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15 Things You Never Thought You Needed to Know About ... Lunchmeat

Few things are quite as American as brown-bagging it with a bologna or ham and cheese lunchmeat sandwich. Indeed, refrigerated processed meats, including deli meats, brought in about $17 billion in 2004, according to a report by Packaged Facts.

Sandwiches are the number 1 food item eaten by Americans, according to food experts.

And when it comes to deli meats, there's something to suit every taste: beerwurst, olive loaf, chicken roll, pastrami, summer sausage, and the list goes on and on. But underneath the glossy cellophane packages and fancy cold-cut names hide some facts you need to know:

  1. There are three types of lunchmeat: Whole cuts of meat (roast beef, turkey breast), sectioned and formed products (cooked hams), and processed products (bologna).

  2. Most luncheon meats contain nitrites and nitrates, which are preservatives, coloring and flavoring additives that have been linked to cancer. Nitrates can lead to the formation of nitrosamines, "which have been identified as carcinogenic substances for quite some time. Cancers of the esophagus, larynx, mouth, liver and stomach seem to be associated with nitrosamines," says Alexander Hall, an assistant professor at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto.

  3. Meat byproducts including lips, tripe, pork stomachs and heart are sometimes used in processed lunchmeat products.

  4. Many lunchmeats, including ham, roast beef and turkey, contain added solutions of water, sodium and water or water and spices. This will be listed on the label as something like "Contains Up To 10% Added Moisture."

  5. Once opened, packaged cold cuts will last three to five days. Cold cuts sliced from the deli will last one to three days.

  6. The infamous SPAM luncheon meat is mostly pork shoulder, ham and secret spices.

  7. Many lunchmeats contain monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavor enhancer that, according to Dr. Russell Blaylock, an author and neurosurgeon, has been associated with sudden cardiac death, particularly in athletes, and excitotoxic damage to brain neurons.

Sliced lunchmeats found in the refrigerator section bring in $3 billion a year.

  1. Refrigerated sliced lunchmeats are a $3-billion industry.

  2. The Oscar Mayer brand name, now famous for its packaged meat products, was developed in 1929.

  3. Bologna deli meat is named after Bologna, Italy (where the authentic "bologna," known as mortadella, is popular).

  4. The first canned ham was sold by the Hormel Company of Austin, Minnesota in 1926.

  5. Head cheese, often found in the deli case with lunchmeats, is not a type of cheese. It is a meat product made from a mixture of boiled pork scraps (including the head), pigs' feet and vinegar, which is blended, formed into loafs and left alone to cool and jell.

  6. Pimento loaf is made from chopped pork and beef with sweet pickles and pimentos added.

  7. In August 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved six viruses as a food additive to be sprayed on cold cuts and packaged deli meats. The viruses are intended to protect against the food-borne-bacteria Listeria monocytogenes that is sometimes found on cold, packaged meat products.

  8. Sandwiches, a $121-billion market, are the most popular item eaten by Americans, according to food experts.

Recommended Reading

12 Dangerous Food Additives: The Dirty Dozen Food Additives You Really Need to be Aware Of

What is REALLY in a Hot Dog? And How Unhealthy Are They?

Sources December 28, 2006 December 27, 2006

Packaged Facts

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