12 Deli Meat Brands With Low-Quality Ingredients

Not all deli meats or deli meat brands are created equally, which is why you need to know which ones may be using low-quality ingredients. When faced with a wall of endless lunch meats, knowing which to skip or scrutinize more closely can help with the decision process. Luckily, we've pored through the ingredients for you to create a list of brands that have products with lower-quality ingredients.

When referring to low-quality ingredients, we're talking about the types of ingredients you wouldn't see in a product labeled "all natural." Rather than preserving their deli meats with ingredients like vinegar, salt, sugar, and celery juice, the companies on our list often use chemical preservatives that could have some unwanted side effects, especially if you eat a lot of lunch meats.

You might notice some companies on our list have a reputation for being a premium brand. Some may even have an uncured or natural product line (we mention if they do). However, the proof is on the label. Even if the deli meat brand is well-loved, the company has high-quality meats, and it has some natural products, it's a bad idea to skip label-reading if you have concerns about chemicals that could be in your lunch meats. Granted, not all chemicals belong on a naughty list, but we've pointed out ingredients that may be of greater concern to individuals interested in their health. So, keep this list of deli meat brands in mind next time you're out shopping for cold cuts.

1. Bar-S

Since Bar-S has been around since 1981, you've likely seen its hot dogs and deli meat products on your grocery store shelves for years. The "S" in Bar-S stands for Seattle, where the company originated. The most common deli meat item we've seen from this brand in grocery stores is bologna. It has classic, chicken, turkey, garlic, and beef bologna available. However, it also has a variety of hams, including chopped ham, smoked ham, and honey ham, including classic, deli-shaved, and deli-style cuts. While some of its packaging says that it has no artificial flavors, artificial colors, or MSG, the company still doesn't necessarily use the best ingredients for your health.

It's not too surprising that the brand's bologna has some questionable ingredients. Sodium phosphates help cure meat, but they may have negative and even deadly health effects. They're especially hard on people with kidney disease or cardiovascular disease. While sodium erythorbate can preserve and help prevent some carcinogens from forming in meat, it can also bring on kidney stones and gout symptoms. You will also find sodium nitrite, which preserves meats but may come with health concerns like cancer risks.

It's not just the company's bologna that has low-quality ingredients. Its regular deli meats have many of the same ingredients as its bologna, like sodium phosphates and sodium erythorbate. 

2. Boar's Head

Boar's Head is a family-owned brand that started in 1905 in the New York City area and has a reputation for high-quality products. However, it's worth giving its labels a closer look because you might find some ingredients in some products that you're not expecting. Its all natural line of products has no antibiotics and no added nitrates, nitrites, or hormones; and its uncured products contain no added nitrates or nitrites. However, not every product is all-natural, and not every deli meat item comes without nitrates or nitrites. So, just because you see impressive claims and ingredients on one Boar's Head package doesn't mean it's a universal trait.

Its cured sausage products, for example, have ingredients you should be aware of. The hard salami contains sodium nitrite, which we previously mentioned as being bad. Like a lot of cured sausages, it also contains BHA and BHT as preservatives. BHA is a suspected carcinogen, and it may disrupt hormones and the reproductive system. BHT is also thought to be a hormone disruptor and may have negative or toxic effects on your organs.

Even some of Boar's Head's regular deli meats have some ingredients that may be cause for pause. For example, its smoked ham with natural juices contains sodium phosphate, sodium erythorbate, and sodium nitrite, which we mentioned previously as having possible negative side effects. So, even though the juices might be natural, not all of the ingredients are.

3. Buddig

Buddig is another family company that is well-known for its deli meat. The company is now in its fourth generation of family ownership. So, your family might have been buying Buddig long before you were born. Buddig Original includes flavors like beef, chicken, and ham. However, it also has a Premium Deli selection with flavors like Black Forest ham, oven roasted turkey breast, and rotisserie flavored chicken breast. While many of the packages say that they contain natural juices, they're still riddled with other unnatural, low-quality ingredients.

Some ingredients you'll notice in the Original lineup of deli meats include some normal offenders, like sodium phosphate, sodium erythorbate, and sodium nitrite. Carrageenan is a food preservative that also makes an appearance on the ingredient lists for some products. While carrageenan comes from red seaweed, it's a controversial ingredient because it may cause health problems ranging from inflammation and gastrointestinal damage to cancer. While it's still FDA-approved, there have been petitions to ban it altogether or to have food labels include warnings when they use it.

The Premium Deli labels claim that they have no artificial flavors or MSG. However, it's artificial preservatives that are usually the most concerning in deli meats. So, you'll still find low-quality ingredients within this lineup, too. For example, Buddig Premium Deli smoked ham contains carrageenan, sodium phosphate, sodium erythorbate, and sodium nitrite.

