How to Tell if Fish is Bad

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While many people enjoy eating fish, few know how to tell if fish is bad. Fish can be easily contaminated and spoil within hours of being caught. Here’s a guide to show you how to know when fish is bad.


When you go shopping for fish, you might notice a number of different labels. There are some distinct differences between these labels, which can make a big difference in the quality of the fish you buy. If you know what to look for, you will be able to judge the freshness of a piece of fish and determine whether or not it is still good to eat.

There are certain health risks that are always associated with spoilt foods and fish is not an exemption. Determining whether the fish you are buying or consuming is bad is somehow challenging, considering its smelly and slightly slimy nature.

Even with this challenge, you still need to consume fresh and good fish as this is the only way you’ll absorb the proteins it comes packed with and avoid the health-risks of spoilt food.


There are many types of fish that you can consume, including Catfish, Tuna, Salmon, Tilapia and Salmon, all that come with varying sell-by dates. It is recommended to buy fish with a sell-by date that is not due. If there is a use-by date, it would help if you cooked and consumed the fish before this date is due.

This said, you may still doubt whether your fish is safe for consumption or not. Here are strategies to evaluate whether your fish has gone bad:

The main indicators

Feel for a slimy coating- When fish goes bad, its outer surface becomes wetter and develops a slippery layer. If your fish has a thick layer of slime and feels slippery to the touch, it is fully spoiled and consuming it is a great risk to your health. Note that cooked fish does not develop a slimy texture and should be consumed as soon as possible (see recommendations in the shelf life section).

Give the fish a sniff for a pungent fishy smell- Fresh fish should smell like the ocean or just like fish- it’s hard to miss the proper smell of a fish. Any smell that is off the standard fish aroma is an indicator that the fish has gone bad. As the fish continues to spoil, the strange pungent smell may potentially turn into the putrid smell of spoilt meat.

Other indicators that a fish has gone bad

• Glossy milky color on its outer surface- Fresh fish should be light pink or white in color with a thin, transparent outer surface.

• Brown bloodline- The bloodline is the strip of bloody muscle that runs through many fish centers. The bloodline is normally red in color for fresh fish.

• Loose scales- The scales of a fresh fish should be intact and tightly attached to the body.

How to extend the shelf life of fish

The easiest way to keep fish fresh for a long time is by keeping it chilled at all times. If you have a fridge, consider storing it in the coldest section (40◦F or less) immediately after use. Raw fish should be kept in the fridge for 1-2 days.

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For already prepared fish, consider storing it in tightly closed containers to keep it free from moisture and other contaminants. Cooked fish should be stored in the fridge for 3-4 days.

If you want to keep your fish for a more extended period, a freezer will come in handy. Raw fish will stay in a freezer (0◦F) for 3-8 months, while cooked fish will stay in a freezer for up to 3 months.

Final thoughts

Maintaining proper food hygiene and safety practices will keep foodborne illnesses at bay and ensure that the fish or any other food you consume benefits you health-wise. With good fish storage, whether fresh or cooked, you’ll always eat healthier, reduce the money you spend on food and conserve the environment as you will reduce wastage.

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