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How Long Does Smoked Fish Last Without Refrigeration?

Smoked fish will only last a few hours without refrigeration. Even though smoked fish isn’t considered raw, it may still contain harmful bacteria that grow rapidly at room temperature. 

In this article, I will discuss the difference between homemade and store-bought smoked fish, how to properly store and package smoked fish, and how long you can keep them stored before they go bad. I’ll also go over some essential tips on food safety to prevent food poisoning. 

Homemade vs. Store-Bought Smoked Fish

Store-bought smoked fish typically comes with added preservatives, giving it a stronger flavor. On the other hand, homemade smoked fish uses natural smoke to achieve a milder flavor. However, homemade smoked fish may not be as safe to consume as store-bought smoked fish.

You can buy smoked fish from the store, or if you have the proper equipment, you can smoke your own fish. The process of smoking fish is mainly the same whether it’s store-bought or homemade. However, there are key differences between the two.

Homemade Smoked Fish May Still Have Raw Parts

The only significant difference is that preparing homemade smoked fish comes with risks. Homemade smoked fish, when not done right, may have parts that are still raw. One mistake in the smoking process can allow bacteria to get into the fish.

Fish that isn’t appropriately smoked can lead to food poisoning or, in extreme cases, death. The way fish is smoked leaves the door wide open for bacteria, so that is why there are so many precautions that need to be followed.

When smoking fish yourself, even if you follow instructions, if you aren’t familiar with smoking fish, you could possibly make a mistake and cause the fish to be contaminated or not cooked thoroughly.

If you attempt to smoke your own fish at home, here are some tips to avoid incorrectly smoking your fish to prevent food poisoning:

  • The fish has to reach a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius) and maintain that temperature for 30 minutes. If not, this can result in uncooked fish, which is dangerous to consume. 
  • You must verify that your fish was salted for the appropriate amount of time to retain the proper amount of salt. Since various fish absorb varying amounts of salt, this can be very challenging.
  • Not all fish is prepared the same way. Certain types of fish need to be gutted before smoking, while others need to be filleted. So, make sure you research the type of fish you’re using before smoking. 

If you want to smoke your own fish at home, you must have a proper smoker to do so. The Masterbuilt MB2007117 Digital Electric Smoker (available on Amazon.com) is a great option. Smokers are on the pricier side because of what they do. If you find a cheap smoker, purchasing one is not recommended because it may not smoke meat thoroughly. 

Store-Bought Smoked Fish Are Prepared Correctly

With store-bought smoked fish, you can almost guarantee the fish was smoked correctly and without incident. This is because when selling a fish product, the companies preparing it and packaging it have to follow strict guidelines and regulations because if not, they can be sued. 

So, one could say that buying store-bought smoked fish might be safer compared to trying to smoke your own fish without prior experience.

Store-Bought Smoked Fish May Have a Lot of Additives

Another difference could be whether the smoked fish you’re buying is organic or not. Some companies put a lot of additives in their fish and other food products. If you prefer to know where exactly your fish comes from and how it was prepared, then smoking your own fish may be the best option for you.

Does Packaged Smoked Salmon Need To Be Refrigerated?

Packaged smoked salmon should be refrigerated. Keep it in the fridge until you use it within a few hours. Even though it is already in a package, smoked salmon needs refrigeration to keep it from spoiling.

Since smoked salmon is considered cooked, there’s no need to worry about it spoiling as fast. However, it can still spoil if not refrigerated, just like other meat products. Keeping fish or meat at room temperature for too long makes it a breeding ground for bacteria. 

Bacteria can occasionally grow in extremely hot or cold temperatures, but room temperature is much worse. Bacteria on food at room temperature multiplies extremely fast, causing the food to be extremely dangerous to consume. 

How Do You Store Smoked Fish?

Smoked fish should be stored at cold temperatures. There are different ways to store smoked fish, but one thing for sure is that it should always be in a refrigerator or freezer unless you’re going to serve and eat it within a few hours. 

A whole fish in a drawer in the refrigerator

Store-bought smoked fish can be frozen and stored using the following:

  • Original packaging
  • A vacuum-sealed bag
  • Sealed ziplock bag

Keeping the fish in the original container is a safe option. Sellers usually sell their products in packaging that is meant for long-term storage.

However, if you choose to store your smoked fish in a vacuum-sealed bag or plastic bag, make sure it’s sealed with no air in the bag. This will keep it fresh the longest. 

The storing process is slightly different if you smoked the fish at home. You have two options:

  • Wrap it in plastic or a vacuum-sealed bag
  • Wrap it in a paper towel and put it in a tightly sealed plastic ziplock bag. The paper towel can absorb excess moisture to prevent mold from growing. 

According to NHS Inform, if you are unsure how to store a particular food, always check the instructions on the packaging to ensure you’re storing it correctly. It’s better to be safe than sorry. 

If you’re unsure how long the smoked fish has been left out at room temperature, throw it away instead of risking food poisoning from bad fish. 

How Long Does Smoked Fish Last in the Fridge?

When storing smoked fish, it can last for about 2 to 3 weeks in the fridge when unopened. Produce such as fish should have an expiration date on the packaging, so make sure you follow that as well.

