National Cold Cuts Day and Food Safety

March 3rd is National Cold Cuts Day.  Cold cuts are also known as luncheon meat, cooked meat, cold meat and deli meat. Cold cuts can make an easy safe meal, by sandwich or similar entree, as long as you take certain food safety precautions. Use #NationalColdCutsDay to post on social media.

Groups More Vulnerable to Food Illness

Cold cuts like ham, turkey, salami and others can contain a dangerous bacteria called listeria. Even when refrigerated, the listeria in contaminated deli meats can multiply and grow. Each year, about 1,600 Americans get seriously ill from Listeria (Listeriosis) and 260 die from it.

The elderly, pregnant women, young children, and people with weakened immune systems are at particular risk of getting a serious infection called listeriosis if they eat their cold cuts without heating them first, warns the Centers for Disease Control.

Proper Cooking and Storage Times

Most pre-sliced cold cuts are higher in fat, nitrates, and sodium than those that are sliced to order. The CDC advises that those over 50 years of age – to reheat cold cuts to 165°F.

Likewise, the CDC advises proper storage times for safety:

  • Unopened, factory-sealed packages of deli meats should be stored in the refrigerator for no more than two weeks.
  • Open packages or meat sliced at the deli counter should be kept for no more than five days.
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 Listeria (Listeriosis)

The CDC estimates that Listeria is the third leading cause of death from foodborne illness, or food poisoning, in the United States. An estimated 1,600 people get sick from Listeria each year, and about 260 die.

Listeriosis can cause a variety of symptoms, depending on the person and the part of the body affected. Listeria can cause fever and diarrhea similar to other foodborne germs, but this type of Listeria infection is rarely diagnosed.

  • Pregnant women: Pregnant women typically experience only fever and other flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue and muscle aches. However, infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn.
  • People other than pregnant women: Symptoms can include headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions in addition to fever and muscle aches.

Ready to Eat Foods

Cold cuts belong in a class of foods named Ready to Eat (RTE) foods. Ready to eat foods can be refrigerated, shelf-stable, require minimal heating or are served hot.

Ready to eat foods have specific guidelines to ensure that there is no contamination or chance of bacteria forming after the foods have already been prepared. For cooked meats, they must be stored at temperatures considered safe to prevent bacteria from developing after cooking. Meat products need to be stored at 40°F or lower to them keep for safe consumption.

Temperature Danger Zone

The Temperature Danger Zone is the temperature range between 40°F and 140°F. At warm temperatures, bacteria that cause foodborne illness can begin to multiply. At temperatures of 90°F and above, bacteria multiply even more rapidly.

Food Prep Area & Hand Cleanliness Is Critical

Before preparing food, wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds. Countertops and cutting boards should washed as well; they can be sanitized with a bleach solution (one tablespoon liquid bleach to a gallon of water).

Sandwich Safety Key Concepts

  • Some sandwiches are ready-to-eat and receive no further heat/kill step. Eliminating bare hand contact is critical.
  • Pre-chilled ingredients are the key to temperature control during sandwich making.
  • Wash all fresh vegetables.
  • Avoid cross-contamination during sandwich assembly and storage.
  • Control for Listeria monocytogenes growth during the entire sandwich making process.
  • Follow use by and expiration dates on individual ingredients like luncheon meats.
  • Proper hot or cold holding temperatures are another critical step in the process.
  • All food contact surface and equipment must be cleaned and sanitized.
  • Proper labeling, especially ingredients statement regarding food allergens and lot identification and location are important.
  • Store and transport sandwiches safely.


Storage Life

The CDC stresses the importance of using precooked or ready-to-eat food as soon as you can. Do not store the product in the refrigerator beyond the use-by date. Follow USDA refrigerator storage time guidelines:

  • Luncheon and Deli Meat – Store factory-sealed, unopened package no longer than 2 weeks. Store opened packages and meat sliced at a local deli no longer than 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator.