Whether it’s frozen raw fish or leftovers in the fridge, it’s good to know precisely how long fish will last. I did some extensive research and wrote this article with the goal of answering a couple of questions. What is the expected storage time frame for fish stored in the fridge? And, is there a right way to tell if raw or cooked fish has expired? These are my findings.
Raw fish can last up to 2 hours at room temperature, up to 2 days in the Fridge, and 3-8 months in the freezer. Cooked fish will last 3-4 days if refrigerated within 2 hours of preparation and up to 3 months in the freezer. Fillets typically degrade quicker than whole fish.
The shelf life of fish:
|Type||Room Temperature||Fridge (40 °F)||Freezer (0 °F)|
|Raw Fish||Up to 2 Hours||Up to 2 Days||3-8 Months|
|Cooked Fish||Up to 2 Hours||3-4 Days||Up to 3 Months|
The rest of this article will cover in greater detail:
- How long raw vs. cooked fish lasts.
- The best way to keep your fish fresh and tasting desirable.
- What to look for to be able to identify if fish has expired.
How Long Does Refrigerated Fish Last?
Storing fish in the refrigerator is an excellent way to keep fish fresh for a couple of days before it begins to spoil. It is essential that your fridge maintains a maximum temperature of 40 °F or below for the fish to remain fresh; at higher temperatures, bacteria will propagate and degrade the fish. When storing fish in the fridge, its self-life will be determined by the type of fish, its condition, and how you protect it from the atmosphere.
Raw fish will last around two days after its sell-by date in the refrigerator. Following this two-day window, fish should not be consumed, and it is safer to throw the fish away. Granted, some species will last longer than the two-day window. If you have a whole fish, it will typically be suitable for another day or two. That is because it won’t have had as many surfaces being possibly contaminated from the filleting process.
Thawed Raw Fish
Once fish is defrosted, either outside the fridge or inside it, you are restarting the clock in its refrigerated time. That is, if you put the fish in the freezer on its last viable day (two days after its sell-by date), then you need to eat it on the day it was defrosted.
However, if you froze the fish when it was bought, and it still had a couple of days left before it would spoil, you have a couple of days to eat it. These time frames are set because freezing fish only puts a pause on the degradation process by lowering the temperature. As soon as the fish thaws, the degradation process proceeds from where it was before freezing.
Pro Tip: Never thaw fish at room temperature as it can encourage the rapid growth of bacteria. Instead, thaw fish in the fridge. It typically takes up to 8 hours per pound, so start the process the night before. If fast-thawing is necessary, put the fish in a sealed plastic bag and submerge in cold water.
If you cook raw fish and then store it in your refrigerator, it can last up to six days past its original sell-by date. However, this time frame only applies if the fish was kept in a fridge during this time. Precautions need to be taken to ensure that the fish isn’t left at room temperature too long after cooking. Any longer than two hours at moderate temperatures will have given bacteria and fungi enough time to multiply and make the food unfit for consumption.
The above conditions are just guidelines to help you determine if your fish is still good to eat. However, you should always check your fish for signs of spoilage before eating or cooking it.
How To Store Fish In A Fridge
With many foods, we place them in the refrigerator in their original packaging without an afterthought. However, fish requires a little more care to preserve its freshness, texture, and flavor during its brief storage. Here’s how to get the best out of your fish during refrigeration.
After purchasing raw fish, it is best to rinse it and pat it dry. Next, you should transfer it to an airtight bag, squeezing out the air before sealing.
For maximum preservation and freshness, put the sealed bag into a bowl of ice water in the fridge. This will keep the temperature cooler for longer without freezing the fish, causing a loss of texture and flavor. Shellfish should be treated a little differently, and it responds best when placed in the fridge, with a damp cold towel over it.
When you remove a fish from the freezer, the best way to defrost it is by placing it in the fridge. By keeping the temperature cold, it thaws slowly, and this method preserves the flavor and texture of the fish. You should leave the fish in the same packaging during the thawing process, which ideally should be plastic or a moisture-proof bag. The thawing process should take several hours, and it is best to initiate the night before you wish to eat it.
A caveat to this method emanates from a study from Michigan State, which recommends opening the package before thawing if it is vacuum-sealed. Such action is advocated because a vacuum-sealed package is a low oxygen environment, which is ideal conditions for the growth of anaerobic bacteria. Of concern is the growth of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which can develop into the deadly toxin, botulism.
Pro Tip: To avoid bacteria rapidly growing once the thawed fish reaches 38 °F, cut the vacuum seal so that oxygen can surround the thawing fish. This will prevent this dangerous bacteria from replicating and making the deadly toxin.
