Executive chef, New York NY Fresh Deli,
Read the ingredient list.
The relative quality of the ingredients will help you gauge product quality. Beware of extensive lists with an abundance of chemical additives. And work with a reliable supplier to ensure consistency of quality.
Examine the packaging.
Jot down the date the product was packed and the use-by date. These tell you the maximum shelf life with the least degradation of quality over time.
Check moisture content.
Product should come off as close to freshly roasted as possible. If it is too dry, it will break apart and have an unpleasant mouthfeel; if too moist, it will be mushy.
Cooked turkey breast is available as both a “single muscle” and “formed” product. Single muscle offers higher quality, better taste and texture and more visual appeal; formed turkey breast is lower-priced and not as attractive. Turkey looks closer to fresh when it has a golden brown skin or a browned edge when sliced.
Taste the turkey.
It should have a meaty flavor, fresh aroma and be slightly juicy but not slimy or slick. Any off flavor or excessive moisture can indicate spoilage.
Audit the processing facility.
Be sure all the appropriate safety measures and HACCP controls are in place to minimize the risk of foodborne illness.
Director of Product Management, Meats,
Sara Lee Foodservice,
Downers Grove, Illinois
Read the ingredient statement.
Ham is a smoked product. Determine whether the smoked flavor is natural (smoked over wood or provided by another natural source) or smoke flavoring (derived from atomization).
Open the package and cut into the ham.
It should be pink to rosy in color with a distinct grainy texture and defined muscle structure.
Water content varies by the quality of the ham. Dry ham (the highest quality) has less than 5 percent added ingredients (mostly water); natural juice ham contains 5-9 percent; water-added ham has 9-19 percent; and “ham and water product” is 20 percent. The USDA designates these figures.
Taste the product.
Two primary smoke flavors are used in processing—hickory and mesquite. The North favors hickory or hardwood and the South, mesquite. Neither should be overpowering.
Q&A with Alan Hiebert, Education Information Specialist,
International Dairy Deli Bakery Association,
How much deli meat should an operator buy?
A made-to-order sandwich program with three bread options, three meat options, three cheese options and three condiment options yields over 80 distinct sandwiches, providing customers lots of variety. Add a special of the week based on the purchase of a limited quantity of a different deli meat, and you will have something novel to offer with good control over inventory and costs and little waste.
What form and package size is the most practical?
Purchase as much as you can sell in a week. Turkey, ham and roast beef get used up fairly quickly, so it may pay to buy larger size logs or pieces and slice it yourself. For less popular or specialty meats, pre-sliced vacuum-sealed 2- to 3-pound packages are probably most practical. Or experiment with newer products—the specially processed sliced meats with a 120-day shelf life or the pre-portioned 4-ounce packages might be handy for your concept.
How long will deli meats stay wholesome and fresh tasting?
The general rule for traditional products is that once you crack the plastic packaging, deli meat should be used within seven days. Of course, that means storing it in the walk-in under optimum conditions—40°F or below.
What safe handling guidelines should restaurants follow?
Good personal hygiene by all the handlers is the first step. Employees should wash hands and then put on fresh gloves when slicing or prepping deli meat. Gloves should be changed whenever they become damaged or contaminated with raw proteins. Sandwich-making and other work surfaces in the kitchen should be cleaned and sanitized after each use to avoid cross-contamination.
Is the “natural” trend in deli meats here to stay?
This is a significant trend in deli products, but I also see a push toward organic and sustainable products. There’s also a growing sense of ethics in all our food choices. The humane treatment of animals is an issue with deli meats as well.