How To Tell If Salmon Is Bad?

Do you like salmon? It’s a healthy and tasty fish, but you need to be careful how you store it. Salmon can spoil quickly, so it’s important to know how to tell if salmon is bad.

Salmon is a protein-rich food often found on restaurant menus and in grocery stores. But what if you cook salmon at home and it’s not as fresh as you thought? Or maybe you’ve got a few leftover salmon fillets and are unsure if they’re still good to eat?

When you are out at the grocery store, it can be tough how to know if salmon is bad. After all, it is a fish and it can be hard to tell if something is off just by looking at it. However, there are some things that you can look for to help you determine whether or not salmon is bad.

This blog post will discuss the signs of spoilage to look out for when buying or cooking salmon. We’ll also provide some tips on how to store and prepare salmon safely so that you can minimize the risk of food poisoning.

So, whether you’re a beginner cook or an experienced chef, read on for everything you need to know about how to tell if salmon has gone bad. Stay safe and enjoy your delicious salmon!

What Makes Salmon Go Bad?

There are several factors that can cause salmon to go bad.

The most common are bacteria. Bacteria thrive in moist, protein-rich environments like salmon. When salmon is exposed to oxygen, bacteria can start to grow.

This process is accelerated by warm temperatures. When these bacteria come into contact with salmon, they can multiply quickly and cause the fish to rot.

Bacteria are not the only thing that can cause salmon to spoil. Salmon is also susceptible to oxidation, which occurs when the fish is exposed to oxygen. This can cause the salmon to turn brown or yellow and will have a fishy odor.

Another factor that causes salmon to spoil is improper storage. If salmon is not stored properly, it will start to spoil within a few days and develop bacteria that can make you sick.

Another common one simply ages. As salmon gets older, it starts to break down and spoil. This process is accelerated by heat and oxygen, so if you leave salmon out at room temperature or expose it to too much air, it will spoil faster.

The same is true when you leave salmon in the fridge or freezer long enough. It will also start to deteriorate.

Finally, salmon can go bad if it is not cooked properly. Salmon should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. If it is not cooked to this temperature, bacteria can grow and cause food poisoning.

How To Tell If Salmon Is Bad?

1. By Expiration Dates

The first and most obvious way to tell if salmon is bad is by the expiration date on the package. If you see that the salmon has passed its expiration date, then it is probably not safe to eat.

Most stores sell salmon that has already been frozen, so you can safely store it in your freezer. But if you buy fresh salmon, you’ll need to use raw salmon within two days.

However, you should also use your own judgment even if the salmon hasn’t technically expired yet. For example, if it looks or smells off, it’s probably not safe to eat.

Note: If you buy fresh salmon from the butcher counter, it won’t be labeled date.

The USDA recommends that you cook and consume fish within two days of buying it, so if your salmon is more than two days old in the refrigerator, it is best to throw it out.

Tips: If you have some salmon that is approaching its expiration date, you can extend its shelf life by freezing it.

Also, if you’re not sure about the expiration date, you can also check for signs of spoilage, which we talk about next.

2. By Appearance

Another thing you should do when trying to determine if salmon is bad is to look at the color of the fish. Salmon is usually light pink, red, or orange in color when it is fresh with shiny, silver skin.

When it comes to salmon, the color can be an indicator of its freshness. If you are buying wild salmon, then you should look for a fish that has a vibrant pink or orange color. If the salmon is farm-raised, then it will typically have a light pink color.

As salmon starts to spoil or old, the flesh will change color and will start to turn white, gray, brown, or black spots. If you see any of these colors on the flesh of the salmon, it is best to throw it out.

If the salmon is starting to turn white or gray and the salmon skin looks dull and lifeless, that means it’s beginning to oxidize and is not as fresh as it once was. If the salmon has any brown patches, black spots, or even mold that indicates that it is starting to spoil.

Tips: If you are unsure about the color of the fish, ask the person working at the seafood counter or grocery store. They should be able to tell you if the salmon is fresh or not.

