Can you freeze a whole fish without gutting it?

In this article, we will answer the question “Can you freeze a whole fish without gutting it?” and discuss can you eat ungutted fish?

Can you freeze a whole fish without gutting it?

Yes, you can freeze a whole fish without gutting it. You may store them in the freezer for a few months without any issues.

Even so, it’s usually a good idea to clean and defrost fish before placing them in the freezer. It is possible to rupture the stomach in a home freezer, which has a detrimental influence on the meat’s flavor.

During the frozen storage of relatively fat marine species, enzymatic and non-enzymatic lipid deterioration has shown to occur and become an important factor of fish acceptance. Guts are known to be a reservoir of powerful digestive enzymes and bacteria that can spoil the flesh, resulting in unacceptable odors and flavors. As a result of gutting, many studies report an extension of shelf life during fish species chilling, although other reports show that gutting creates another cut surface or potential bacterial contamination and does not benefit the shelf life (2).

Internal organ decomposition may also have a detrimental impact on the fish’s flavor when it’s thawed later. Try to remove the intestines while the fish is still partly frozen in order to prevent this.

However, studies show different results regarding gutting lean fish and fatty fish. About frozen storage, previous gutting showed to maintain sensory acceptance and to reduce volatile amine content in lean fish. For fatty fish, a higher lipid oxidation development as a result of gutting. It can be concluded that in spite of avoiding the autolytic spoilage and microbial development, gutting has provided a new cut surface that facilitates the non-enzymatic lipid oxidation (2). 

Fish that has been defrosted can’t be refrozen since the thawing process speeds up decomposition. The best approach to deal with large fish is to clean and then freeze it in little parts you can remove from the freezer one at a time.

Aquaculture provides 52% of fish for human consumption worldwide, whereas in the European Union, farmed fish and seafood represents a quarter of human consumption (1).

Ungutted fish lasts how long until it goes bad?

Fish that have been bled and gutted may be stored on ice or in the refrigerator for up to 24 to 48 hours without losing quality. For this, it is critical to keep fish cold. Without refrigeration, ungutted fish may go rotten in as little as six to twelve hours. Bacteria and digestive acids in the fish intestines begin to damage other parts of the fish.

The shelf life depends on the fish species. In a previous study, the shelf life of whole  ungutted sea bream stored in ice was found to be 17–18 days at 2°C, while another study reported that whole sea bream stored in ice was still acceptable after 15 days. The storage life of whole, iced sea bream evaluated by sensory assessment of the raw fish has been reported to be 15–17 days. Another study reported that the limit of acceptability for ungutted sea bass was 10 days. This time includes the transportation time and storage time in the market. Therefore, it is advisable to consume the fish as soon as possible (3).

What is the shelf life of fresh-caught fish in the refrigerator?

Fish that has been gutted may be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days (4), however, fish that has not been gutted can only be stored for one to two days, depending on the type of fish and the hygiene procedures of cutting and gutting. Make sure to keep in mind that fish protein is very perishable and that a refrigerator only slightly slows down the degradation of fish protein by bacteria and enzymatic reactions. 

In ungutted fish, the breakdown process is accelerated by the presence of bacteria in their intestines, while in gutted fish the cutting and gutting procedures generally leads to cross-contamination which decreases its shelf life. In addition, gutting creates another cut surface or potential bacterial contamination and does not benefit the shelf life. If you keep fish in the fridge for more than two or three days, its flavor and texture begin to deteriorate far before this point, so it will taste worse the longer you wait to consume it. As a result of this, I only keep fresh fish in the refrigerator for a maximum of 24 to 36 hours before eating it.

After what period of time can you keep fish in the freezer?

As a general rule of thumb, fish may be stored in the freezer for up to 8 months before it goes bad, and can be frozen for up to 3 months. Although it is acceptable to consume frozen fish even after one or two years in the freezer. When I say “getting worse,” I mean that the flavor and texture have deteriorated.

Fish with a high-fat content (such as trout and mackerel) should only be stored in the freezer for a maximum of three months to preserve their flavor.

During frozen storage, lipid oxidation and lipid hydrolysis occur, as well as degradation of proteins, which lead to the formation of degraded compounds, off-flavors and rancidity. This scenario is worsened with the extension of the storage periods (2). 

