How Long Can You Keep Fresh Fish in the Refrigerator: What Health Experts Say

The whole fish should be free of mucus, and the gills should be bright red. Fish from fresh or salt water is a healthy addition to your diet, providing both protein and important nutrients. However, fish spoils quickly if stored improperly – thawed fish does not have a long shelf life.

Refrigeration is important to keep fish fresh, and knowing how long fish can stay in the refrigerator until it is used can help prevent potential illness, writes

Refrigeration equipment at home

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s seafood storage guidelines recommend using all seafood, including fish, within two days of purchase.

It can be stored in the refrigerator, but if you do not intend to use the fish within this time, wrap it tightly in freezer paper, foil, or plastic wrap and store it in the freezer.

The American Heart Association recommends setting the refrigerator temperature at 5 degrees or lower to keep fish fresh. Foods, especially seafood, stored at temperatures above 5 degrees for more than two hours should not be consumed due to the risk of bacteria that can lead to food poisoning.

Store and market storage

If you are a fisherman and plan to eat what you have caught, place the fish in a plastic cooler with ice. Leave the drain hole of the cooler open so that water can drain out of the cooler as the ice melts. Close the drain hole only when transporting the catch.

With enough ice, properly chilled fish will stay in the cooler until you get home. Place enough water and ice in the cooler to submerge the fish with a gentle push, as recommended by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

When buying seafood, look for fish that is properly chilled at the fish market or grocery store. This usually means that the market stores the fish either directly in a refrigeration unit or on ice in a display case. Also, ask yourself if the establishment uses safe food handling practices and if it looks and smells clean.

Good and bad fish

Fish should have a mild, fresh odor. The eyes of fresh fish should be clear and slightly convex. Look for firm and shiny flesh that bounces back when pressed. The whole fish should be free of mucus and the gills should be bright red.

If your fish smells sour, fishy, or ammonia-like, or if the color of the flesh is dull, the fish may be old and should be discarded.

Frozen fish thawed in the refrigerator

Avoid thawing fish at room temperature. This can lead to food poisoning. To thaw frozen fish properly, place it in the refrigerator overnight. This will allow the fish to thaw gradually and prevent it from spoiling. As an alternative method of defrosting fish, place it in a resealable plastic bag and immerse it in cold water until it melts.

It is not recommended to defrost fish in hot water – this can cause the surface meat to start cooking while the inside is still frozen. When it is completely thawed, keep the fish in the refrigerator for no more than two days before eating.

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Written by Emma Miller

I am a registered dietitian nutritionist and own a private nutrition practice, where I provide one-on-one nutritional counseling to patients. I specialize in chronic disease prevention/ management, vegan/ vegetarian nutrition, pre-natal/ postpartum nutrition, wellness coaching, medical nutrition therapy, and weight management.

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