Smoked fish opened can last for up to a week when kept in the fridge. Make sure you’ve opened it to keep an eye on its physical appearance and smell. If you notice any changes in these, throw the smoked fish out. 

Related How Long Does Fish Last in the Fridge? | Raw vs. Cooked.

How Long Does Smoked Fish Last in the Freezer?

Smoked fish lasts as long as 3 months when stored in the freezer. It is recommended to store it in a vacuumed sealed bag. If you buy smoked fish, you can move it to a vacuum-sealed bag to freeze it. Before moving it to the freezer, don’t leave the smoked fish out for long. 

Remember that if you put it in your vacuum-sealed bag, you should put a date on it. This way, you’ll know when it will expire and not accidentally eat expired fish. 

How Long Does Smoked Fish Last Vacuum-Sealed?

According to Better Fish, smoked fish will last 2 to 3 weeks in the refrigerator and 2 to 3 months in the freezer when vacuum-sealed. Vacuum sealing your fish is one of the best ways to store it. 

According to Outrigger Outdoors, when you vacuum seal your smoked fish, you remove excess oxygen and bacteria from the plastic. 

This keeps your smoked fish fresh for longer. There’s also no way for air to get back into the vacuum-sealed bag until it’s opened. 

If you’re in need of a vacuum sealer, then the NutriChef PKVS Sealer Automatic Vacuum Air Sealing System Preservation (available on Amazon.com) is an excellent choice. It’s affordable and can vacuum seal dry and moist foods. This vacuum sealer also comes with some bags to help you get started. 

The Kosbon Sous Vide Bags Electric Vacuum Sealer (available on Amazon.com) is perfect if you want a more compact vacuum sealer. It’s a hand-held vacuum sealer that attaches to a part of the plastic bag to suck out the air. This comes with bags ready to use and in different sizes. 

Should Smoked Salmon Be Served at Room Temperature?

Smoked salmon doesn’t have to be served at room temperature, but it can be as long as you’re consuming it within the time frame before it spoils. If salmon is cold-smoked, it can still sit out for several hours before there is a cause for concern. 

Because it technically is still raw and could contain harmful bacteria, eating cold smoked salmon might be harmful. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, cold smoked salmon hasn’t reached the proper internal temperature to kill off bacteria.

You can eat cold smoked salmon at room temperature but ensure it’s within a few hours to avoid harmful bacteria from growing. It’s also essential to ensure that the salmon has been adequately smoked before being served, regardless of room temperature. 

How Long Does It Take for Smoked Fish To Go Bad?

Smoked fish generally goes bad within a few weeks if it’s refrigerated. If left at room temperature, it goes bad within several hours. If the smoked fish is frozen, it will take 2 to 3 months before it goes bad.

How long it takes for smoked fish to go bad can also depend on what you used to store it. Smoked fish stored in a plastic container will spoil faster. I recommend storing it in tightly sealed plastic packaging or a vacuum-sealed bag, so it lasts long.

How To Tell if Smoked Fish Has Gone Bad

It won’t be difficult to tell if smoked fish has gone bad because there will be a few noticeable signs. These include:

  • Dull color. If you notice a change in the color of your smoked fish, it’s best you don’t eat it. Smoked fish will become dull in color once it has gone bad.
  • Sour smell. This smell will be very strong and hard to miss. If there’s a sour smell, make sure you throw the fish away immediately.
  • Slimy texture. Fish usually has a shiny wet appearance anyways, but that is not what I’m talking about when I say slimy. Smoked fish that has gone bad will be noticeably wet and slimy; if you touch it, you’ll find out for sure. 

If you see brown spots on your smoked fish, there’s nothing to worry about. These spots are completely normal, and they’re not a sign of the fish going bad. According to At Able Full of Joy, these spots are just fat between muscle and skin.

What Could Happen if You Eat Bad Smoked Fish?

If you happen to eat bad smoked fish, you’ll most likely get food poisoning. The sickness can last for a few days. Symptoms included fever, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and diarrhea. 

A woman in a pink shirt holding her stomach due to discomfort

According to Oregon State, salmon specifically carries a bacteria called Botulism that can live through the smoking process. This bacteria will be present in spoiled salmon or salmon that were not stored properly.

Food poisoning symptoms usually present themselves a few hours after eating it. It can sometimes take longer, but in most cases is pretty quick. Food poisoning causes you to vomit usually because your body is trying to get the harmful bacteria out as quickly as possible. 

If you have food poisoning, rest and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. 

If you ate smoked fish and later showed symptoms of food poisoning, it’s best to go to the doctor just to get everything checked out. 

Conclusion

When left at room temperature, smoked fish won’t last for more than a few hours. When stored in the refrigerator, smoked salmon will last for 2 to 3 weeks and 2 to 3 months in the freezer. 

Vacuum sealing your smoked salmon is one of the best ways to keep it fresh for the longest. Unless you’re going to eat it, keep your fish in the refrigerator. When smoking fish yourself, there are a lot of risks that come with it, so make sure you follow instructions.

For more, check out The 5 Best Ways to Preserve Meat in the Wild.

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