You should know that frozen fish doesn’t “go bad”— even after a year.
You might ask:
So how long is ‘too long’ to keep fish frozen? Fish will not maintain fresh flavor or texture indefinitely, so it’s best to use before losing its original taste and texture.
According to USDA, raw fish should only be kept in the refrigerator (40 °F/4.4 °C )for a maximum of two days before cooking. You can store cooked seafood in the fridge for up to 4 days. Frozen fish will be safe indefinitely; however, the flavor will change after lengthy storage. For best quality, freeze (0 °F / -17.8 °C) cooked or baked fish for up to 3 months. Frozen raw fish is best within 3 to 9 months; shellfish, 3 to 12 months. For safety reasons, you should never leave seafood at room temperature for more than two hours.
Store-bought canned fish, such as tuna, will last in your pantry for as long as five years. For home-canned fish, you should consume it within a year. Be sure to wrap the fish well. We recommend wrapping individual portions in layers of plastic. Then, press the plastic to remove as much air as you can. Put the individually wrapped fish portions in a freezer. You can weigh the plastic storage bag and label it with the name, size, and date of contents.
Buy Right – Fresh Fish and Shrimp
The idea that freezing degrades the quality of seafood is a myth. According to Jane Brody, health and nutrition columnist for NY Times believes that the freshest seafood has been stored and frozen shortly after harvest. However, it’s essential to buy the right fish to have the ultimate seafood experience.
Only buy fish and shrimp that are refrigerated or displayed on a bed of fresh ice (preferably inside a case or under some cover). The color of fish can be affected by different factors, including diet and environment. That means treatment using a color fixative such as carbon monoxide and other packaging processes alone is not a clear indicator of freshness.
The following tips can help you make purchasing decisions:
- Fish must smell fresh and mild, not sour, fishy, or ammonia-like.
- A fish’s eyes should look clear and shiny.
- Whole fish must have firm flesh and red gills without any odor.
- Fresh fillets should also have firm flesh with red bloodlines or red meat if it’s fresh tuna. Once pressed, the flesh should spring back.
- Fish fillets must display no darkening, discoloration, or drying around the edges.
- Shrimp, lobster, and scallop flesh must be clear with no odor and pearl-like color.
- Some refrigerated seafood often has time/temperature mentioned on their packaging, which shows if the product has been stored at the proper temperature. Always check these indicators and only buy the fish if the indicator shows that it is safe to eat.
- Fresh fish sold as “Previously Frozen” may not possess all the characteristics of fresh fish (e.g., firm flesh, bright eyes, red gills, flesh, or bloodlines); however, they should smell fresh and mild, not sour, fishy, or rancid.
Follow these guidelines for safely choosing shellfish:
- Look for the label: Check for tags on containers or sacks of live shellfish (in the shell) and labels on packages or containers of shucked shellfish. These tags and labels have specific information about the seafood product, including the processor’s certification number. This number indicates that the shellfish were harvested or processed in compliance with national shellfish safety controls.
- Discard Cracked/Broken Ones: You should throw away oysters, clams, and mussels if their shells are broken or cracked.
- Do a “Tap Test”: Live oysters, clams, and mussels will close when you tap the shell. If they don’t close once tapped, do not buy them.
- Check for Leg Movement: Live lobsters and crabs will show some leg movement. They spoil quickly after death, so only select live crabs and lobsters.
Choosing Frozen Seafood
Frozen seafood might spoil if the fish thaws during packaging and transport and is left at warm temperatures for extended periods before cooking.
- Don’t buy frozen fish if its package is open or crushed on the edges.
- Avoid packages with clear signs of frost or ice crystals, which means the fish has been stored for extended periods or thawed and refrozen.
- Try to avoid packages where the frozen fish flesh is not hard. The fish should not bend.
Store Fish Properly
Put fish on ice or inside the refrigerator or freezer soon after you buy it. If you want to use it within two days after purchase, store it inside a clean refrigerator at a temperature below 40°F. You can use a handy refrigerator thermometer to check! Otherwise, wrap them tightly in plastic, foil, or use moisture-proof paper and store it in the freezer.
Separate Fish for Safety
When preparing fresh or thawed fish, it’s important to prevent any bacteria from raw seafood from spreading to ready-to-eat foods. Take these simple steps to avoid cross-contamination:
- When buying unpackaged cooked fish, make sure to separate it from raw seafood. It should be in a separate display case or at least blocked from the raw product with dividers.