However, if you find the whole salmon, you can look into their eyes. They should be bright and slightly bulging. If they look sunken, dull, or mushy, your salmon has gone bad.

Moreover, if you look at the shape of the salmon, you see that they are curved rather than straight. This is also a sign that your salmon is starting to spoil.

Tips: When buying frozen salmon, look for packages that are still frozen solid and have no signs of ice crystals or freezer burn. If you are buying canned salmon, look for cans that are not dented or damaged, and make sure that the salmon is packed in water or oil, not brine.

3. By Texture

In addition to looking at the color and expiration dates of salmon, you can also tell if salmon or fillet is bad by looking at the texture of the flesh.

Fresh salmon should have firm flesh with a moist appearance, and it will be elastic again after you press into it with your fingers. The texture of the salmon should also be moist and flaky.

When you run your fingers along the salmon fillet to check the bones, your hand will glide easily without sticking. And you won’t feel any mushy or slimy areas either.

As salmon starts to spoil, the flesh will be softer to the touch and will start to fall apart. You will also feel the salmon flesh breaking when you press into it.

If the salmon looks slimy or sticky residues, has discolored patches, or feels mushy to the touch, it is likely spoiled and should not be eaten.

If you are still unsure whether the salmon is good, cook a small piece of it and taste it. If it tastes fine, then it is probably safe to eat. However, if it tastes bad or off, throw it away.

4. By Smell

One of the easiest ways to tell if salmon is bad is by smell. Fresh salmon should have a mild, slightly fishy smell, ocean-like smell. If it smells too fishy, it is probably not fresh.

Moreover, if the salmon smells sour, rancid, ammonia-like, or otherwise unpleasant it has gone bad. If you notice this smell, it’s best to discard the salmon rather than risk eating it and becoming ill.

Tips: If you’re at the grocery store and you’re not sure if the salmon is fresh, ask the fishmonger for a sample.

When it comes to salmon, it is important to be aware of the signs of spoilage. By knowing how to tell if salmon is bad, you can avoid food poisoning and enjoy your meal.

If you’re ever in doubt, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

5. Sell-By vs Use-By Date (Bonus)

Another sign to know if salmon is bad is to check the sell-by or use-by date. This information is usually printed on the package. Be careful not to confuse these two concepts.

The sell-by date is determined by the grocery store or fish market and indicates when the salmon was originally caught. The sell-by date will give you a good idea of how long the salmon has been out of the water and whether it’s still safe to eat.

Moreover, this will give you an idea of how long the salmon has been sitting in the store. If it’s close to the sell-by date, you should probably cook it as soon as possible.

If the sell-by date has passed, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the salmon is bad. Salmon can be properly stored in a fridge for up to two days after the sell-by date, but this will vary depending on the quality of the fish.

Note: The sell-by date is more of a guideline for stores to know when they should remove the product from their shelves.

The use-by date is determined by the manufacturer and indicates when the salmon should be used by. The use-by date is a more reliable indicator of how fresh the salmon is.

The use-by date is different from the sell-by date in that it’s the last day that you should eat the salmon, for peak salmon freshness and the least risk of poisoning and foodborne illness.

If the salmon is past the use-by date, it is more likely that the fish has begun to spoil and it may not be safe to eat. Use your best judgment when deciding whether or not to consume salmon that is past its use-by date.

What Are The Risks Of Eating Bad Salmon?

Salmon is a highly perishable food and, like all seafood, it can harbor bacteria that can cause food poisoning (if it is not stored or cooked properly).

Salmon spoilage can occur in one of two ways: either the fish has gone bad or it was not properly handled and prepared. It can cause a host of gastrointestinal issues, including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

The most common type of food poisoning from salmon is caused by bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes. These bacteria can live in cold water and survive in refrigerated temperatures. It can cause serious illness, especially in pregnant women, the elderly, and young children.

Other bacteria that can cause food poisoning from bad salmon include Salmonella and Vibrio Vulnificus. These bacteria can cause vomiting, headache, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and fever.

