How long is fish good for in the fridge?

In this brief guide, we will answer the query, “How long is fish good for in the fridge?” and will discuss how to properly store fish in the fridge.

How long is fish good for in the fridge?

The raw fish should only be stored in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 days before being cooked or frozen (40°F/4.4°C or less). Fish should be kept in the refrigerator for three to four days after cooking, according to the USDA. Fish that has been frozen for a long time will remain safe, but the taste and texture will diminish with time (1).

How Long Is Frozen Fish Good For?

It is possible to keep fish fresh for a few days in the refrigerator by storing it in a sealed container. For the fish to stay fresh, the fridge should be kept at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. At higher temperatures, germs may grow and destroy the fish. The shelf life of fish depends on a variety of factors, including the kind of fish, its health, and the amount of protection it receives from the environment.

The freshness loss as a consequence of the fish degradation process, begins immediately after capture (postmortem alterations), justifying the importance of their careful handling from capture to processing/commercialization to maintain the quality of this product. Such care will determine the enzymatic, bacterial, and oxidative activity whose speed and, consequently, the degradation process, depends on preservation methods applied, as well as fish species, size, capture method,  temperature, storage type, and physical condition before death. In the case of frozen fish, changes in frozen fish quality involve change in color (due to deterioration at the food surface, chemical, and biological actions), weight loss (both induced by ice crystal growth), increased enzymatic activity and lipid oxidation. It depends on the freezing rate, storage temperature and oxygen, temperature fluctuations and transport stages (2).

Raw fish

Refrigerated raw fish may be stored for up to two days beyond its sell-by date. Fish should not be eaten beyond this two-day window, and it is better to dispose of the fish. Granted, some species may persist for longer than the recommended two-day time frame for a successful harvest. A whole fish, on the other hand, may usually be kept for an extra day or two. As a result, there will be fewer areas that might have been contaminated during the fileting process.

Thawed Fish

You’re resetting the clock on the refrigerated time of fish after it’s been defrosted, whether outdoors or inside of the fridge itself. That is to say, if you thaw the fish two days beyond its sell-by date and store it in the freezer, you must consume it the same day it was defrosted.

The only exception is if you froze the fish at the time of purchase and it still has a few days to go before it spoils. Because freezing fish simply halts the deterioration process by reducing the temperature, these periods have been established. When the fish thaws, the deterioration process begins from where it left off before freezing.

Cooked fish

Cooked raw fish may be kept in the refrigerator for up to foursix days after it has been purchased. However, if the fish was stored in a refrigerator during this period, this time limit only applies. The fish mustn’t be left out at room temperature for too long after it’s been grilled. Leaving food out for more than two hours at a moderate temperature can allow bacteria and fungus to grow, making it unsafe to eat (3).

To assist you to decide whether your fish is safe to eat, the following criteria are provided as suggestions. However, you should carefully inspect your fish before eating or preparing it for symptoms of rotting.

However, to extend the recommended shelf life of fish and fish products are of high risk. Fish is the main cause of food-borne diseases, especially due to contamination by biological hazards (pathogenic bacteria, viruses, parasites, and biotoxins) whose occurrence are mainly due to improper handling practices, insufficient thermal treatments; inadequate chilling/cooling, absence of hygienic standards, cross contamination between raw and ready-to-eat foods, raw foods and contaminated ingredients, and inadequate cleaning of equipment and utensils (2).

How to store fish in the refrigerator?

In many cases, we just store the food in its original packing in the refrigerator and forget about it. A little extra attention is needed to keep fish fresh and flavorful throughout its short storage period. For the greatest results when keeping your fish refrigerated, follow these tips.

Raw fish

Raw fish should be rinsed and patted dry after purchase. Before closing the bag, you should squeeze out all of the air. However, zip lock bags may be used instead of vacuum sealers if desired.

Put the sealed bag in a basin of cold water in the refrigerator for best preservation and freshness. Store fresh fish in its original wrapper in the coldest part of the refrigerator, which is under the freezer or in the “meat-keeper” drawer. This prevents the fish from being frozen, preserving the fish’s texture and taste. Shellfish reacts best when stored in the refrigerator and covered with a moist, cool cloth.

Thawed fish

The best approach to thaw a frozen fish is to put it in the refrigerator. The taste and texture of the fish are preserved by slowing the thawing process by keeping the temperature low. Because of this, it’s best to defrost fish in the same plastic or moisture-proof bag that it came in. To begin the process of thawing, you should begin the night before you want to consume it. Defrost gradually so cells are disturbed less and fewer juices leak out. Avoid thawing at room temperature (4).

