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How Long Can Fish Sit Out? [Raw Or Cooked]

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Raw whole sea bass

Handling seafood safely is important if you want to avoid foodborne illness. You can reduce the chance of food poisoning and all those nasty symptoms by following some simple food safety guidelines. Stay tuned to find out how long fish lasts out of the fridge; then level up your cooking knowledge with some super-helpful fish storage advice.

How Long Can Fish Sit Out?

Whether it’s raw or cooked, fish can safely sit at room temperature for up to two hours. This time reduces to one hour on hot days when the room is above 90°F. After this time the fish should be discarded or returned to the fridge and thoroughly cooked the next time it is used, to ensure the fish is cooked through.

Keep in mind that these timelines are guidelines and there are no certainties when it comes to bacteria growth. Factors that impact how long your fish will stay good include:

Room temperature: fish will go off quicker in warmer, more humid weather. The risk increases further if you’re at a picnic or outside potluck dinner with the sun shining on your fish.

Covered or uncovered: uncovered fish can receive unwanted attention from flies which transfer Campylobacter and other pathogens.

Age of raw fish: how old was the fish when you bought it? Rank-smelling fish that you bought from the store could be more of an issue than freshly caught fish.

Whole fish vs fillets: fish fillets have more surface area exposed to the heat and humidity, so they won’t last as long as an unfilleted fish.

Fish temperature: seafood that’s frozen will take longer to reach the Danger Zone. If you’ve left frozen fish on the counter, then it will last longer before going bad. However, it is recommended that fish be defrosted in the fridge.

Fish storage guidelines infographicWhat temperature encourages bacteria growth on fish?

The USDA refers to the “Danger Zone” when it talks about food safety. This concept will help you understand what temperature fish should be stored at to discourage bacteria growth.

So, what is this zone? We previously mentioned in our article on how long can cookie dough sit out, that “harmful bacteria can proliferate between 40°F and 140°F (4.4°C to 60°C). This temperature span is known as the Danger Zone. Salmonella, E. coli, and Staphylococcus are three nasty forms of bacteria that can form on food when it isn’t stored correctly.”

How long does fish last in the fridge?

Although different types of fish will last longer than others in the fridge, they generally last one to two days. After this time, the seafood should be cooked, frozen or tossed out. Cooked fish can be refrigerated for three to four days.

To keep your fish in tiptop shape, wash it once you get home from the store and then thoroughly dry with a paper towel. Store the seafood in an airtight container to keep the odors at bay.

The temperature fish is chilled at will have a big impact on its life expectancy. As you can see from the following graph, cooler temperatures drastically reduce the rate of deterioration.

TemperatureDays Fish Stays Good
60°F 16°C2
50°F 10°C3
39°F 4°C6
32°F 0°C12

Source: OceanWatch

How can I tell if fresh fish has gone off?

It is important to understand that foodborne bacteria like salmonella is invisible to the human eye. You are best to use time as a guideline rather than looking at the quality of the fish. In other words, assume the worst if your fish is left at room temperature for over two hours or over two days in the refrigerator.

To test the freshness of a fish check that it doesn’t have any overpowering fishy smell. The flesh should be firm with shiny scales and no slime buildup. If you’re checking a whole fish, look for bright eyes that aren’t dull and clouded over.

Did you know? Cooking fish will kill most bacteria but it is no guarantee that you’ll be safe from sickness if the fish is off. Some of the scariest strains of bacteria like bacillus cereus and staphylococcus can produce toxins that are heat resistant. Reheating in the microwave or oven won’t destroy them.

Cooked salmon

Quick tips for eating fish safely

  • Store raw and cooked seafood separately.
  • Always wash hands with soap and warm water before handling fish.
  • Wash utensils, chopping boards, countertops, and plates with hot water and soap before preparing other raw ingredients.

Other commonly asked questions

How long does frozen fish last?

If you decide to freeze fish then it will remain safe for 3-6 months, although the texture and flavor will reduce in quality over time. Raw lean fish like tilapia and hake will last longer in the freezer compared to oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and trout. Cooked fish will generally only last one month frozen before its texture becomes soggy and unpleasant to eat.

Can thawed fish be refrozen?

Fish that has thawed is suitable for refreezing if it was defrosted in the fridge and wasn’t left in there for more than two days.

How long does smoked fish last at room temperature?

According to the USDA, smoked fish can be left at room temperature for up to three hours and still remain edible. This is because the process of smoking helps preserve the fish.

Related reading:
Does flour go bad?
How long can chicken sit out?

Summing up

The last thing you want to do is serve your friends and family unsafe fish. Do you want to be responsible for the dinner no one forgets. If you’ve been side-tracked and left fish out on the bench for over two hours, then play it safe and get rid of it.

Cooking forums are full of comments about how they leave fish out of the fridge all day and it’s still fine. We agree, there’s a reasonable chance you won’t get sick, but there’s no way to be sure and the odds stack against you as time ticks by. If you’ve ever had a sickness like salmonella then we think you’d agree that taking the risk simply isn’t worth it.

What is your favorite variety of fish to eat? Please let us know in the comments below.