Also, you can get scombroid poisoning and ciguatera poisoning when eating bad salmon. You may experience symptoms such as flushing, gastrointestinal distress, and hives during scombroid poisoning.

For ciguatera poisoning, signs will include muscle aches, itching, temperature fluctuations, gastrointestinal distress, numbness, headache, or even a metallic taste in your mouth.

While most people will recover from salmon food poisoning without any long-term effects, some may experience more serious complications, such as kidney failure or neurological damage.

Pregnant women, young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems are especially at risk for complications from eating spoiled salmon.

In severe cases, food poisoning from bad salmon can lead to hospitalization, dehydration, weakness, or even death.

That’s why it’s so important to know how to tell if salmon is bad and to take steps to avoid eating spoiled fish.

Can Cooking Bad Salmon Make It Safe?

No, cooking bad salmon will not make it safe to eat. Cooking salmon to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit will kill bacteria.

However, it’s important to note that this does not make the salmon safe to eat if it has already gone bad. This is because the bacteria may have produced poisons and toxins that are not killed by cooking.

Moreover, salmon that has gone bad will have an off-putting smell, flavor, and texture. And you will be at risk of food-borne illnesses if you eat them.

If you suspect that your salmon is bad, do not eat it, even if you cook it thoroughly. If you have any concerns about your health after eating bad salmon, please seek medical attention immediately.

How Long Does Salmon Last? (At Room Temperature, In The Fridge, and Freezer)

Salmon is a delicate fish and it needs to be handled with care. The shelf life of salmon depends on a variety of factors, including the type of fish, how it was caught, and how it was handled and stored.

Note: Wild-caught salmon will usually have a shorter shelf life than farmed salmon.

If you’re planning to eat salmon within a maximum of 2 hours of buying it, you can leave it out at room temperature. However, if you’re not going to eat it right away, it’s best to store salmon in the fridge.

You may have heard that fish should be kept on ice, but this is only true for fish that will be kept for more than a few hours. If you’re going to eat salmon within 2 hours, there’s no need to keep it on ice.

If you’re buying fresh salmon at the grocery store, make sure to check the sell-by date. Fresh or raw salmon that is properly refrigerated will last for two to three days after the sell-by date.

Properly stored, cooked salmon will last for 3-4 days in the refrigerator. To extend the shelf life of cooked salmon, freeze it. Frozen cooked salmon will maintain its best quality for 2-3 months.

Note: Cooked salmon can be frozen, but it will lose some of its flavor and moisture.

Fresh or raw salmon that has been frozen can last for up to six months, but it’s important to defrost it properly before cooking. 

The freezer time shown is for best quality only – salmon that has been kept constantly frozen at 0°F will keep safe for up to several years.

Moreover, salmon that has been smoked or canned can last for several months in the freezer. Check out the table below to learn about the shelf life chart of different types of salmon:

Salmon TypeAt Room TemperatureIn The FridgeIn The Freezer
Raw salmon (fresh)2 hours1-2 days2-3 months (best quality), but can stay up to 6 months
Cooked salmon2 hours3-4 days2-3 months
Unopened smoked salmonShelf life + 2-3 days2-3 months
Opened smoked salmon2 hours1 weekUp to 3 months
Unopened canned salmon3-5 years
Opened canned salmon2 hours3 – 4 daysUp to 6 months

How To Store Salmon So That It Lasts Longer?

1. In The Refrigerator

To ensure that your salmon stays fresh, it’s important to store it properly in the fridge. Salmon should be stored in the coldest part of the fridge (The ideal temperature is from 32°F to less than 40°F), which is usually the bottom shelf or the back of the fridge.

Note: For perishable foods such as salmon or seafood in general, you should not leave them on the refrigerator door. Because the temperature in this outer part of the refrigerator is more likely to fluctuate, leading to quicker spoilage of the salmon.

To keep your salmon fresh for as long as possible, store it in an airtight container or wrap it tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. If you’re using a container, make sure that there is no air exposure as this can cause the salmon to spoil quickly.

