When salmon is good, it’s among the best foods you can eat, and it’s delicious too.
High in protein, bursting with beneficial micronutrients like B vitamins and selenium, and chock-full of heart-helping, brain-boosting fatty acids, wild-caught salmon is a staple in the diets of both nutrition nuts and folks who choose what foods to eat primarily based on how they taste.
However, when salmon goes bad, watch out. Not only will it make for a thoroughly unenjoyable dining experience, but depending on how far gone it is, it could present a severe health risk.
How To Tell if Salmon Is Bad
As much of a shame as it is to see salmon go to waste, it would be an even bigger shame to unwittingly wolf down a contaminated filet and wind up sick as a result. Fortunately, there are a few simple ways to figure out whether a piece of fish is past its prime.
Here are five clues that your salmon is bad to the bone and beyond.
It Smells Distinctly Fishy
The first thing you’re apt to notice when you open that forgotten package of salmon is the smell. Fresh salmon has a subtle, delectable scent that’s only faintly reminiscent of the body of water it was plucked from. On the other hand, spoiled salmon will often reek like a busy fishing wharf on an August afternoon. That’s because it has begun to decompose.
If you don’t cook with salmon a lot, you might be questioning your ability to tell the difference between a typical fishy smell and an unhealthy, rotten one. Take our word for it—you’ll know.
This overpowering olfactory assault isn’t exclusive to raw salmon, either. You should also make it a point to give frozen and previously cooked fish a whiff before cooking or reheating it, just to be safe. The odor may not be quite as pronounced in these states, but it should nonetheless be a clear indicator that your salmon is no longer table-worthy.
It’s Losing Its Color
One of the many things that makes salmon such an excellent addition to any meal is its vivid pinkish-orange hue, which essentially serves as a visual confirmation that it’s going to rock your world as soon as you take that first glorious bite.
Notably, this color gradually disappears as the fish nears the end of its shelf life. By the time it’s passed the point of no return, it will have taken on a dull gray or gray-brown color. Along with the flesh itself, the once-pristine white lines crisscrossing the meat will darken and discolor, turning an unwholesome iron-gray or gray-green.
In short, it’s not a pretty sight.
Thankfully, very few people would still be eager to eat a piece of salmon that’s undergone such a sickly transformation, which at least means you have less chance of contracting a nasty foodborne illness like salmonella, Scombrotoxin, or ciguatoxin.
It’s Going Soft
Fresh, high-quality salmon meat is firm, supple, and even a bit bouncy. When you press on it with your finger, it should regain its shape more or less right away, much like your own skin.
By contrast, salmon that’s been left to sit in the fridge for too long will feel soft and spongy. When you press on it, the indentation you make will linger or stay permanently fixed in place. The meat may even break apart with the slightest touch, a surefire sign of spoilage. This fish is not salmon you want to eat.
The flesh of a freshly caught or well-preserved fish only tends to remain intact for a few days. After that, it becomes extremely fragile as the free-for-all taking place between the various types of bacteria, enzymes, and chemicals in the tissue causes the cells to lose their structure. At this point, it’s less of a food than a hazardous material in need of immediate disposal.
While you’re performing a touch test on your salmon, pay close attention to its surface texture. If your fingers come away slick with an oily, odorous residue, your best bet is to toss it. Slimy, wet-looking flesh is another common characteristic of decomposition.
Severely expired salmon might also be coated in milky-looking gunk. This objectionable substance is called albumin, and it’s a type of semisolid protein that’s abundant in foods like eggs, yogurt, beef, and—you guessed it—fish like salmon.
Albumin is a natural and nutritious component of salmon, but when it begins to ooze out of the inside of the meat and settle on the surface, it’s a not-so-subtle hint that the fish is rotting and should go straight into the garbage.
This one’s a no-brainer. If there are visible patches of mold growing on your salmon, it’s way beyond salvaging.
Remember that salmon is far more prone to molding when it’s already been cooked, especially when it’s cooked with other ingredients that mold loves to feed on, such as fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products, and bread grain-based items. As such, you’re more likely to encounter telltale black or blue-green splotches on leftovers than you are on uncooked filets.
Food molds come in many different varieties (all of them equally off puttingoffputting), and it can sometimes be difficult to tell what’s bacterial growth and what’s putrefying flesh. Either way, you don’t want to take any chances with mottled, spotty, or questionably colored fish.
What to Do if Your Salmon Has Turned Bad
A bad batch of salmon can spoil more than just your dinner plans.
That’s why it’s always a goodit’s a good idea toidea always to evaluate the freshness of your favorite fish before you eat it. If it exhibits any of the signs mentioned above, the following steps will help you keep both the stink and the risk of spreading foodborne pathogens to a minimum.
1. Bag It
Dump the suspect salmon in a durable trash bag that’s unlikely to spring a leak. If it’s particularly funky, you also have the option of first placing the package or leftover portion in a small grocery bag, then stuffing the whole bundle into your trash bag.
2. Seal It
Cinch the drawstring of your trash bag to close it up tightly. Doing this will make it harder for hungry pets or exploring children to find their way in. It will also keep illness-causing bacteria from finding their way out.
3. Toss It
Deposit the bag in your outdoor garbage receptacle to banish its foul odors and germs from your home. Don’t forget to wash your hands with antibacterial soap and warm water when you finish, and have anyone else who handled the salmon do the same.