How to Tell if Salmon is Bad: What Does It Look Like?

Keeping some salmon on hand for use in your favorite dishes or for cooking up as a fast meal when you’re not sure what else to make is an excellent idea. However, if you keep salmon around often enough, you’ll eventually run into the difficult and frustrating question: Has this salmon gone bad? 

No one wants to eat fish that’s off. That’s just a recipe for a nasty case of food-borne illness. So how do you know if salmon is bad? Here’s what to watch for. 

What Makes Salmon Go Bad? 

Salmon can be considered “bad” when it’s reached a point where it’s no longer enjoyable, or even safe, to eat. Salmon can go bad due to improper handling, improper storage, bacteria growth or just old age (after all, you keep anything in your fridge or freezer long enough and it will start to deteriorate). 

When wondering how to tell if salmon is bad, there are a few important things to look for

How to Tell if Salmon Has Gone Bad: APPEARANCE 

How do you know when salmon is bad? One of the key giveaways is appearance. So what does bad salmon look like? 

Bad vs Good Salmon

Salmon that’s old or spoiled will often look dull or grayish (compared to the bright pink hue of fresh, high-quality salmon). In addition to an overall unappetizing appearance, the salmon may have dark spots or even mold, or other white, filmy residues. 

Beyond the color of the salmon, if you’re examining a whole salmon, you can take a look at the eyes. The eyes may seem sunken or filmy if your salmon has gone bad.

Look at the shape, too. Is the salmon slightly curved rather than straight? That could also be a sign that it's gone bad as well.

How to Tell if Salmon Has Gone Bad: TEXTURE

Is the appearance of your whole salmon or salmon filet not enough to convince you that it is or is not spoiled? You can also examine the salmon’s texture.

Press into the filet and then remove your finger. Does the flesh spring back into place? Does it feel firm? If not, your filet may be spoiled. Salmon that's gone bad will often feel almost like it’s about to fall apart, or sometimes mushy. 

Other things to watch for when examining your fish by touch are slimy or sticky residues, both indicators of spoilage.  

How to Tell if Salmon Has Gone Bad: SMELL

Smell is often a dead giveaway for spoiled salmon. Fresh salmon should have little to no smell. That’s right — the best fish doesn't smell particularly fishy. It's the bad fish that smells strongly of that characteristic “fishy” smell. 

Beyond “fishy” aromas, if you take a whiff of your salmon and notice any hints of ammonia, or anything rancid or sour, do yourself a favor and toss it. 

Sell-by vs. Use-by Date

It’s simple to assume that the date on your salmon’s packaging is a clear indicator of your salmon's freshness, but that's not always the case. Before you read a past date and toss perfectly-good salmon in the bin, look a little closer. Is the date on your salmon’s packaging a sell-by or a use-by date?

A use-by date is just that: the date by which you should’ve used up all of your raw salmon, for peak freshness and the least risk of food-borne illness. However, a sell-by date gives you a little more time. After the sell-by date, you should have one to two extra days to eat the fish, as it’s typically considered safe to keep in your refrigerator for one to two days after purchase. 

Risks of Eating Bad Salmon 

So now you know how to know when salmon is bad, which means you can mitigate the risks of eating bad salmon. But are you thinking about risking it and cooking up the iffy salmon anyway? You might want to reconsider. 

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, there are two types of food poisoning you can get from fish, ciguatera poisoning and scombroid poisoning. Signs of ciguatera poisoning include gastrointestinal distress, muscle aches, headache, itching, numbness, temperature fluctuations or even a metallic taste in your mouth. Signs of scombroid poisoning include gastrointestinal distress, flushing and hives. 

Can Cooking Bad Salmon Kill the Bacteria?

It makes sense that cooking your bad salmon would kill all of the illness-causing bacteria and allow you to eat your salmon as planned, but that’s unfortunately not the case. While heat can kill food-borne bacteria, many bacteria produce poisons and toxins. The cooking process won’t kill off these poisons and toxins, leaving you vulnerable to food-borne illnesses. 

Wild Alaskan salmon fillet

How Long Will Salmon Stay Fresh in the Fridge or Freezer? 

This all depends on how fresh your salmon is when you get it. Was it something you purchased at the grocery store that has already been thawed out, or did you purchase your salmon directly from the fisherman that was flash-frozen? If you bought it at the grocery store, it’ll have a very short shelf life, so we recommend eating it the day you purchase it. If you bought it from a well known source that was flash-frozen immediately after harvest, you will be able to store it in the fridge for 5 days after thawing it out! 

Alaskan Salmon Company ships salmon that is vacuum-sealed and flash-frozen and if you decide to store it in your freezer it will last up to 3 years! However sometimes due to handling or temperature fluctuations, the seal can break and we recommend eating it within one year to enjoy all of the amazing nutrients and flavor! 

Wherever you put it, store your salmon properly to prevent spoilage and bacteria growth. Store your salmon below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the fridge, and in tight plastic or foil in the freezer. Then, be sure to properly thaw your salmon before cooking. 

The Best Salmon Starts at the Source 

While any salmon can go bad under the right circumstances, you can limit your chances of running into some spoiled salmon in your fridge by purchasing fresh, high-quality salmon that you can trust has been handled and shipped safely. Alaskan Salmon Company’s wild-caught salmon is sourced from the clean, icy waters of the Copper River and then flash-frozen to retain freshness and quality. It arrives at your doorstep ready to thaw and cook. 

Get fresh Alaskan Salmon straight to your door from our fishermen and keep an eye on our blog to learn more about safe salmon handling and cooking techniques. 

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