- Wash your hands for 15 seconds with anti-bacterial soap and hot water after touching any raw food.
- Wash cutting boards, utensils, and dishes and countertops with soap and warm water between raw foods preparation, such a fish and ready-to-eat foods.
- For added protection, use kitchen sanitizers on cutting boards and countertops after each use. Alternatively, you can use a solution of 1 tbsp unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per water gallon.
- If you use food-grade plastic or non-porous cutting boards, you can run them, along with metal, plastic, or ceramic utensils, through the dishwasher.
Thaw frozen fish gradually by keeping it in the refrigerator overnight. If you have to thaw fish quickly, pack it in a plastic bag and immerse it in cold water. If you’re going to cook the fish immediately after thawing, you can microwave it using the “defrost” setting and stop the cycle while the seafood is still icy but pliable.
Most fish should be cooked or baked to an internal temperature of 145°F. If you don’t have a food kitchen thermometer, there are several other ways to determine whether your seafood is ready.
Fish: The flesh is clear, soft and separates easily with a knife
Shrimp, Crab, Scallops, and Lobster: The flesh is firm and clear
Clams, Oysters, and Mussels: The shells open during cooking — throw out the ones that don’t open
Uncooked spoiled fish can have a sour, fishy, rancid, or ammonia odor. These odors become much stronger after cooking. If you detect any of these odors in raw or cooked fish, do not eat it. If you smell a fleeting or persistent ammonia odor in cooked fish, do not eat it.
Follow these guidelines once your fish is cooked and ready to be served.
- Never leave fish or any other perishable food out of your refrigerator for more than 2 hours when temperatures are above 90°F. Bacteria that cause illness grow quickly at warm temperatures ranging between 40°F and 140°F.
- For party planning, keep hot fish hot and cold fish cold
- Try to keep cold and chilled fish refrigerated until time to serve.
- Serve cold fish on ice if it is going to stay out longer than an hour.
Eating Raw Fish – What You Need To Know
It’s always best to cook fish thoroughly to minimize any risk of food-borne illness. If you choose to eat raw seafood anyway, eating previously frozen raw fish can reduce health risks.
Some species of fish may contain parasites, and freezing may kill any parasites that are present.
However, be aware that freezing won’t kill all harmful parasites. That’s why the safest way is to cook your seafood.
Key Health Notes
Some people are at a greater risk for foodborne illness, and are more likely to suffer long-term, undergo hospitalization, or sometimes die. These groups include:
- Pregnant women
- Older adults
- People with compromised immune systems (such as individuals with HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes and transplant patients )
These groups should avoid these foods:
- Raw or undercooked fish or food containing raw and undercooked seafood (sushi and sashimi) is found in some ceviche.
- Raw oysters, even if they are processed and treated after harvesting. Post-harvest treatment can eliminate some naturally-occurring pathogens but can’t remove all pathogens that can cause food-borne illness
- Refrigerated smoked seafood except in a cooked dish, such as a casserole. Refrigerated smoked seafood (such as trout, salmon, whitefish, tuna, cod, or mackerel) comes in different labels as “nova-style,” “kippered,” “lox,” “smoked,” or “jerky.” Shelf-stable or canned smoked seafood is safe and acceptable.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is frozen fish safe?
If the fish is frozen at the peak of freshness, all its flavor, texture, and nutrition become locked in. As long as the fish is frozen properly, it retains freshness. So, it doesn’t matter if they are lean or fatty, and thin fillets or thick steaks, they’re all safe to eat.
Is frozen seafood worse than fresh?
Frozen seafood is just as good as fresh seafood, according to new research. While fresh seafood can only last two days after harvesting, frozen fish can survive six months to a year in the freezer. According to dieticians, it’ll still contain the same health benefits.
What fish is the most healthy to eat?
Salmon: This fish’s flesh has a characteristic red or orange color and is the healthiest fish to eat.
Mackerel: this is another oily fish which is a rich source of vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Why is basa fish considered bad?
Basa is a type of catfish that can survive harsh conditions, unlike other varieties. Because of its natural tendency to survive and absorb nutrients from contaminated waters, it poses a huge risk of hosting parasites in its body.