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How To Tell If Fish Is Bad

It is important to know how to tell if fish has gone bad before you cook it. Fish is one of the leading causes of food poisoning.

One of the most obvious signs of bad fish is the smell. You can also tell by its appearance and the way that it feels.

I am going to go over a step-by-step guide to help you know how to tell if fish has spoiled before you cook it.

3 fresh fish filets on a round cutting board with raw red onion rings and lemon wedges.

How to tell if fish is bad can be quite easy. The easiest way to tell if your fish has gone bad is by the way it smells.

If you get a fishy smell when you open the package or sniff it then it has spoiled. Other indicators of bad fish are if it looks grey, translucent, or is slimy.

Best ways to tell if fish has gone bad

a whole fish on a board

Typically when you buy fish you want to cook it the same day you buy it or within 24 hours. Make sure to look it over when you buy it and before you cook it.

You really don’t want to mess with bad fish so it is important to be confident that it is fresh before you start to prepare it. Knowing how to tell if fish is fresh is really simple.

Using your sense of smell, touch, and sight will help you to know if it has spoiled. Let’s get into the easy ways to tell if fish is bad or not.

If you’re looking at salmon I have an entire post to know how to tell if salmon has gone bad or not.

1. Fishy smell

smelly fish on a counter

You would think that fish should smell fishy because, well, it is fish right? That is not actually the case. If fish smells fishy then it has usually gone bad.

The smell of ammonia is another sign of bad fish. It shouldn’t have much of a smell at all if any.

You are looking for a fresh smell or no smell at all. If it is fish from the sea like salmon or haddock or cod it’s okay that it has a smell like the ocean.

2. How it looks

fish on a plate

Fish that looks grayish, dull in color, or translucent are indicators that the fish have spoiled.

Fish, however, comes in different colors as salmon which should be reddish pink, cod which you want to be white, or tuna which should be a dark red or pinkish color.

When buying a filet it should look wet and glisten.

If you are unsure by looking at it, give it the sniff test and feel it to be sure that it is fresh.

3. How it feels is it Slimy

Slimy-feeling fish is a sign of it being spoiled. You may also notice a milky-like flesh on it if it has gone bad also.

Fish will feel wet when you buy them and that is normal. But you never want it to feel sticky or slimy.

How to store fish

It’s crucial to know how to store it correctly to preserve its freshness. Start by storing fresh fish in the fridge immediately after purchase, ideally on a bed of ice.

If you’re not going to consume the fish within one to two days, consider freezing it. For freezing, wrap the fish tightly in plastic wrap, followed by aluminum foil or a freezer bag.

Remember to thaw frozen fish slowly in the fridge, not at room temperature, to avoid bacteria growth. Correct storage methods can not only extend the shelf life of fish but also maintain its taste and quality.


cooked salmon a plate

It is really important when you are buying your fish that you look it over well before it gets packaged. Don’t be afraid to ask them at the counter to smell it.

Fresh fish won’t have much of a smell at all and will look wet and glistening, and bright in color. You do not want to risk eating bad fish as you will be at risk of food poisoning and it will not be pleasant.

Be sure to cook it up within 24 hours of buying it so reduce the risk of it spoiling before you get a chance to cook it up and enjoy it.

Frequently asked questions about how to tell if fish is bad

The long and short is that you can get really sick. Perhaps you get a form of food poisoning. I highly recommend making sure that the fish had not gone bad before you go ahead and eat it.

The smell is the easiest way. Fish should not smell fishy it should smell like the sea or nothing at all. If it is not fresh you can also tell by the texture, if its falling apart then most likely it is also rotten.

It is the best habit to get to your fish as soon as it is thawed. I do not recommend waiting for 24-48 hrs after the fish has been thawed.

You don’t want to mess around with fish that has gone bad. Cook it asap.

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