How To Tell If Fish Is Bad

So, you’ve had a couple of great fishing days – which happens to even the worst of us! – and you’ve caught a lot of fish. That’s exciting stuff, but if you’re the type of guy that hunts for food, it can also pose a bit of a problem.

I mean, how long can you keep those fish in the fridge, anyway?

The funny answer is: until your wife makes you get rid of it. But the REAL answer is probably a couple of days.

That’s the kicker about fish, it usually doesn’t last very long. While you can always freeze the fish, it’ll probably still go bad in a couple of months or in the blink of an eye.

For that reason, you might want to know a thing or two about spoiled fish. Namely, how to identify it. If not, you may end up eating something that will make you sick. And you know the saying: no good fisherman gets left behind! So, go ahead and check out these simple tricks to figure out whether your great catch has met its worst days.

Smell It

Rule numbero uno: Use your sense of smell. This is the easiest way to figure out if fish has gone bad— even though you probably don’t realize it is. Basically, if your fish smells too fishy, you’re in trouble. Wait, hear me out. It’ll start to make more sense.

Fresh fish may have a mild fish smell, but a better description is that it smells like the sea. However, when a fish starts to turn, its scent gets pungent. Overwhelmingly pungent! If your fish is beginning to smell absurdly fishy — like ammonia — it may be time to part ways.

So long, stinky little buddies.

See if That Sucker is Slimy

When raw fish starts to spoil, it develops a mucous-like film. Sounds appetizing, right? I know you may be struggling with these first two tips because we tend to think of fish as slimy and smelly. But if you’ve ever fished in your life, you know that’s not an entirely accurate description.

If you have a whole fish, it will probably feel a little wet and scaley. However, it won’t necessarily be slimy. In addition, if you’ve got film developing on the skinned meat of fish… trust your instincts, because that’s gross.

Stare Deeply Into the Fish’s Eyes

They say that when you look into a person’s eyes, you can usually tell if they’re lying. Well, if you look a fish in the eye, you can tell if it’s going to give you scombroid poisoning.

Much like when you first make your catch, fish eyes are meant to be clear and bulging. They are supposed to look like little orbs of spring water. In other words, if the eyes are clear, you’re probably in the clear.

On the other hand, if the fish’s eyes are cloudy or sunken, run the other way. Abort mission! Do not move forward with cooking procedures! Do you get the picture? Cloudy or sunken eyes are signs that the inside of the fish has started to decay.

Check the Gills

The next area you want to check, assuming that you store the entire fish, is the gills. This is a simple and easy way to indicate whether or not the fish is safe to eat.

Long story short, if the flesh inside the gills is red, the fish is probably still fresh. If you see purple or brown flesh, it’s probably long past its best-by date.

Inspect the Meat

If you’re the type that likes to store your fish after it has already been skinned and gutted, you can still use some of the tips mentioned above. If the meat is slimy or if it reeks, it’s probably no good. However, you can also look for signs in the meat itself.

You’ll want to keep an eye out for the discoloration or fading of the flesh. This is particularly helpful if you’re storing salmon. Salmon is typically pink with white lines throughout the meat. However, as it starts to turn to the dark side, the white lines fade and may look grayer. This is not a good sign. You may also look for discoloration like gray patches on any kind of fish to indicate that maybe you should skip out on cooking it.

If you’re not very good at noticing that your fish is the wrong color (there’s no judgment, just be honest), you can also give it a good prodding. In general, your fish should be firm. Thus, if you press into the meat and it sinks in or is squishy, it’s time to say goodbye to your dinner plans.

About Frozen Fish

If you were proactive enough to store your fish in the freezer, but you’re having doubts about whether it stood the test of time, don’t worry. If you thaw the fish, using tricks like checking the odor or slime will still work in determining whether it’s safe to eat. Remember, that fish should be thawed overnight in the fridge — not on the counter.

You may also be able to tell if the fish is alright to eat while it’s still frozen. If you see signs of freezer burn or if you see discoloration like brown or gray areas, toss it. Additionally, if the fish feels too lightweight, it may have started to go bad.

Other Points to Consider

When all is said and done, just keep in mind that it’s much better to be safe than sorry. If there’s a chance your fish could be bad, throw it out. It’s never worth getting yourself or your family and friends sick. There are never any good memories of a meal that gave you food poisoning.

If you’re the type that doesn’t want to be wasteful, then you may want to consider planning out how you fish. For example, you can combine catch-and-release and fishing-for-food methods so that you are only taking and storing fish when you need it. If you’ve got fish in the fridge or in the freezer, send your catches off to live another day. The environment will thank you, anyway.