Salmon is arguably the tastiest fish in the world. But every salmon lover has, at some point or other, asked themselves the question “how to tell if salmon is bad?”.
There are many dishes from different areas of the world that have salmon as their star ingredient. The nutritional qualities of this prized fish have made it an all-around bestseller: everyone wants a bit of salmon to improve their diet.
However, it can be a little disconcerting to buy and store. Salmon gone bad is something— as I, unfortunately, found out years ago— that you don’t want to eat! Here is my experience based guide to spot bad salmon and to store it so it keeps better the next time!
Table of Contents
A rundown on the allure of salmon
Salmon is great because
The nutritional credentials of this delicious fish are also impressive.
Salmon can be used in lots of recipes.
However, when salmon goes bad, you really do not want to eat it!
Why it is important to be able to spot salmon gone bad
A few years back, before I set out on my professional cooking journey, I was on a summer vacation with my family. We had decided to use our vacation to start eating more healthy and, as we wanted to have some fish, salmon was the obvious choice.
The problem was that the refrigerator in our cabin did not work as it should have, and we ended up with a piece of slightly off salmon that we decided to eat anyway. Bad choice! All four of us ended up with a very bad case of food poisoning!
The moral of the story is this: you must never ever eat any meat or fish that has gone bad or that has been left out or refrigerated incorrectly. If you do, you can develop illnesses that range from mild— like a tummy ache— to serious— like parasitical infections such as Trichinosis.
This is because when meat or fish are not stored properly— whether by the producers, stores, or you— it is the perfect place for bacteria and parasites to grow and spread like wildfire. Though some of the germs might be killed off by the cooking process of the salmon, others will, along with the toxins produced, stay in the fish and make you ill.
How to know if salmon is bad
Though it is very important to know how to tell when salmon is bad, it is not always easy! Many of us are not used to cooking with salmon on a regular basis. This might mean that we are not super familiar with how salmon normally tastes, looks, and smells like.
The good thing is: I have learned my lessons and researched all the signs and symptoms of bad salmon. Here is a quick and easy guide to know how to distinguish the bad fish from the good one!
Visual signs of salmon gone bad
Under normal conditions and in its best state, salmon should look rosy and appetizing— yes, even when raw! The flesh of the fish should look bright pink and have fine white lines— the stored fat of the animal, so good for our nutritional health— running through it. This indicates the salmon is fresh and safe to eat!!
But what does bad salmon look like, then?
- Bad salmon has a dulled, gray tint, as opposed to the bright and rosy look of fresh salmon. If it looks grayish, bin it!
- If you bought your salmon as whole fish, check the eyes. Healthy salmon eyes should be white with a dark pupil and they should bulge outward a little bit. If they look sunken, whitish, or filmy, the salmon has gone bad.
- For whole salmon enthusiasts: also make sure that the gills are clean. Sticky, white, or stringy-looking gills are always a sign of danger.
- If you see any mold, discoloration, slimy residue, or odd growths, do not even think about eating it! Throw that bad salmon away.
- Dark spots always mean your salmon is bad. If it shows any of these, bin it!
Scent signs of salmon gone bad
In our culture, we tend to become very visual creatures and we often do not pay too much attention to our sense of smell. However, as a fledgling cook, you must learn to use this sense all the time. Your nose is particularly good at spotting bad salmon— even before any visual signs show up. This can save you a world of trouble!
It might sound like stating the obvious, but fish— even when perfectly fresh— will always smell a little bit fishy. What does good, normal, and safe salmon smell like? How can you tell if salmon is bad just by smelling it? It might seem like an impossible mission but it is really not that hard. Here are the usual symptoms:
- Normal and safe salmon, though with some fishy notes, should always smell fresh. Your nose knows when you smell truly fresh fish because it will remind you of the sea: mild, slightly salty and just, you know, like the sea.
- When salmon goes bad, the proteins in its flesh began to decompose because of the action of bacteria, parasites, and mold. This makes the smell change noticeably.
- There will be a distinctly sour scent in bad salmon that is almost like ammonia.
- Salmon gone bad will have a penetratingly fishy smell. You will not want to eat it, trust me!
Texture signs of salmon gone bad
Touch your arm with your other hand. Your flesh is firm, is it not? When you press down on it, it does not seem like it is going to imminently crumble down and disintegrate. It should be the same way with fresh salmon that is safe to eat. It is flesh, too, after all!
It does not matter whether you bought your salmon whole, some salmon fillets, or salmon in a can: texture is usually a good indicator to tell if salmon is spoiled or still good. How do you know?
- Take the salmon and, if you cannot tell if it has gone bad by way of scent or by sight, use your fingers!
- Press down on the flesh. Mind you, do it lightly— not like you are trying to sever the salmon with your bare hands!
- If, after you remove your fingers, the flesh springs back (like your arm does, remember?), then it is safe to eat!
- However, if, after you stop pressing with your fingers, the salmon’s flesh stays dimpled, it will be better to stay away from it. It is probably bad salmon already.
- If, when you touch the fish, it seems slimy and sticky, toss it in the trash can.
- The same goes for a texture that is fragile instead of firm. Do not eat!
- How to tell if frozen salmon is bad? What about merely refrigerated salmon? Check for any sogginess: if there is liquid around your salmon, you should not eat it. That is why, if you decide to thaw your frozen salmon, it is better to do so in the refrigerator on the night before cooking: never on the counter. Doing this will keep bacteria and germs from spreading in the fish and harming you with their toxins.
How to store salmon so that it does not go bad
All well and good, but you really wanted to eat that salmon. What is there to do? Unfortunately, there is no way to fix bad salmon so that it is fresh to eat. However, you can store it better the next time around! Some quick tips:
- In the first place, buy the freshest salmon you can find. It is always better to get your salmon from reputable vendors: you must be able to trust the source your food comes from. Check the store for any signs of dirt or odd smells.
- Ask! Find out where your fish came from and when it was caught. A reputable vendor will usually know this.
- When you buy salmon, head straight home to store it. By doing this, you minimize chances of spoilage.
- To store salmon: wrap it in food-grade plastic wrap, put it in a resealable container, and tighten the lid. Then, place the container in the fridge or freezer, away from any other foods.
- Do not let raw salmon stay on the counter for more than some minutes.
- In the fridge, salmon can last up to 2 days. In the freezer, 1 to 2 months. That said, it is always better to eat it as soon as possible.
Cook, Serve, Enjoy
Now that you know how to tell if salmon is bad, you will be decisive and sure as to when it is edible or not. You will never have to deal with illnesses related to bad salmon! So relax, cook your favorite healthy salmon recipe, and enjoy life.