How Long Does Chicken Deli Meat Last and How to Tell if Bad


How Long Does Deli Chicken Last 

Today we will take an in-depth look at how long deli chicken lasts. It is important to point out that there are different types of deli meat, some of which are good for longer amounts of time than others which may have a short shelf life. Knowing the best way to store luncheon meats is extremely important so that you don’t run the risk of the cold cuts growing unwanted bacteria.  

meat plate

Most grocery stores sell different types of meat from their deli counter lunchmeat section. There are several different types of deli chicken and different ways it can be stored.  

Let’s start by looking at the average shelf life for a package of lunchmeats, then we will explore all of the different types of deli meat that this short shelf life applies to.  

Shelf Life of Lunchmeat 

The short answer for the shelf life of deli meat is that a package of chicken deli meat will typically last between 3-5 days once it is opened, if it is stored properly, sealed in an air-tight container, in the refrigerator at 40°F or below.  

An unopened lunchmeat package that comes sealed from the grocery store may have a few more days of storage time. These lunchmeat products, because they are likely to contain more preservatives, and don’t usually come as sliced fresh meat, will likely last longer, usually between 7-10 days, or sometimes even two weeks, when stored unopened in the fridge.  

Once opened, this type of deli chicken should also be used within 3-5 days after opening.  

The United States Department of Agriculture also backs this up, stating that “packaged lunchmeats can be stored in the refrigerator for two weeks before opening. After opening a package of lunchmeats or buying sliced lunch meats at a deli, you can refrigerate them for three to five days.” (USDA)

How Long Does Deli Chicken Last? 

Here’s the short answer: 

Fresh from the deli counter chicken deli meat lasts 3-5 days when stored in an air-tight container in the fridge at 40°F or below. 

Unopened pre-packaged deli meat will last up to two weeks in the fridge when they are sealed, after opening, it should be used within 3-5 days.  

Types of Deli Meat 

There are several different types of chicken deli meat that you can buy from the grocery store, so let’s look at some of these different types of lunchmeat.  

rolled meat

Deli Counter Lunchmeat 

This is a type of fresh deli meat that you can buy freshly sliced from your grocery store’s deli counter. They will have large packages of meat you can select from, and they will cut it into slices at your request.  

This type of chicken deli meat is very fresh, and will usually last for shorter amounts of time, so you should plan to use it quickly. This type of lunchmeat is ideal as sandwich meat, but usually only lasts 3-5 days at the most in the fridge.  

Pre-Packaged Meat 

There are a lot of different types of pre-packaged deli meats. These are usually the kinds of lunchmeat that come sealed securely in a package, and often have a longer shelf life because the meat contains some kind of preservative.  

The packaged variety of deli chicken could come in chicken slices, or lunchmeat-type sliced chicken. 

Prepackaged deli chicken usually will last between 7 to 10 days when stored at 40°F or less in the fridge. Sometimes the unopened package of lunchmeat may even last up to two weeks. However, once the packaged lunchmeat is opened, it should be used within 3 to 5 days. 

sandwich with ham

Other Types of Meat 

In addition to deli fresh lunchmeat, and prepackaged lunchmeat, there are other types of deli chicken as well. Let’s look at some other types of meat. 

Whole Chicken. You can often find a whole chicken in the deli meat as well. A whole chicken can come in different forms, whether it is cooked, partially cooked, or raw.  

Rotisserie Chicken. A rotisserie chicken in the deli meat section is another delicious option. Rotisserie chicken can be found in the fresh food section often of your grocery store.  

This chicken is completely cooked, and ready to enjoy. A rotisserie chicken can be stored for later, as long as it is stored in an airtight container in the fridge at 40°F or below. Usually, a rotisserie chicken last between three and five days in the fridge.  

Sliced Meat. Sliced meat is another type of deli meat that can be found at your grocery store. Often this comes from the deli counter, or as prepackaged meat. The sliced meat is a pre-cooked product. 

Chicken Breasts. Chicken breast can sometimes be found in the deli section of your grocery store. Often the chicken breasts are completely cooked and ready to eat. This type of chicken will last between three and five days when stored in an airtight container in the fridge. 

Raw Chicken. Raw chicken is another type of chicken altogether. The general rule of thumb for raw chicken is that it will last between three and four days when stored in an airtight container in the fridge.  

However, it is best when used as quickly as possible. To learn more, check out how long can thawed chicken stay in the fridge.

Storage of Deli Chicken  

There are three main ways that you can store deli chicken. Let’s look at each way, and how long chicken will last with each storage method. 

At Room Temperature. No matter what type of deli chicken we’re looking at, the general rule of thumb is that cold meats should be kept at room temperature for no more than two hours when the room temperature is 40°F to 90°F.  

However, if the room temperature is 90°F or above, the deli chicken is considered safe for one hour or less. After that, you run the risk of the chicken growing unwanted bacteria, and possibly making you very sick and giving you food poisoning. 

In the Fridge. The best storage method for your perishable foods such as deli chicken is to keep them in the fridge. Deli chicken should be sealed in an air-tight container, or plastic storage bag, and placed in the fridge for up to 3 to 5 days. 

In the Freezer. For a longer shelf life, cold meats such as deli chicken can also be frozen. To freeze the deli chicken, you can place it into an airtight container, or seal it in a plastic freezer bag. Then label and date the container and place it into the freezer for up to two months.  

lunch meat tray

How to Store Deli Chicken 

Now that you know how long deli chicken lasts at room temperature, in the fridge, and in the freezer, let’s look at different ways you can store the deli chicken. 

Airtight Container 

One of the best ways to store a deli chicken, no matter if it’s in the fridge, or freezer is inside an airtight container.  

