Why Does Ham Get Slimy? (What Causes Slime on Lunch Meat?)

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There’s nothing worse than taking the risk and eating gone off meat. It can lead to a number of health issues such as food poisoning, diarrhea and nausea.

Therefore, when a slimy film develops on the top of your sliced ham in the fridge, it’s important to be careful and not take any unnecessary risks.

But, what does this slime mean, and is it safe to eat your lunch meat when it’s coated in the substance?

Whether you’ve bought lunch meat ham at the store or smoked and sliced your own at home, this guide will answer both questions. We take a look at what causes the slime on ham and the best ways to tell if your lunch meat has gone off.

What Is the Slime Found On Meat?

The slime you find on your ham is a by-product of living in a world where processed foods are all the range. Most deli-style meats are typically made using pork, beef, chicken or turkey as the foundation for the end product, as well as some added ingredients.

These additional ingredients are also known as a value-added product and can often be responsible for the slime on your lunch meat. The most common added ingredients are known in the food industry as additives or flavors.

These will usually be added to the blocks of meat that your cold cuts of ham are sliced from. The belief is that these additives help to make the meat more commercially appealing, in terms of appearance, taste and texture.

Listed below are 4 examples of additives, both natural and artificial, that can be commonly used in lunch meats.

  • Carrageenan – a natural ingredient that comes from red seaweed, this is used as a thickener and gelling agent.
  • Dextrose – this is a type of sugar chemically identical to glucose, that’s used as a sweetener.
  • Salt – salt and other sodium phosphates help to improve the taste of the meat. For ham, these salts are usually sodium nitrates and sodium erythorbate.
  • Food Starches – these are useful for making meat look plumper.

What Causes Slime?

As mentioned earlier, the slime you find on your sliced ham is mainly caused by these added ingredients. This is because the additives start to dissolve and leak out of the cold cuts once the initial package is opened and the meat is sliced.

The whole, unsliced block of meat initially encases these added ingredients, but once it’s sliced, the dissolved additives have an easy mode to leak out.

Do Some Additives Create More Slime Than Others?

Ingredients that are water-based to make adding or injecting more effective, may tend to leak more due to the fact that a block of meat can only retain a certain level of moisture.

On the other hand, products with a lower percentage of injection or added ingredients are drier and significantly less likely to leak.

If you’re purchasing lunch meat that claims to be “natural”, this typically means that it’ll have less added ingredients, less water, and will taste more like “natural” meat.

Store-cooked deli meats are recommended as they tend to steer clear from using many of the added ingredients that can cause the unpleasant slime on meat.

How Can You Tell If Lunch Meat Has Gone Bad?

Many people regularly buy a couple of packets of sliced ham or other meat at the start of the week to set them up for a week’s worth of packed lunches.

By the end of the week, however, the lunch meat can often begin to look a little suspicious, leaving you unsure whether the last few slices are safe to eat or not.

The sell-by and use-by dates aren’t always the best indicators of whether lunch meat is safe to eat or not. Instead, there are 3 straightforward and surefire signs to look for.

  • Smell – taking a whiff of your lunch meat is often the most effective method of telling whether it’s in good condition and okay to eat. If it smells off in any way, such as a sour or vinegary scent, this isn’t a good sign. It’s best not to risk it, so throw the meat away.
  • Sight – the easiest way to determine your lunch meat’s condition is to examine its color. If it’s changed and taken on a pale gray, brown or yellow hue, it’s probably spoiled and not safe to eat. Needless to say, it’s also time to throw it away if it’s grown any mold.
  • Touch – if you can feel a sticky, slimy coating on the lunch meat, or if parts of the meat feel much harder than other parts, it’s likely that it’s spoiled. If this is the case, you’ll need to throw the meat away immediately.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the best way to store lunch meat?

Whether you’re buying freshly sliced meat from the deli counter or pre-packaged meat from the shelves it’s essential to place it in the coldest part of your refrigerator as soon as you get home. Your refrigerator should be set and maintained to a temperature at or below 40℉.

It’s also important to keep your meat tightly packed and sealed with as little oxygen as possible. This is because oxygen-rich environments are perfect for the formation of spoilage bacteria.

As a general rule, it’s usually okay to consume packaged lunch meat 7-10 days after its sell-by date. Once opened, however, it should ideally be eaten within 3-5 days. Freshly sliced deli meat should also be consumed within 5 days.

Can you freeze ham?

If you’re unable to consume all of your ham before it spoils, it’s a good idea to freeze it. In fact, some producers put labels on their product with a “freeze by” date, so you can be sure that freezing the meat is perfectly okay.

Unless the packaging of your ham says you shouldn’t freeze it, feel free to do so as this will extend the life of the meat.