Cooked fish can be stored safely in the fridge for up to four days, depending on the type of fish after it is prepared. To achieve this time frame, the fish needs to be refrigerated within two hours of cooling to ensure bacteria hasn’t grown to dangerous levels. Place your cooked fish inside a sealed container and place it in the fridge. Here are some that I recommend that are fridge and freezer safe.
How To Identify Spoiled Fish
Eating spoiled fish is a cause for anxiety amongst many consumers. Knowing how to spot unsafe fish can help you feel secure that what you are eating won’t make you sick. There are four main ways to determine if your fish has spoiled, which are listed below.
1. Expiration Date
- Raw Fish
When buying fish from a grocery store, pay attention to the sell-by date on the packaging. A decent rule to follow is that if more than two days have passed since the posted sell-by date, do not consume the fish. If your packing has a use-by date instead, throw it away if that date has passed.
- Cooked Fish
You can keep cooked fish for around 5-6 past its sell-by date. This only applies if you have kept the fish in an airtight container in the fridge during that time.
- Frozen Fish
You can keep fish frozen, either raw or cooked, for around nine months before it should be discarded. The exception to this is smoked salmon, which will only last 3-6 months before it starts to degrade quickly.
2. Sour Aroma
Determining if fish has gone bad can be difficult for some, as some fresh fish can have a strong fish smell. However, try to familiarize yourself with how your fish smelled when it was fresh. That way, you can determine if it is getting “fisher” with time. A potent fish smell is a good indicator that the fish has spoiled. Eventually, the fishy scent will develop into a rotten meat odor. Throw the fish away if you even suspect it does not smell right.
3. Slimy Coating (Raw Fish Only)
As fish starts to spoil, the exterior will moisten and eventually form a thin coating of slime. Once the slime develops into a thick, slippery layer, the fish should be discarded. Cooked fish will not produce this layer, so don’t use this observation as an indicator for cooked fish.
4. Milky Color (Raw Fish Only)
Fresh fish will have a think, transparent coating on it. Once fish starts to decompose, it will acquire a milky film, altering the flesh’s color. If you see this on your raw fish, do not eat it. The milky film may gain a grey or light blue tinge, so be on the lookout for that too. Cooked fish does not develop this film, so do not use it as an indicator for prepared fish.
Fish has a short shelf life, and it is a food that most of us are wary of. Due to its natural smell, it can be hard to determine if fish is still viable for eating. For this reason, using sell-by dates and expiration guidelines is the primary method used by many to decern if their stored fish is safe to eat.
Here are a few things we’ve learned in this article:
- Fish can be preserved for a few additional days in the refrigerator, compared to being held room temperature.
- Raw fish will last 1-2 days following purchase, with an extra day added if the fish is whole rather than a fillet.
- It is wise to tightly wrap or vacuum pack raw fish and place it in a bowl of ice water. By doing so, you will best retain the fish’s texture and flavor.
- Refrigerating cooked fish can keep it safe for eating for several days. To preserve cooked fish, keep it in a sealed container.
- Always check your fish for signs of spoilage before eating.
- Indicators of deterioration include sour smells, a thick slimy layer covering the fish, and a milky change in the flesh color. If in doubt, use the expiration date on your packaging for guidance – for raw fish, you have two days past the sell-by date, and for cooked fish, you have up to four.
If you want to learn to preserve fish longer at room temperature, we wrote an extensive article on making fish jerky. Be sure to check it out.
I hope you have found this article helpful. Thanks for stoppin’ in for a visit!
Here are a few more common related questions that people ask.
How Can You Tell If Salmon Has Gone Bad?
Salmon is a commonly eaten fish, and there a few specific tricks to help you determine if it still fresh enough to eat.
- First, use the white lines through a piece of salmon to ascertain if it is still viable. If the lines have disappeared or gone grey, the fish should not be eaten.
- Next, check the consistency of the salmon. Good salmon should be firm; if it is squishy, or mushy, then the fish has gone bad.
- While other fishes retain their flesh color after they’ve spoiled, salmon will develop spots on its flesh. The spots can be darker, or they can be white. If you see anything that isn’t the natural healthy pink color, don’t eat the fish.
How Long Can Caught Fish Sit Before Cleaning?
After catching your own fish, you need to handle it swiftly to ensure you are left with a quality product.
For best results, fish should be immediately bled after it is pulled from the water and transferred to an ice slurry. Ideally, the temperature of the slurry will remain a degree or two below freezing. Following this, the fish will remain stable for up to twenty-four hours before it needs to be gutted.
Such a delay can mean the cleaning of the fish can take place on land, in a more controlled environment rather than on your boat. Be sure to clean your fish within a day of catching it, however. Otherwise, its gut will result in a lower quality from the belly bursting, foul odor development, and the flesh discoloring.
Main image courtesy of Missvain / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)