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Sometimes when I buy lunch meat cuts, from the supermarket, they quickly get slimy on the outside. Regardless of the date which is indicated by the sticker.

I perform taste, smell, and visual checks for discoloration, but the cuts of meat seem to pass all those criteria.

Is this a sign that it's about to expire? Also, why does it get slimy?

FYI: This happens on Dietz BBQ chicken, and this other chicken cut I get from Costco.

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I've wondered this as well. Many lunch meats seem to accumulate an unappealing white slime on them. It doesn't seem like decay. Perhaps fat melted out of them at room temperatures and re-solidified on the surface in the fridge? – Sobachatina Jun 20 '11 at 18:20
    
@Sobachatina something is amiss if your luncheon meats are coming to room temperature (or anywhere close). – derobert Oct 4 '12 at 21:46
    
Wahoo 10,000 views! Too bad just 7 upvotes :( – chrisjlee Apr 13 '15 at 16:26
up vote 8 down vote accepted

The rate of slime of a piece of food has to do with amount of surface area it has. At each point a food's surface is an entry point for bacteria. Since there is always bacteria on any cutting utensil or machine every cut piece of meat has been seeded with a bacteria culture. Although it might not kill you or make you visibly sick, the slime is coming from microbes which will stress your immune system that might be fighting other things instead. Unless it's Nato beans or oysters slime on food is no good. If the cold cuts are sliming quickly it might be because the grocer is not cleaning the machine properly or somebody's refrigeration is not cold enough, 5 to 10 degree f too warm.

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I'm a little skeptical: if the lunchmeat has been handled properly, there shouldn't be enough bacteria to produce slime before the sell-by date. – Jefromi Jun 10 at 18:17

These are slime forming bacteria and there could be many ways in which the meat is being contaminated, starting from your raw materials, to handling, cooking or cleaning.

There are several types of bacteria such as Leuconostoc. As these bacteria reproduce they give off a gas witch causes the packages to puff up, it will not hurt you but it does look bad. This usually happens at the 30 to 60 day mark

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I think it may often just be fat/protein slime. Unfortunately, that's going to be hard to distinguish safe fat/protein slime from bad bacterial slime, so this is probably yet another time where you'll have to use your best judgment.

If it's well before the sell-by date and has been handled properly, it shouldn't have dangerous spoilage. There should definitely not be enough bacteria to form noticeable slime at that point. The fact that this happens routinely (I've seen it to) adds additional confirmation that it's not just isolated badly-handled meat.

On the other hand, lunchmeat has often gone through some pretty substantial mechanical processing. It's also often compressed. That's going to break up the structure of the meat, and make it easier for fat and protein to get out once it's sliced. A thin layer of fat and protein on the surface will definitely feel like slime.

I don't have a source to confirm this is specifically what happens with lunchmeat, unfortunately. However, I've noticed slime more on smooth-surfaced lunchmeat that seems more processed, and less on meat with a more natural texture, so it seems quite plausible.

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I strongly believe the sliminess of otherwise healthful sliced luncheon meats results from water added during processing. The food processor/manufacturer endeavors to inject as much water in the product as possible ... because selling water to their customers adds to their bottom line, and quite nicely.

Here's some info, to consider when looking for sources of this type of slime:

  • Fat: 1 gram = 9 calories
  • Protein: 1 gram = 4 calories
  • Carbohydrates: 1 gram = 4 calories

Armed with the data above, you can start to interpret the label on the product. Here's a link to the label for the Dietz and Watson chicken:

Here's the ingredients from the linked page (as I write this, 10 June 2016):

Chicken Breast, Water, Honey, Contains Less Than 1.5% Salt, Isolated Soy Protein, Sugar, Nonfat Dry Milk, Sodium Phosphate, Potassium Chloride. Coated With Sugar, Tomato Powder, Paprika, Dextrose, Salt, Onion and Garlic Powder, Vinegar Solids, Maltodextrin, Spice Extractives, Grill Flavor (From Vegetable Oil), Modified Corn Starch, Corn Syrup Solids, Browned In Canola Oil.

Note that chicken breast (which in its natural and cooked state contains a significant proportion of water) makes up at least 50% of the product. Added water is the next ingredient, and most certainly comprises 45% or more of the product.

