You’ve got a craving for a delicious, slow-baked, lightly herbed fillet of salmon on a plank of cedar. Or, maybe some good old comfort food of fish sticks and french fries. Hmmm, thinking about it, maybe a fish patty burger would be best? You open your fridge to pick up that fish you got on the last grocery trip and pause. How long has this fish been in the fridge? How fresh is it? How long can it sit in the fridge before being cooked?

First, let’s start at an important point, and we’ll get you up to speed on how long to store fish in no time.

How you store it matters.

Fish is a delicate meat, there’s no doubt about it, and when you add in fresh fish it becomes a different strategy than frozen fish sticks. You may think you can toss your super-fresh, locally caught seasonal fish in the fridge next to yesterday’s leftovers, but that actually isn’t the ideal way to handle and store fish for ultimate freshness.

Did you know that even the freshest fish start to degrade after just one night at 38 degrees Fahrenheit, or 3 degrees Celsius? That temperature, by the way, is the average temperature an at-home refrigerator maintains.

True, it won’t harm you to eat the fish the next day from the fridge, but it’s not ideal for anyone who wants to prepare anything raw, or near raw, like ceviche, sashimi, Tartare, Yusheng, Gravlax, Poke—just for an example—which requires fish as pristine as possible.

So how do we ensure the fresh fish stays the coldest? Ice packs. Lay your fish fillets or cleaned whole fish directly on ice or ice packs, which will help you keep your fish the freshest for up to two or three days. Therefore, fishmongers always have plenty of crushed ice on hand, and why their fish is displayed on ice. (P.S. aluminum sheet pans are good at keeping fish cold!)

Also, before and during storage remember:

  • Make sure your hands are clean before you handle raw fish and after handling raw fish.
  • As important as keeping the fish cold, keep your fish flesh dry. Bacteria responsible for fish spoiling thrive in moisture, so the wetter the fish, the quicker it will degrade.
  • Keep fish fillets stored in a single layer. Stacking the fish exposes each piece to each other’s moisture, producing the exact perfect environment for bacteria growth.
  • Cover fish well while storing. Just as too much moisture is bad for fish, too much air can dry it out. The environment in fridges is often extremely dry so covering it with an airtight lid will preserve your fish.

Some tips for storage:

  1. Rinse fillets or fish
  2. Thoroughly pat dry with paper towel
  3. Place in single layer in a zip-top bag.
  4. Press out all air, lay bag on plate or tray lined with ice or ice packs.
  5. Set fish on ice or ice packs, then set one more ice pack or more ice on top of fish.
  6. Place entire set up in the fridge.

Remove Packaging

Remove the packaging, butcher paper or deli paper which can adhere to fish and be difficult to remove.

Different fish, different storage times.

Not all fish are the same, and so not all storage times and how well they store will be the same. Using the above suggestion storage methods assumes you are buying your fish very fresh, but there are good rules of thumb for some different types of fish:

Lean white-fleshed fishes and members of the salmonid family should keep well between up to 3-5 days.

Very oily fishes with white flesh are best to be consumed within 3 days of purchase. Skate is a fish that is best cooked on the very day you buy it. Shate, shark, and rays have high concentrations of urea in their bodies that convert to ammonia over time, and that creates the very strong, unpleasant fishy odor and flavor to develop in these fishes.

Lean-white fleshed fish examples: Bass, snapper, hake, pollock, haddock, monkfish, flounder.

Pelagic white-flesh fish examples: Tuna, swordfish.

Lean white-fleshed fish Salmonid family examples: Trout, char and salmon.

Can’t you just freeze it?

Generally, we try and avoid freezing fish, but it is better to freeze than have it go to waste and spoil. If you absolutely need to freeze fish there are a few things you can do to at least get the best out of freezing it instead of eating it fresh:

  • Make the freezing process happen as quick as possible.
  • If you have a blast freezer, this is the time to use it.
  • If you’re like most of us, and don’t, you can use your own freezer and speed up freezing.

Fast fish freezing at home:

  1. Line a cookie sheet that fits in your freezer with plastic wrap.
  2. Arrange individual fish fillets in single layer on wrap, making sure they do not touch.
  3. Cover fish on the tray with another piece of plastic wrap and freeze.
  4. After 2 hours, fish should be frozen enough to be firm and easy to handle. Transfer fish to a sealable airtight freezer bag (squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing).

Shrimp and squid respond well to be frozen when using the same steps above, too. Once frozen, your fish should be consumed within 30 days or less.

So how long can it be stored?

If you aren’t going to eat your fresh fish the day it is purchased, and you’ve followed our advised best way to store and keep it cold, fish can be stored for 3-5 days. It’s always best to look up a specific fish and how long it can be stored on ice to ensure the freshest, healthiest, tastiest piece of fish.

Fish is a magnificent, delicious treat when it is stored and cooked properly, giving you rich complex flavor and amazing healthy proteins, vitamins and omega-3 crucial to everyday health. Making and storing fish that will always taste incredible is just a fridge away!