meat if the gloves are not replaced every time a different piece of meat is handled. The slicer – unless it is disassembled, cleaned and sanitized every time it is used – has residue from the lunch meat previously sliced that may be contaminated. The possibility for bacterial contamination and cross-contamination is high from the moment the package of lunch meat is opened.

Prepackaged Lunch Meat Cleanliness and Sanitation

Prepackaged lunchmeats are manufactured under the guidance and supervision of the United States Department of Agriculture, the same as deli lunch meats. Once packaged in food-safe containers, these lunch meats are sealed until the consumer opens them at home and the sanitation chain is then broken. Once opened, the lunch meat is less susceptible to bacteria when it is removed from the original container and placed in an airtight resealable bag.

Deli Lunch Meat Shelf Life and Quality

Deli lunch meats arrive at the store in large pieces weighing up to at least 12 lbs. This meat generally has a very long shelf life while it remains in the original packaging. When these packages are opened, the shelf life shown on the package is null and void. The lunch meat is handled many times further eroding the shelf life. Less expensive deli meat is made from many different muscles from many animals and is held together by extracting its protein and using it to bind the muscles together. It is injected with water at the time of manufacture, and a solution of modified food starch, salt, carrageenan and other food derivatives are added to retain the excess water. As the shelf life erodes, these additives cannot retain the water and the meat becomes slick and watery.

Prepackaged Lunch Meat Shelf Life and Quality

Prepackaged lunch meats have a shorter shelf life in their original container than do deli lunch meats in their original container. The difference lies in the fact that the deli lunch meat is opened to slice it for multiple customers, compromising its shelf life dramatically. Deli sliced lunch meats should be eaten within one to three days after purchase. The additional preservatives in prepackaged lunch meats extend their shelf life after opened to three to five days. Using single-serve portion packages is even better because all of the lunch meat is consumed at one time without exposure to temperature changes or further handling.

Nutritional Comparison of Deli Lunch Meat vs. Prepackaged Lunch Meats

There are far too many manufacturers, brand names, varieties and options for both deli lunch meat and prepackaged lunch meat to make generalizations regarding nutritional content. Many manufacturers produce the same product for use for deli lunch meat and for prepackaged lunch meat. The options for nitrate- and nitrite-free meats, fat-free, organic, light and salt-free as well as others are available in deli sliced and prepackaged lunch meats. The best option for the consumer is to request and read the nutritional labels of fresh sliced deli meats and read the product nutritional declaration on prepackaged meats.

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