3 Ways to Tell if Salmon Has Gone Bad

If you're unsure your fish is spoiled, just think: "When it doubt, throw it out."
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You know when salmon has gone bad if it smells sour, rancid, fishy or like ammonia. If it stinks like this when it's raw, it's likely to get stronger when it's cooked.

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You don't want to risk salmon food poisoning, and experts say you should throw the fish out.

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Tip

When you buy fresh salmon, make sure you plan to use it within 1 to 2 days, or else store it in the freezer. Salmon that has gone bad will have a fishy odor or may even smell like ammonia— so throw it out.

Signs Your Salmon Has Gone Bad

1. It Will Smell Bad

When you remove your salmon from the package, after either refrigerating or freezing it, it should have only a mild smell and should not smell sour or like ammonia, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

These scents are indications your salmon has gone bad.

2. Its Eyes Will Look Strange

Pay close attention to your salmon's eyes. When fish is still fresh, its eyes will be clear and shiny, according to the FDA.

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3. Its Flesh Is Not Firm or It's Discolored

Possibly the most obvious sign that salmon has gone bad is discolored, flimsy flesh or flesh that has been freezer-burned. The flesh should be free from any discoloration or darkening, and it should spring back when pressed gently with your finger, per the FDA.

Keep an eye out for freezer burn, ice crystals or post-thaw mushiness. Even if your freezer is set at the right temperature (0 degrees F, according to the USDA), but you haven't properly sealed your fish before freezing it, water molecules will try to escape, causing your salmon to become freezer-burned, per the Library of Congress. Air can then get into your salmon.

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While freezer-burned salmon is safe to eat, it probably won't taste very good.

How to Store Salmon

Store Salmon in the Fridge

Never leave salmon or other perishable food out of the refrigerator for more than 2 hours, per Consumer Reports. Illness-causing bacteria can grow quickly in raw, unrefrigerated seafood, according to the FDA.

Put your salmon in the fridge as soon as you can. If you have a long drive home from the grocery store, bring a cooler with ice packs to keep your salmon cold.

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Salmon in the fridge should be stored below 40 degrees F, so make sure your refrigerator is cold enough, per the FDA. Plan to eat your salmon within 2 days of buying it as long as it's fresh. Freeze any raw seafood you won't use within 1 to 2 days, per Consumer Reports.

Tip

Store salmon in the main part of the fridge. You shouldn't store any perishables on the door because the temperature on this outer part of your fridge is more likely to fluctuate, per Consumer Reports.

Freeze Salmon

You can refrigerate your salmon in its original store packaging, but if you freeze it, wrap it tightly in plastic, foil or moisture-proof paper before storing it in the freezer, per the FDA.

Don't freeze fatty fish like salmon for more than 2 or 3 months, according to Consumer Reports. Salmon (like any other frozen food) will last indefinitely in the freezer, but the quality will begin to deteriorate after that time, per the FDA.

If you decide to freeze your salmon, it's best to freeze it as soon as possible and not wait until the salmon is near the end of its refrigerated life. If your salmon has been handled properly, you can refreeze it — but, moisture loss during the thawing process may mean reduced quality, according to the USDA.

Thaw frozen salmon gradually in the refrigerator — do not place it on your kitchen counter. If you must thaw your fish in a hurry, make sure it's sealed in a plastic bag and place it in a bowl of cold water, per the FDA. Check the water often to see if the fish has thawed, and then remove it from the water and cook immediately.

Your other option is to thaw it in the microwave on the defrost setting, stopping it when the fish is icy but pliable.

Prep Your Salmon

Cook salmon to an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees F (you can use a food thermometer to test the temperature), per the FDA.

By cooking it to 145 degrees F, you're reducing the chances of any food poisoning or other foodborne illness, per Consumer Reports.

And remember to keep cooked seafood hot until you're ready to serve it. If you decide to chill your salmon, put the cooked salmon in the refrigerator until you're ready to serve it.

Tip

Follow the 2-hour rule after cooking salmon — never leave it out for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour if temperatures are above 90 degrees F. It's best to serve and eat salmon immediately after it's cooked or chilled.

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