2. In The Freezer

If you have extra salmon that you won’t be able to eat within a few days, it’s best to store it in the freezer. Salmon can be stored in the freezer for up to six months without compromising quality.

When freezing salmon, wrap each piece tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. This will help to keep the fish fresh and prevent freezer burn.

You can then place the wrapped salmon in a zip-top freezer bag or container. Be sure to label the bag or container with the date so you know when it was frozen.

If you’re planning on freezing multiple pieces of salmon, you can also place them in a freezer bag. Be sure to remove as much air from the bag as possible before sealing it shut.

You should place the bag of salmon in the coldest part of your freezer (such as the bottom or back.) to keep them as long as possible.

How To Thaw Frozen Salmon Properly?

1. In The Fridge

If you have salmon that has been frozen, it is important to thaw it properly before cooking. The best way to defrost salmon is to leave it overnight in the refrigerator.

This method takes longer, but it is the safest way to thaw salmon so that you don’t run the risk of food poisoning. Salmon that is not properly thawed can be unsafe to eat and can also affect the quality of the fish.

Note: Do not thaw salmon at room temperature on the countertop. Room temperature is too warm and will cause bacteria to grow.

To thaw salmon in the fridge, remove the fish from its packaging and place it on a plate or in a container. Cover the salmon with a damp paper towel or a lid and place it in the fridge. Allow the salmon to thaw overnight or for at least 12 hours.

Once the salmon has thawed, cook it immediately or store it in the fridge for up to two days. If you are not going to use the salmon right away, be sure to keep it refrigerated until you are ready to cook it.

You cannot refreeze thawed salmon, so be sure to have everything you need to cook the salmon ready before you start thawing it.

2. In Cold Water

If you have forgotten to thaw your salmon in the fridge or don’t have time to do so, don’t worry! You can safely thaw frozen salmon in cold water.

This will help to preserve the quality of the fish and prevent it from drying out. To thaw salmon in cold water, simply place the frozen fish in a resealable bag and submerge it in cold water.

Change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cold, or until it is fully thawed. After about 2 hours, your salmon should be thawed and ready to cook.

Note: If you freeze salmon in small packages, thawing time with cold water can be 1 hour or less.

When thawing salmon in cold water, be sure to cook it within 24 hours. Otherwise, bacteria can start to grow and the salmon can spoil.

3. In The Microwave

If you’re in a hurry, the quickest and easiest way to defrost frozen salmon is in the microwave. But there are a few things you need to know to do it safely.

First, remove the salmon from its packaging and place it on a microwave-safe plate. If it’s in a plastic bag or wrap, transfer it to a plate or bowl before microwaving.

Next, cover the frozen salmon with a damp paper towel to keep the salmon from drying out. Using the defrost or low power setting (50% power) on your microwave. This will help to thaw the salmon without cooking it.

Start by microwaving the salmon for 2 minutes, then flip the salmon over and microwave for another 2 minutes. If it’s not completely thawed, microwave it in 30-second increments until it is.

Once the salmon is defrosted, cook it immediately or transfer it to the fridge and use it within 24 hours.

Tips For Cooking and Reheating Salmon

When preparing salmon, it’s important to take some basic food safety precautions. First, always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before you start handling the salmon. This will help to prevent the spread of bacteria.

Next, make sure to cook the salmon all the way through. Salmon should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. You can use a food thermometer to check the temperature of the fish. 

Finally, avoid cross-contamination by keeping raw salmon away from other food. Make sure to use separate cutting boards and knives for raw and cooked salmon. And always wash these items thoroughly with soap and water after they come into contact with raw salmon.

Reheating salmon is a great way to enjoy it again. But, how you reheat salmon can make a big difference in taste and quality.

When it comes to reheating salmon, there are a few things you need to keep in mind in order to do it safely. First of all, you should always make sure that the salmon is cooked all the way through before you attempt to reheat it.