4. Dietz & Watson

Dietz & Watson is another brand you may be surprised to see on this list. This family-owned company has been around since 1939 and prides itself on using hand-mixed spices and cooking rather than processing its meats. While it offers premium meats, not every ingredient is one you may want to put in your body on a regular basis. So, pay attention to the ingredients before buying. Unless it's an uncured product, it probably has preservatives you might want to avoid.

Even among the Dietz & Watson deli meats you'll find behind the deli counter waiting to be hand-sliced, you might get ingredients you're not expecting. For example, oven classic turkey breast contains sodium phosphate, which we've already established as a baddie of the preservative world. You'll find even more unsavory preservatives in some of its pre-sliced deli meats and cured meats like sausages. For example, Legacy smoked maple ham not only contains sodium phosphate but also other previously mentioned bad stuff, like sodium erythorbate and sodium nitrite.

If you look at Dietz & Watson's cured sausages, there are even more problematic ingredients. The brand's hard salami not only contains sodium nitrite, but it also contains BHA and BHT. So, it's a lower-quality meat than some of the company's other items when it comes to the relative safety of its ingredients.

5. Eckrich

Eckrich has a long history that started in Indiana in 1894 when Peter Eckrich opened a meat market to sell the types of sausages he grew up eating in Germany. Eckrich's meats were an option in grocery stores across the country by 1932. Now, it's owned by Smithfield. Eckrich sells the type of meat that you buy at the deli counter freshly sliced and lots of sliced sausages (like old fashioned loaf and olive loaf) as well as traditional lunch meats. However, it's not just Eckrich's sliced cured sausages that contain preservatives; the company's more traditional lunch meats do, too.

Eckrich's regular lunch meats contain preservatives you'd expect from a company not trying to go natural. As an example, its cooked ham contains sodium erythorbate, sodium nitrite, and sodium phosphate. You'll find the same type of preservatives in Eckrich deli meats that you can get sliced fresh behind the deli counter, like Cajun style turkey breast.

If you take a look at the packaging for Eckrich sausage products, you'll find plenty of preservatives there, too. For example, Eckrich thick bologna (yes, bologna is a sausage) contains both sodium nitrite and sodium phosphate. Meanwhile, its cotto salami contains sodium erythorbate and sodium nitrite. It also contains sodium tripolyphosphate, which we haven't mentioned yet. Sodium tripolyphosphate helps improve the salami's texture and flavor, but it's also used as a pesticide and a degreaser. Consuming a lot of it may have neurotoxic effects or lead to headaches or vomiting.

6. Farmer John

Farmer John is one of several deli meat companies under the umbrella of Smithfield. However, Farmer John launched in 1931 when two Irish-American brothers started selling cured and smoked meats to grocery stores under the name Clougherty Brothers Packing Company. It changed its name to Farmer John in 1953, and Smithfield bought the label in 2017. Today, Farmer John sells only three types of lunch meat: Braunschweiger, classic premium cooked ham, and lower sodium premium cooked ham. Unfortunately, they all have ingredients you may not want in your deli meat.

No matter which product you buy in the Farmer John line of deli meats, you shouldn't expect non-natural preservatives. All of the company's deli meats — whether ham or Braunschweiger — contain a lot of the ingredients we've found other companies using, too. Specifically, the products all contain sodium phosphates, sodium erythorbate, and sodium nitrite. If these ingredients are concerning to you, you'll want to choose a different brand.

7. John Morrell

John Morrell is another Smithfield brand that contains some lower-quality preservatives and ingredients. Smithfield has owned John Morrell since 1995. However, the company has been around since 1827, so it's certainly doing something right. It's another brand that sells only a few products. It has an Off the Bone lineup that includes roasted turkey breast, smoked ham, honey ham, and golden smoked turkey breast. There are also a few cured sausage deli meats, including Braunschweiger, cotto salami, and bologna.

You can see an example of the types of ingredients that John Morrell's Off The Bone lineup uses by taking a look at its oven roasted turkey breast. It contains some of the usual suspects, like sodium phosphates, sodium erythorbate, and sodium nitrite. Plus, it has cultured corn syrup solids, which have a high glycemic index.

John Morrell's sausage products have some of the same ingredients as you'll find in its Off the Bone lineup. You'll notice that the cotto salami contains sodium erythorbate and sodium nitrite. The bologna has both of those ingredients, plus sodium phosphates.

8. Land O'Frost

Like so many of the other deli meat companies on our list, Land O'Frost has been around for a while. Customers have been buying its food since Antoon Van Eekeren started the company in Chicago in 1941. It offers slices of premium meat, DeliShaved meat, DeliShaved On the Go!, and Bistro Favorites. Its products include different flavors of pre-sliced ham, turkey, chicken, beef, salami, and Canadian bacon. While its Bistro Favorites have only high-quality ingredients and are 100% natural, all its other products have ingredients that may be less than desirable.

