Can You Freeze Lunch Meat? And How Long Is Its Shelf Life?
- Lunch meat is a delicious and versatile food item that is found in every household in one form or another. May it be the main star in a sandwich, or diced and added to your favorite salad, or served in thin slices with cheese, lunch meat truly elevates every dish? So, it’s no wonder that it is one of the most popular items in grocery stores.
- The amazing taste and versatility of use combined with the fact that it isn’t cheap might tempt you to make use of a good sale and stock up on your lunch meat. But where will you store it? Even prepackaged lunch meat has a short shelf life in a refrigerator. So, the real question is, can you freeze lunch meat? And if so, how long can you freeze it for?
We’ve put together some interesting facts and ideas here that will help you answer these questions.
Types of Lunch Meat
Before jumping into the answers, let’s first clarify what qualifies as lunch meat. Essentially, any type of meat that has been cooked or processed in any way is called a lunch meat.
Other names for lunch meat include cold cuts, cold meats, luncheon meats, deli meats, and more. There are many varieties of meat available in the market, but generally, lunch meat can be divided into three broad categories:
Freshly Cooked Lunch Meat
As the name suggests, freshly cooked lunch meat is one that has been cooked or baked that very day. Usually, grocery stores or delis cook different types of lunch meat every day and put them up for sale.
These meats sometimes have a lot of spices and flavors. This is usually when the meat is prepared in the form of a specific dish like roast beef. You can also get freshly cooked lunch meat that has been only slightly cooked or baked and seasoned with just salt (like baked chicken or baked turkey).
Semi-Processed Lunch Meat
This is the kind of lunch meat that goes through some processing and usually needs to be cooked before eating. The meat is first scraped from bones, ground, and emulsified. Then it is loaded with preservatives, additives, and flavors before being placed in a mold (usually cylindrical) and cooked in a smoke house.
After being cooked for several hours they are either packaged as one whole slab of meat or cut into slices. Turkey, chicken, bologna are good examples of this type of lunch meat.
Fully Processed Lunch Meat
This final kind of lunch meat goes through all the motions of being cooked and processed so that it is packaged as ready to be consumed right out of the box. Some varieties need to be heated slightly (hot dogs, liver sausages) before eating but others don’t.
Fully processed meat is also scraped, ground, emulsified, fermented with preservatives and sugar, and placed in a mold. After this, the meat is either aged for a long time by moving it to a dripping room (like Salami) or it is fully cooked or smoked and then packaged (like Kielbasa and Mortadella).
Fully processed lunch meat has many varieties where some are actually a mixture of many types of meat like chicken, ham, and veal.
Freezing Lunch Meat
The method you use for freezing lunch meat is the same for all kinds but there are some differences in logistics. Here is the process you can use to freeze all kinds of lunch meats:
- Start by refrigerating lunch meat. As a rule, you should never freeze anything that is hot or even warm. This is because the rapid temperature change doesn’t just slow the cooling process but it also ruins the taste of the meat. So make sure that the meat is cool before you move it to the freezer. This step needs to be followed for all kinds of lunch meat.
- The next step is storing the meat in air locking containers or freezer bags. You shouldn’t do this when the meat is still warm or hot because that way you will lock all the moisture inside the container and that will promote bacteria and change the taste of the meat. So once the meat is cooled enough in the refrigerator you can take it out and pack it in one of these containers. Remove all the air by either pushing the bags gently before sealing them or using a sealing machine. For prepackaged meat, remove the meat from the package and store in a new one for freezing.
- Now you are all set to move your containers or bags into the freezer. Make sure to place them in the cooler parts of your freezer to ensure even cooling.
A good tip is to make small packs of meat so that you can control the amount of meat you want to thaw at one time. To thaw the meat, place it in the refrigerator and remove only when the meat is completely thawed. You can then get rid of all the excess water and use the meat however you like.
Lunch Meat Shelf Life
Now that you have frozen lunch meat, it is important to know just how long you can keep it that way. Here is an interesting chart describing lunch meat shelf life. In our experience, a freshly cooked meal that has been vacuum sealed can stay fresh up to 6-7 days in the refrigerator and up to 3 months in the freezer.
Prepackaged meat can be easily refrigerated for up to 10 days, if frozen properly, it can last almost 8 months. Generally, lunch meats with a high-fat content like pepperoni, bologna, and salami have greater shelf lives than others.
Lunch meats are a special treat and can be enjoyed in a number of different ways. To make sure you don’t waste any leftover lunch meat, freezing it is a very good idea. Just by being a little smart about your freezing process, you can store lunch meat for up to a year and enjoy it whenever you like.
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