Once you’ve verified that the salmon is cooked, you can begin reheating it. One of the best ways to reheat salmon is by using the oven.

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit and place the salmon on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Bake the salmon for about 10-12 minutes, or until it is heated all the way through.

Tips: You can also add some moisture back into the fish by adding a little bit of water or chicken broth to the pan before you reheat it. This will help to keep the salmon from drying out.

If you’re reheating salmon in an air fryer, the process is similar to oven-reheating. Simply preheat your air fryer to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and cook the salmon for 3-4 minutes. 

You can also reheat salmon in the microwave, but be careful not to overcook it. Microwave the salmon on high power for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Be sure to use a microwave-safe dish and heat it in short bursts so that it doesn’t dry out.

Another way to reheat salmon is by using the stovetop. First, preheat a pan over medium heat. Then, add some oil to the pan and place the salmon fillets in the pan. Cook for about 3-5 minutes per side, or until the salmon is cooked all the way through.

Another thing to keep in mind when reheating salmon is that you should never reheat it more than once. Reheating salmon multiple times can increase your risk of food poisoning.

Common Mistakes When Storing Salmon

One of the most common mistakes people make when storing salmon is not keeping it cold enough. Salmon should be stored in the refrigerator at a temperature of 40°F or below. If salmon is kept at a temperature above 40°F for more than two hours, it becomes unsafe to eat.

Another mistake people make when storing salmon is not wrapping it properly. Salmon should be wrapped in plastic wrap or placed in a covered container to prevent it from drying out. If salmon is not properly wrapped, it will dry out quickly and become unsafe to eat.

Finally, people often make the mistake of storing salmon in the freezer for too long. While freezing salmon can extend its shelf life, it will also change the texture and flavor of the fish. Salmon that has been frozen for more than three months is not as fresh as it once was and may not be as enjoyable to eat.

FAQs Of How To Tell If Salmon Is Bad

1. Can I eat expired salmon?

If you’re wondering whether it’s safe to eat salmon that has expired, the answer is usually no. Salmon is a perishable food and should be consumed within two days of being caught or purchased.

After that time, the quality of the fish will start to decline and it will become more susceptible to bacteria growth. While it is possible to eat expired salmon, it’s not recommended.

If you do choose to eat fish that is past its expiration date, make sure to cook it thoroughly. If the salmon has been properly stored and handled, then it may be safe to eat. 

However, if the fish has not been stored properly, then it could be contaminated with bacteria that can cause food poisoning. Expired salmon may have a sour smell, off-color flesh, or be slimy to the touch.

These are all signs that the fish has gone bad and could make you sick. To be on the safe side, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and throw out any salmon that is past its expiration date.

2. Can you cook salmon while it’s still frozen?

You can cook salmon while it is still frozen, but it will take longer to cook evenly. We recommend thawing your salmon in the fridge overnight before cooking. This will help the fish cook more evenly and prevent overcooking.

When cooking frozen salmon, be sure to use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature of the fish. The USDA recommends cooking salmon to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

3. Do you wash prepackaged salmon?

Washing prepackaged salmon is not necessary. The packaging is typically sanitary and designed to keep the fish fresh.

If you choose to wash your salmon, be sure to use clean, cold water and avoid soap or other cleaners as they can introduce bacteria. Dry the salmon with a clean paper towel before cooking.

4. Can I leave frozen salmon out to thaw?

It’s generally not recommended to leave frozen salmon out to thaw because it can cause the fish to spoil. Also, this can cause bacteria to grow and potentially make you sick.

If you need to thaw salmon quickly, it’s best to do so under cold running water or in the refrigerator. However, if you plan on cooking the salmon immediately after thawing, you can leave it out at room temperature.

5. Can I eat salmon with freezer burn?

If you see ice crystals or frost on your salmon, this is called freezer burn. This is caused by exposure to air, and it results in dry, white patches on the surface of the fish.

While salmon that has freezer burn is safe to eat, it will not taste as good as fresh salmon. The texture and flavor of the fish will be affected by the freezer burn.

