Deciphering Deli Meats

by in Food Safety, Grocery Shopping, November 17, 2011
deli salami
What should you look for, and how much should you buy?

Not all foods at the deli are created equal. Check out some healthier and safer options to order up next time you’re at the counter.

Be In The Know
Not all deli “meats” are straight from the cow (so to speak). Here’s the breakdown on where all the deli goodies come from.

  • Whole cuts: A part of the meat or poultry is cooked and sometimes flavored with spices, sugar or salt. It’s then sliced and sold by the pound. These cuts tend to be pricier.
  • Sections and formed meat products: Parts of meats or poultry are “glued” together to create a single, larger piece (like cooked ham). These are typically cheaper than whole cuts.
  • Processed meat (or sausages): These include liverwurst, bologna, knockwurst, salami and other such products. The meat can come from pork, poultry, beef, mutton and veal. Byproducts like heart, kidney, liver, lips and pork stomach are often tossed into the mix.

Buyer Beware
Deli meats have been linked to bacteria called listeria. About 85 percent of those diagnosed with listeria monocytogenes (the illness caused by the bacteria listeria) have been traced back to deli meat or cold cuts. This illness affects the very young and very old. It can also cause pregnant women to have a miscarriage in the third trimester. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) advises folks to reheat deli meats to 165 degrees Fahrenheit in order to destroy any listeria that may be lurking. They also suggest discarding open packages of deli meat after 5 days. If the deli meat was freshly sliced at the counter, then keep it for no more than 3 days from purchase.

Moderate Additives
Sodium nitrite is added to most deli meats to help add color and flavor and to prevent the growth of bacteria. During processing this chemical is converted into cancer-causing nitrosamines, which has been linked to cancer of the mouth, bladder, esophagus, stomach and brain. The addition of vitamin A and vitamin E to these products can help prevent the formation of the cancer-causing nitrosamines. So check the label before purchasing. Nitrite-free products are also available, but be warned that they won’t be as bright and shiny in color (those nitrites really make deli meats look good!).

Choose Wisely
If you’re in the mood for deli fare, choose leaner meats like turkey, chicken breast, and lean cuts of roast beef or ham. Low-sodium options are often available, so be sure to ask. Order enough so that it can only last for a few days– remember, you don’t want to store deli meat longer than 3 days. This will keep both food safety and your waistline under control.

Check out some other smart choices at the deli counter.

TELL US: What do you order at the deli counter?

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Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby’s full bio »

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Comments (1,449)

  1. haipham says:

    i think people should website
    http://www.myhealth911.com/2011/09/meat/
    imformation good

    thank admin

  2. [...] Healthier Alternative: Learn how to choose the best deli meats [...]

  3. [...] Healthier Alternative: Learn how to choose the best deli meats [...]

  4. our2kids says:

    A nice informative article. There is no such thing as healthy deli meat, of course. Here's a little additional info about nitrates, which the author mentioned. The so-called "natural" lunchmeats that do not contain nitrates have some form of seaweed or celery extract which result in the same chemicals. Although they begin as healthy foods, the highly processed extract is missing vitamins A and E which originally worked with the small amounts of nitrates that developed during digestion. Furthermore, the highly concentrated extract adds nitrates in a more uncontrolled amount, often resulting in more nitrates than the less "natural" products. Want to know more? Check out Consumer Reports' measurements of nitrates in lunchmeats — both so-called "natural" as well as typical brands. Google how nitrates are formed and their effects in the body. Look up the studies that show that giving your child a hot dog once a week can increase his/her risk of cancer greatly. Then research the seaweed and celery alternatives to discover this ruse for yourself. The only truly safe alternative is to roast your own meats, slice thin, and freeze. Roast beef and turkey work especially well.

  5. [...] Healthier Alternative: Learn how to choose the best deli meats [...]

  6. [...] Deciphering Deli Meats [...]

  7. [...] Meats You’ll find lots of sodium and preservatives like nitrates in hot dogs, sausages and deli meats – many of these meats are also filled with fat. Choose low-sodium and nitrate-free varieties when [...]

  8. [...] MeatsYou’ll find lots of sodium and preservatives like nitrates in hot dogs, sausages and deli meats – many of these meats are also filled with fat. Choose low-sodium and nitrate-free varieties when [...]

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