Christine Bruhn, PhD is the Director of the Center for Consumer Research at the University of California, Davis where she earned her doctorate. Dr. Bruhn has a special interest and passion for safe food handling practices. Her major area of research is in consumer attitudes and perceptions of food quality, safety and wholesomeness. Dr. Bruhn travels widely and is a sought after speaker at both academic and government conferences on food safety and food handling and food processing technologies . She currently serves on several education and advisory panels including the Food and Drug Administration's Risk Communication Advisory Group. In addition, she is often contacted by members of the media when questions of food safety make the news, especially in her home state of California. Along with her interest in making sure everyone knows “How to determine when your food had gone bad,” she is an avid cook and enjoys sharing practical food safety tips with her family and friends. For more information on food safety and nutrition questions, please visit IFIC.org.
How to Tell if Your Lunch Meats Have Gone Bad
Christine Bruhn, Center for Consumer Research at UC Davis, discusses the telltale signs that your lunch meat has gone bad.
Christine Bruhn: I am Christine Bruhn with the University of California, Davis, the Department of Food Science. We are talking about how you can tell if your food has gone bad and I am going to focus now on how you can tell if your luncheon meats have gone bad. We have some help with luncheon meats and that is they have dates on them. These are sold by dates and sometimes they are a little hard to find, but they are on the all of the packaged products so take a look for them. On this, they are on the upper corner of the back of the package and for this brand, they have it on the edge of the front. So take a look, it is a Sell by Date, buy it and eat it within 7-10 days of that Sell by Date. Now if you have something in your refrigerator and you say, "Oh, is this one still good?
" You still look like this, now I have been eating it and it has kind of that moisture and fat and stuff in here. Is it still edible?
Well, it can be, keep in mind when that date was. Don't tear the package off so you can come back and look. You really can't tell by appearance. You have to follow date, because these bacteria are invisible to microscope. So you just can't tell by looking at it, but truly, once you have opened the package, you have let air from the outside in and with that air, could be bacteria and the bacteria can grow even in the cold of the refrigerator. So once it has been opened, eat it within 3-5 days. Now if you buy luncheon meats at the Daily's, where it has been pre-sliced for you and this should be within the 3-5 day guidelines, whether it is roast beef or ham or Pastrami, the products have been exposed to the air, they have been on the slicing machine, they could have been contaminated with very low levels of bacteria and you don't want that bacteria to grow large enough so that it makes you sick. The bacteria that we are primarily concerned about with luncheon meats is Listeria. This is a tricky one because it grows in the refrigerator and it takes a while before it affects to show. It can make anybody sick, be they children, especially the children in the under five, but any age of child, be they older adults and older people over 55 or so because the acidity of our stomach starts to change and we are less resistant to bacteria. Also, people with a disease condition for example, if you are diabetic, you are much more at risk for food-borne illness, but the greatest risk is probably, to the pregnant woman because if you have a dose of Listeria in your food you can lose your baby and that's whether the baby is in the early stages of development or even almost full-term. That's a tragedy we all want to avoid. So how do you protect yourself from Listeria? You check the date, you eat it in time and especially if you are pregnant, you cook that product. So cooking it means having a wonderful grilled, roasted or boiled hot dog, make your sandwich that's grilled, cut these things all up and cook them because Listeria is destroyed by heat and you want to keep safe. Next, we are going to talk about how to tell if your dairy products have gone bad.