You'll find many of the same questionable ingredients in cured Land O'Frost products as you'll find in the other brands on our list. A quick peek at the label for Black Forest ham shows typical preservatives like sodium erythorbate, sodium phosphates, and sodium nitrite. While the packaging for Black Forest Canadian bacon boasts that it has no byproducts or artificial flavors and contains natural juices, it has all the same preservatives as the previously mentioned Black Forest ham, plus corn syrup solids.

If you have allergies, you may also be surprised to learn that some Land O'Frost products also contain soy products. So, don't forget to check the label for ingredients like hydrolyzed soy protein and isolated soy protein if soy is a concern for you.

9. Oscar Mayer

Bavarian-born Oscar F. Mayer opened his first shop, Oscar F. Mayer & Bro., in 1883. Oscar Mayer is a brand you can't miss in the U.S. It sells just about every type of cold cut you can imagine. While you probably never assumed that a meat company that owns a Wienermobile is out peddling super healthy food, you may not have taken a close look at what ingredients show up in Oscar Mayer lunch meats. If you're not getting meat from the company's natural line of products, you're likely to find ingredients that are on the unhealthy side. So, not all its products are created equally.

You'll see a lot of the same ingredients, like sodium phosphates and nitrites, in Oscar Mayer deli meats that a lot of other companies use. However, there are a few other chemicals that pop up in the ingredients that may have you thinking twice. For example, Oscar Mayer chopped ham also contains sodium benzoate. Sodium benzoate is concerning because of the chemical's possibility of converting into a carcinogen called benzene when exposed to heat and light as well as when stored over a long time. It also may put consumers at risk for a variety of ailments including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Some of Oscar Mayer's products like its Deli Fresh oven roasted turkey breast also contain carrageenan, which we mentioned previously as being potentially bad for you.

10. Primo Taglio

Safeway introduced its premium cold cut and cheese line, Primo Taglio, in 2000. At the time, Primo Taglio's claim to fame was having fewer preservatives and fat than the other products in the deli case. With other companies now offering healthier all-natural cold cuts, Primo Taglio doesn't always come out on top anymore. You can buy it packaged and pre-cut or ask a deli attendant to slice as much as you want from a larger piece of meat. Products include a variety of flavors of turkey, ham, salame, prosciutto, beef, and chicken deli meat products. While you'll see information on the package saying that it doesn't have MSG or fillers and that it contains natural juices, this brand still uses plenty of preservatives. 

Once you take a look at the chemicals on the package, you'll realize that the preservatives are nowhere near natural. Some less-than-desirable ones that you'll see on products like hickory smoked ham Off the Bone include sodium phosphates, sodium erythorbate, and sodium nitrite. Its Italian dry salame contains both sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate, which in high levels has been linked to heart disease and other ailments. Even the oven roasted turkey contains sodium phosphate. So, while this brand might have once been a better choice ingredient-wise decades ago, it hasn't kept up with that status.

11. Sara Lee

Sara Lee started out as a bakery chain in 1948 and expanded into lunch meats in the early 2000s. The expansion made perfect sense since cold cuts are fairly common for putting between bread slices. The company sells several varieties of chicken, turkey, and ham, all freshly sliced by your local deli attendant. However, just because you're getting your deli meat freshly sliced in front of your eyes doesn't mean that it's healthier.

If you are able to peek through the deli counter glass to see the ingredients list on the packaging, you'll notice several of the same chemicals we've been calling out from the other brands. So, look out for ingredients like sodium phosphates and sodium nitrite, which are found in its Mesquite smoked turkey breast. In addition to these two chemicals, the honey ham contains sodium erythorbate. With no natural versions of the brand's products yet, you can expect to find some of these chemicals in all of Sara Lee's deli meat products.

12. Smithfield

Smithfield is another deli meat brand that uses low-quality ingredients as preservatives. The company got its start in Smithfield, Virginia, in 1936. Smithfield owns a lot of smaller deli meat brands we've already mentioned, like Eckrich, Farmer John, and John Morrell. However, it also has its own line of cold cuts under the Prime Fresh Delicatessen label. Offerings include pepperoni, ham, turkey, and salami. None claim to be preserved naturally although they mention being packed in natural juices. So, you can expect to find some ingredients that may make you hesitate when it comes to making a purchase.

The ingredients you'll find in its cured deli meats like Prime Fresh smoked ham are the same ones that a lot of other companies use: sodium phosphates, sodium erythorbate, and sodium nitrite. However, if you're looking at its sausage-based cold cuts like Prime Fresh hard salami, you'll notice sodium nitrite, BHA, and BHT among the ingredients. So, take note and make your decisions accordingly.