How long is lunch meat safe to eat?

Sometimes we just need a quick bite, and what's faster than stacking a couple slices of deli meat and a few of your favorite toppings between two slices of bread? Though it might not be the healthiest in terms of meal choices, lunch meat sure does serve its purpose. The downside is that once you open up that package, it can feel like a race against time to use it or lose it. Just how long can lunch meat sit in the refrigerator before it's no longer safe to eat?

Today says it's not always best to rely on the sell-by date, but to wave goodbye to your packaged lunch meat three to five days after opening — unless you're ready to say hello to food poisoning. And if you purchased your cold cuts fresh from the deli counter? You've only got three days, max. There is no budging when it comes to that time frame. Even if your lunch meat is still holding strong in appearance, listeria can still grow in the refrigerator

If you're wondering how many days of lunch meat enjoyment you have left with an open package, The Kitchn offers up a few ways you can use your senses to judge. If your lunch meat starts taking on any pale gray, brown, or yellowish hue, day three may be it for you. These are not the colors of a ready-to-eat lunch meat. Don't confuse your hues though. Some lunch meat is known to take on an iridescent rainbow color that's a result of light bouncing back at us through the meat's muscle fibers. This is called diffraction, and happens when meat is cut and its fibers are exposed (via Foodbeast). So, if you're seeing the type of rainbow a leprechaun would consider lucky, you're good to go. Otherwise, find the nearest garbage can.

Expired lunch meat also starts to take on a sour, vinegar-like smell. Aside from color and smell, another way to test out your lunch meat is to pick it up. Spoiled lunch meat will most likely slip right through your hands. It'll be sticky and slimy.

It can be hard to justify your love for lunch meat if you can't get through it before it's time to throw it away. Luckily, Taste of Home has a way to help preserve the meat you won't be able to eat in three to five days — simply freeze it. Frozen lunch meat can be stored in the freezer for up to two months. All you have to do is lay individual meat slices on wax paper and then wrap them in a plastic bag. To preserve the flavor and texture, make sure to squeeze all the air out before putting it in the freezer.

The next time you open your fridge, you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing you'll never eat a bad slice of lunch meat again. Unless, of course, it's outside of the safe zone. Then you're probably just breathing in a whole lot of that vinegar smell.