Getting back to the label, lets do some calculating. From the label, each 56-gram portion has approximately 3/4 gram of salt ... salt water is 'injected' (likely vacuum aspirated) into the chicken during processing.

This leaves 55.25 grams for the serving. (Italicized entries are running subtotals of the weight.)

From the label, each 55.25-gram serving has roughly 2.0 grams of fat, or 8 calories (2 grams * 9 cal/gram). Running calorie subtotal: 18.

This leaves 53.25 grams of the serving, which is comprised of carbohydrates, protein, and water.

From the label, each 53.25-gram serving has roughly 2.0 grams of carbohydrates (sugar), or 8 calories (2 grams * 4 cal/gram). Running calorie subtotal: 26.

This leaves 51.25 grams of the serving, which is comprised of protein and water.

From the label, each serving contains 12.0 grams of protein. Calories from carbohydrates equals 48 (12 * 4). , subtotal 76). Running calorie subtotal: 74. (This is close to the value on the label; authorized trickery ensures that the numbers from the components rarely exactly equals the number announced for the food product).

This leaves 39.25 grams of the serving, which is almost totally water ... a portion of which is integral to the meat (otherwise its texture would be jerky, or worse).

The label relates that at least 28 grams of the product is chicken; this 28 grams includes the water that is naturally integral to the meat.

Guessing here, but each serving of this sliced chicken breast is no less than 1/3 added water, which begins to 'shed' once the packaging is opened. (Some of the processors call this a broth, a marinade, or similar marketing term. It's added salt water. Period.) The 'manufacturers' of such foodstuffs introduce as much extra water into the product as they can ... because their profit is greater, the more water they sell the customer.

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You can get rid of the excess water fairly easy be placing the lunch meat between layers of paper towels, and microwaving for a short time.

Or buy better quality meat, than the prepackaged crap at the chain grocery stores. Hillshire Farms are the worst offenders with respect to slimy sliced luncheon meats. The Dietz and Watson freshly sliced meats (from the service deli/butcher counter) have less injected water than their sliced/packaged products.

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This is an impressive calculation. But it misses the point. First, water does not make things slimy. It makes them wet, and people generally distinguish between those in descriptions. Second, the OP clearly said that it happens "sometimes". The meat you describe always has the same water content. If it was the water, it would be always slimy. But the OP is describing a deviation from the usual surface texture. – rumtscho Jun 10 at 10:00
    
Do you honestly believe that out of a chicken breast, nearly half of the breast is added water? I don't believe that's physically possible to do and maintain a solid piece of meat. Where are you getting this data? – Catija Jun 10 at 17:31
    
If you look at the standard USDA nutrition facts for chicken breast and do the same calculations (assuming everything besides fat/protein/carbs is water), you'd conclude it was 65% water. In your calculations, you ended up with overall 71% water. That doesn't support your "most certainly comprises at 45% or more of the product" claim; it looks more like 6%. – Jefromi Jun 10 at 17:37
    
@rumtscho. I have noticed this same slimy feel with many brands of commercially packaged lunch meats. If you want to experience the sensation, do try one of the Hillshire Farms' sliced ham lunch meat products. These sliced lunch meats used to have much less water, and tasted better. A short session in the microwave, with plenty of paper towels to soak up the water, will help in a pinch. – Larry Jun 10 at 17:38
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I'm aware that it's processed, and that processed meat can be slimy. I'm not disputing that. I'm disputing, very specifically, your claim that "Added water...most certainly comprises at 45% or more of the product." Your calculation does provide an upper bound of 71% on the amount of water in this processed chicken, and repeating the same calculation on unprocessed chicken gives an upper bound of 65%. Given that this starts out with chicken, and isn't adding significant amounts of anything besides water, there's no way that it has 45% added water. – Jefromi Jun 10 at 18:10

If your lunch meat has white slime on it, throw it out! The white slime is Listeria, a bacteria that can be deadly, especially dangerous to pregnant women.

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I was able to find that listeria is indeed sometimes found on luncheon meats and is a risk particularly to pregnant women, infants, the elderly and the immune compromised. FDA on Listeria. I was not able to find any mention of listeria casing slime, white or otherwise. Could you provide a source? – Jolenealaska Oct 5 '14 at 3:26

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