If you notice any signs of freezer burn, trim off the affected areas before cooking.

6. Can you refreeze salmon?

As a general rule, you should not refreeze salmon. Salmon is a delicate fish and it can spoil quickly. Once it has been thawed, the texture and flavor of the fish will change.

When salmon is frozen, the water in the fish’s cells expands and breaks down the cell walls. This process is called “freezer burn.” When salmon is thawed, the water in the cells thaws, and the cell walls repair themselves.

However, the process of thawing and refreezing salmon damages the cell walls beyond repair. This results in a fish that is mushy in texture and has an off-flavor.

So, if you’ve got some leftover salmon that you want to save for later, you’re better off cooking it and then freezing the cooked fish. That way, you can thaw and reheat the salmon without compromising its texture or flavor.

7. Do you rinse frozen salmon?

You might have heard that you should never wash fish before cooking it. This is because washing can remove the natural oils and flavors from the fish.

However, when it comes to frozen salmon, it’s actually best to rinse it before cooking. This is because frozen salmon can sometimes contain ice crystals or frost, which can Dilute the fish’s flavor.

When rinsing frozen salmon, make sure to use cold water so that the fish doesn’t start to thaw too quickly. You can also pat the salmon dry with a paper towel before cooking to help remove any excess moisture.

8. What to do after eating bad salmon?

If you experience any of the following symptoms after eating bad salmon, seek medical attention immediately.

– Nausea

– Vomiting

– Diarrhea

– Abdominal pain

– Fever

– Headache

These symptoms may indicate a foodborne illness, which can be serious, especially for young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems. If you suspect that you have food poisoning, call your doctor or go to the emergency room.

It is also important to remember that bad salmon can contaminate other food in your kitchen, so be sure to clean all surfaces and utensils that may have come into contact with the contaminated salmon. This will help prevent the spread of foodborne illness.

9. Can I eat salmon that smells fishy?

Fresh salmon should have a mild and pleasant aroma. If your salmon smells fishy or off, it’s probably not safe to eat.

Of course, all fish has a slightly fishy smell. But if the fishy smell is strong or accompanied by other unpleasant smells, like sulfur or ammonia, then it’s time to toss the salmon out.

10. What does off salmon smell like?

Bad salmon will emit a pungent and fishy odor. This is due to the breakdown of proteins in the fish. If the salmon smells sour, metallic, or ammonia-like, it’s time to toss it out.

When you’re cooking salmon, pay attention to the smell as well. If it smells bad while you’re cooking it, there’s a good chance that it has gone bad and you should throw it out.


Now that you know how to tell if salmon is bad, you can enjoy this healthy and delicious fish with peace of mind. Remember to always check for signs of spoilage before cooking or eating salmon.

There are some tell-tale signs of spoilage to look for when buying or cooking salmon, including off smells, slimy texture, and discoloration. If you’re unsure if your salmon is still good to eat, err on the side of caution and throw it out.

This is especially important if you are serving salmon to young children, the elderly, or pregnant women, as they are more susceptible to food poisoning. Play it safe when cooking salmon and follow food safety guidelines.

To avoid wasting salmon, be sure to store it properly in the fridge or freezer and use it within 2 days of purchase. When in doubt, always consult a certified food safety expert.

By following these simple tips, you can enjoy delicious, fresh salmon without worrying about food poisoning. So next time you’re at the store or cooking at home, remember to keep an eye out for these signs of spoilage. Enjoy your salmon!

Do you have any other tips on how to know if salmon is bad? Share them with us in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!

Chef Chip Roman is one of the most exciting and talented chefs in Philadelphia. He has his own catering business, Charles Roman Catering, as well as Roman Restaurant Group which includes Blackfish, Mica, and Ela. He graduated from Drexel University in 2002 with a degree in business and culinary arts. Chip Roman is a classically trained chef who has worked in some of the most prestigious kitchens and chefs in Philadelphia, including Le Bec Fin’s George Perrier and Marc Vetri’s Vetri.

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