Michigan State University suggests opening the package before thawing if it is vacuum-sealed, which is a drawback to this procedure. Because anaerobic bacteria thrive in low-oxygen environments, vacuum-sealed packages are a good place for them to thrive. Clostridium botulinum, a bacterium that may produce botulism, is a cause for worry.  While this type of packing is great for extending shelf-life, fish in an oxygen free environment, at temperatures above 40°F, are in an environment that can allow the spores of clostridium botulinum to germinate and produce a deadly toxin (4).

Cooked fish

Depending on the kind of fish, cooked fish may be kept in the refrigerator for up to four days. Fish must be refrigerated within two hours after chilling to ensure that bacteria hasn’t gotten out of hand. Refrigerate your cooked salmon in an airtight container. Here are a few of my favorites that may be stored in the refrigerator or freezer (2).

How to tell if a fish has gone bad?

Many people are concerned about eating rotten seafood. You might feel more confident in your food choices if you know how to tell whether the fish you’re eating is dangerous. 

When preserved in refrigeration temperatures, the fish presents a typical pattern of deterioration divided into four stages, where the first two phases correspond to quality loss by autolytic processes, while the last two are associated with fish deterioration by bacterial action. The first stage is characterized by the high fish freshness, and a sweet taste. In the second stage, taste and odor are lost, without the development of unpleasant taste and maintenance of a pleasant texture. Deterioration cues such as off-odors, depending on fish species and metabolism type (aerobic/anaerobic), usually begin to occur in the third stage, with the development of “fishy smell”, ammonia and some sulfuric compounds. At the beginning of the third stage, the flavor may be slightly vinegary, fruity, or slightly bitter, especially in fatty fish, becoming, over time, an ammoniacal and sulfurous flavor with rancid smell development. The texture may be soft and watery or dry and hard. In the fourth phase, the fish is classified as deteriorated and putrid (3).

The following are the four most reliable methods to tell whether your fish has gone badly.

Date of Expiration

Raw fish

Always check the expiration date on the box of fish you purchase at a supermarket shop. If the fish has been on the shelf for more than two days, it’s safe to say it’s beyond its sell-by date (1). Toss your stuff if it’s beyond its expiration date if it hasn’t. Cooked fish

Cooked fish may be stored for up to six months beyond its sell-by date. The fish must have been stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator throughout this period. According to recommendations of the USDA, cooked fish may be consumed within a period of maximal 4 days (1).

Frozen fish

Frozen fish, either raw or cooked, may be stored for up to nine months before it has to be thrown out. Smoked salmon, on the other hand, is only good for three to six months before it begins to decay. 

Sultry Smell

During the fish storage, volatile compounds such as ammonia (NH3) and trimethylamine (TMA), are produced by autolytic and bacterial processes, resulting in an ammoniacal and strong fish odor, typical of deteriorated fish (3).

Some people find it difficult to tell whether a piece of fish has gone bad since it has a distinct fish scent. Try to remember how your fish smells when it is fresh so you can compare the two. To see whether it becomes “fishier” over time, do this. If the fish has a strong scent, it’s likely rotten. The fishy smell will eventually turn into a rotting meat smell. If the fish smells off, toss it in the trash.

Slimy coating (Raw Fish Only)

The exterior of spoiled fish will get damp and ultimately develop a thin layer of slime. The fish should be thrown out as soon as the slime thickens into a slippery covering. You can’t use this observation as a signal for cooked fish since cooked fish doesn’t create this layer.

Milky color (Raw Fish Only)

A thin, translucent layer covers fresh fish. The color of the flesh will change as the fish decomposes because of a milky layer. Keep your eyes out for this on your raw fish. Be on the watch for a gray or light blue tint to the milky film, as well. Using this film as a signal for cooked fish is a waste of time.

In addition, color changes from autolytic and microbial activity in the fish degradation process may include the development of a yellowish color in the flesh or brown discoloration. Yellowish color in the flesh occurs in some frozen fish as a result of chromatograph disruption with consequent release and migration to the subcutaneous layer, as well as due to lipid oxidation which also causes brown discoloration (2).

Other FAQs about Fish that you may be interested in.

Can you eat 2 year old frozen fish?

6 ways to preserve fish

Why do you eat 7 fish on Christmas eve?

Conclusion

In this brief guide, we answered the query, “How long is fish good for in the fridge?” and discussed how to properly store fish in the fridge.

References

  1. Food Keeper Data. United States Department of Agriculture. 
  2. Duarte, Ana M., et al. Quality Assessment of Chilled and Frozen Fish—Mini Review. Foods, 2020, 9, 1739.
  3. Selecting and Serving Fresh and Frozen Seafood Safely. United States Department of Agriculture.
  4. Hoyle, E.H. Safe Handling of Fish. 1999. Clemson University.

Hi, I am Charlotte, I love cooking and in my previous life, I was a chef. I bring some of my experience to the recipes on this hub and answer your food questions.