Airtight containers such as airtight plastic containers often work best especially if they are going in the freezer, so the glass does not break when they expand and contract.  

Before freezing the deli chicken, if there is extra moisture on it, you may want to use a paper towel, to gently dab it before placing the deli chicken into the container and storing it.  

We also recommend that you use a piece of tape to write the description and date on the container so that you can keep track of how long it has been in storage. 

Freezer Bag 

Another great way to store deli chicken is in a plastic freezer bag. This works well because you can seal it securely with very little air exposure. Plus, you can write a description and date on the plastic freezer bag.  

You can use a plastic bag whether you are storing the deli chicken in the fridge, or in the freezer. 

In the Original Package 

Another great way to store deli chicken that comes pre-packaged is in its original packaging.  

This will help it last longer in the fridge, or you can even store it in the freezer like that if desired. Just keep in mind once the package is open, it will need to be used quickly. 

lunch meat

Plastic Wrap 

Another way you can store deli chicken is wrapped securely in plastic wrap. This is often a less desirable option, but it can be used if necessary.  

One word of caution if you choose to use this method to store your deli chicken, is to make sure that the chicken is securely wrapped so that it does not have any air exposure. 

Aluminum Foil 

Another option, which is usually less desirable but can be done, is to wrap the deli chicken in aluminum foil. This is another option, which is not always the best choice, but it can help in a pinch. 

What is the Best Way to Store Deli Chicken? 

There are many different ways to store deli chicken, what is the best way? A general guideline is to store it in a way that prevents as much air as possible from getting to the deli chicken.  

If you have a way to vacuum seal it, this will help keep it fresh longer. Other great ways include storing the deli chicken in a plastic freezer bag, or plastic storage bag.  

Another great option is to use an airtight storage container. What works best for you will depend upon your specific preferences, and what you have on hand. 

Safe Ways to Thaw Frozen Deli Chicken 

If you decide to freeze your deli chicken, knowing how to safely thaw frozen deli chicken is important.  

You don’t want to simply set the frozen chicken on the counter and forget about it. Instead, there are a couple of different options you can use. Let’s look at them below.  

In the Fridge 

One of the best and easiest ways to thaw frozen deli chicken is in the fridge. You simply move the frozen deli chicken from the freezer, and place it into the fridge, usually overnight, or for a day, so that it has plenty of time to thaw out. This is a great way to thaw the deli chicken so that it stays safe to eat. 

In Cold Water 

Another great way to thaw frozen deli chicken is in cold water. However, because we’re talking about lunchmeat here, we don’t want to simply set the cold water on the countertop and let the chicken thaw.  

Instead, we want to place a bowl of cold water, with the deli chicken in the bowl of water, in the fridge. Let the deli meat sit in the cold water for a few hours in the fridge, until it thaws.  

It is key that the bowl of cold water with the deli meat stays in the fridge so that it does not run the risk of causing food poisoning. But, thawing frozen deli meat in the fridge in a bowl of cold water will be faster than simply setting it in the fridge. 

picnic sandwich

Bad Deli Meat 

How do you tell when your deli chicken has gone bad, and what is the big deal about storing deli chicken properly? It is very important to know how long deli chicken will last, and the different storage methods that are appropriate for this deli meat.  

When deli meat is not stored properly, you run the risk of unwanted bacterial growth taking place on the food, and it causes food-borne illnesses. 

Foodborne illness usually takes place when proper food safety is not practiced, and perishable food sits at unsafe temperatures, known as the danger zone, for too long, and can result in food poisoning. 

Food poisoning can range from not being a very big deal, to being extremely serious, or even life-threatening. One of the most common results of food poisoning is stomach cramps, which can range from not very bad, to extremely bad. This is why it’s important to practice proper food safety, and know how long, and the best way to store deli meat so that it is safe to eat. 

Let’s look at what specific signs you should be aware of to determine if your deli meat is still safe to eat, or if it has gone bad and should be thrown away. 

Common Signs of Spoilage 

Expiration Date 

To start off, you’ll want to check out the package of lunchmeat, even if it is an unopened package, to see what the sell-by date says. Especially if you are looking at prepackaged lunch meat, there should be a printed date on the packaging. If the expiration date has passed, this is one of the first signs you can look for, to see if your deli meat has gone bad. 

Sour Smell 

Next, you can give the deli chicken a smell test, to see if there is an off smell, or if the meat smells bad in general. If there is a sour smell present in the deli chicken, this is another sign that the deli meat is probably spoiled and should be thrown away. 

Slimy Texture 

Another sign that the deli chicken has spoiled, is in the texture of the meat. When meat is spoiled, there will be a slimy texture coating the meat. If you see this, then the meat has likely gone bad. 


You can also examine the color of the deli chicken. If there is any sign of gray, green, or sometimes blue coloring, this is all a sign that the deli chicken has gone bad and should be thrown away. 

Freezer Burn 

For frozen deli chicken, you can also look for freezer burn. If there is freezer burn present on frozen deli chicken, then it will likely not be any good to eat. 

If one or more of these common signs of spoilage is present with your deli chicken, even if it has not been the full three or five days, do not risk eating the deli chicken, as it has likely spoiled, and could cause you to get food poisoning. Don’t risk eating bad deli meat, throw it away. 

valentine deli sandwich being held by hands

Deli Chicken Meat 

The bottom line to how long does deli chicken last is usually between three and five days when stored properly in an airtight container in the fridge.  

There are a few types of deli chicken that may last longer, such as prepackaged chicken, as long as the package remains unopened.  

Now that you know how long deli chicken lasts, it’s important to practice food safety so that you stay healthy. 

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Faith Has been cooking and baking for many years! she loves to share her recipes with the world, and hopes you will enjoy them too!

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