Without ice, how can you keep fish fresh?

The shelf life of chilled fish is affected by the biological properties of the catch, the harvesting conditions and post-harvest treatment, as well as by the standards of hygiene on board and in-shore processing, by the rate of chilling, by the temperature of storage, and by additional treatments (3).

After capturing a fish during the warm season, you’ll need to bleed and clean it immediately. They will be good till you get home later that day, as long as you keep them dry and shaded.

Salt is the only way to preserve fish for more than a few hours in the summer without ice. After you’ve cleaned your body, you’ll need to apply a lot of salt all over it, both inside and out. Keep in mind that whenever you’re ready to consume the fish, you need to soak them in water in order to remove as much of the salt as possible.

Before frying a fish, the fish’s intestines must be removed. It’s not difficult, but if you’re afraid of getting your hands dirty, ask your fishmonger to do it. After gutting, washing the fish is also critical.

Eatable fish without the guts?

Fishermen often sell entire, ungutted fish at their stands. After defrosting and gutting the fish, it’s ready to eat. As any parasites in the fish were eliminated by freezing at -20°C or cooking at 60°C, the intestines are not edible. 

Are there any consequences for not gutting one?

Fish have worms in their intestines. As soon as a fish dies, the worms penetrate the flesh to make it more likely that another species would devour it. Unless you immediately gut the fish, the other thing will be you.

Foodborne parasites are widespread and more common than generally recognized. Among these parasites, fish borne zoonotic trematodes are estimated to infect >18 million persons; worldwide the number at risk may be much greater. The fish borne zoonotic trematodes include many species, especially representatives of the families Heterophyidae, Echinostomatidae, and Opisthorchiidae. Although their metacercarial cysts are easily inactivated by heating at 60°C or freezing to –20°C, they are highly prevalent in many regions, especially in Asia where food traditions include eating raw or improperly cooked fish dishes (4).

Is immediate gutting of fish required?

Fish that has been bled, chilled, and stored properly may be kept for at least 24 hours before being gutted and still be of acceptable quality. The quality of the product is directly related to how the fish is caught and shortly after it is caught. The acceptability varies depending on the fish species and other conditions, as mentioned before in this text. The fish may be microbiologically safe to be consumed, but not taste good anymore.

Studies found the shelf life of whole ungutted and gutted sea bass stored in ice by the accept-ability sensory scores and microbiological data is 13 and 8 days, respectively. Another study determined the shelf life, fish using acceptability,  sensory, and  microbiological data. They found a shelf life of 8–9 days and 12–13 days for filleted sea bass and ungutted sea bass, respectively. Another study indicated that the shelf life of whole and filleted trout stored in ice were 15–16 and  10–12 days, respectively (3).

Small fish may be eaten whole, right?

If you chose a little fish to fry, you may consume the whole thing. Crispy, golden-brown finger food, little fish just takes a few minutes to cook in high oil. A potato chip-like crispness is achieved when the whole fish head is fried.

To safely eat whole fish, they must be cooked.

To learn more about freezing a whole fish without gutting it click here

Other FAQs about Fish that you may be interested in.

Can you eat striped bass?

Can you eat sturgeon?

Can you eat swordfish?


In this article, we answered the question “Can you freeze a whole fish without gutting it?” and we discussed can you eat ungutting fish?


  1. Stancu, Violeta, et al. European consumer segments with a high potential for accepting new innovative fish products based on their food-related lifestyle. Food Qual Prefer, 2022, 99, 104560.
  2. Lehmann, Ines, and Santiago P. Aubourg. Effect of previous gutting on rancidity development in horse mackerel (Trachurus trachurus) during frozen storage at− 20° C. Int J food sci technol, 2008, 43, 270-275.  
  3. Erkan, Nuray, and Özkan Özden. Gutted and un-gutted sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax) stored in ice: Influence on fish quality and shelf-life. Int J Food Prop, 2006, 9, 331-345.
  4. Van De, Nguyen, et al. Fishborne zoonotic intestinal trematodes, Vietnam. Emerg Infect Dis, 2007, 13, 1828.