Fish is one of those food categories that a lot of people shy away from. Those people either have preconceived notions or have simply never had fish cooked in a delicious way.
Of course, there will always be those who don’t care for fish or seafood but that just leaves more for the rest of us, right!
There are a lot of different types of fish and if you’re a fan of catching your own fish, you need options for storage and preservation.
Even if you purchase your own fish, whether it’s fresh or packaged, you need to know how to store it properly and make it last.
How long does fish last in the freezer? Most types of fish will last up to 6 months in the freezer before losing its best qualities. However, fish can last for up to 2 years as far as safety is concerned.
In this guide, we will walk you through how to properly freeze fish and how long fish will last in the freezer when you do.
We will cover some various factors like freezing fish in water and freezing fish vacuum sealed so that you know all of your options and how those could affect the freezing process.
Keep reading to learn how long fish lasts in the freezer and more.
A Complete Guide to Freezing Fish
When we talk about freezing fish, there can be a lot of variables that could potentially affect the process and the information. You can buy pre-frozen fish, you can also buy supermarket fish and fresh fish.
All of these things could make a difference. There are also a lot of different types of fish. Some fish, like tuna and salmon, have a bit more fat on them and they may not last quite as long as things like cod that are leaner in nature.
When it comes to fish, there are a lot of edible types of fish. Most of the freezing processes and timelines do not vary based on the type of fish.
The majority of edible fish will last for 6 months in the freezer when frozen through a normal freezing process.
There are some scattered process options, including vacuum sealing or freezing fish in water. Both freezing in water and vacuum sealing can extend the shelf-life of fish longer in the freezer.
We’re not going to get into all of the different types of fish at this point because they don’t make a dramatic difference in the overall timeframe.
We will let you know as we go through this guide if there are any fish with more limited times in certain freezing environments.
Freezing Fish – How Long Does It Last?
Here is a quick table that gives you a good guideline for freezing times:
|Fish Category||Non-water Frozen||Ice Glazing||Water Frozen||Vacuum Sealed|
|Lean: <4% fat||Up to 6 months||6 months||6 months||Up to 2 years|
|Fatty: >4% fat||Up to 4 months||4 months||4 months||Up to 2 years|
As you can see, the leaner the fish, the longer it tends to last in the freezer. The exception is that with vacuum-sealed fish, the time is about the same for all types.
Lean fish includes options like snapper, hake, grouper, plaice, whiting, cod, sea bass, haddock, sole, and more.
Fatty fish includes options like tuna, halibut, salmon, monkfish, mackerel, herring, trout, red mullet, and more.
These timeframes are just to give you a general idea of what you can expect and how the different variables could affect your freezing times.
Freezing Fresh Fish from the Supermarket
The good thing is, no matter where or how you got your fish, you should be able to freeze it. There are some tricks to the overall process. Remember that you can ice glaze, freeze with water, or vacuum seal your fish.
Fresh fish might even be able to be frozen without adding water. Your best bet is always to vacuum seal when it comes to fish, but we understand that isn’t always a viable option for people.
One tip to be aware of when freezing fresh fish from the supermarket is that you will want your fish to be in a container that’s as airtight as possible, and surrounded by as little air as possible. Freezer bags are a great choice.
If you can’t get your bag airtight, we recommend adding water for freezing as this will help your fish last longer overall.
If you are able to vacuum seal, there is no reason to add ice or water. But if you aren’t, you should add ice or water if there’s any air in the container or bag. Let’s be honest, you’re not likely to get every bit of air out.
On another note, don’t use water unless you need it. The flavor is actually preserved better if you can freeze your fish without water.
Freezing without water and freezing with water doesn’t really change your freezing times. Freezing with water can help prevent the fish from getting dry if there is the possibility it will be subjected to air.
When it comes to freezing fish, air presence is the key. Air is bad. This is why we recommend vacuum sealing if at all possible.
Without vacuum sealing, here is our recommended process for freezing fresh fish from the supermarket:
- Wash and rinse fresh fish well to remove any potential bacteria or dirt from the fish.
- Pat fish dry and wrap in plastic wrap. We recommend a couple of layers.
- Place the fish into a freezer bag or an airtight container.
- Remove as much air as possible from the packaging. If any air bubbles remain, you should add water. We will share the water freezing process later in this guide.
- Freeze lean fish for up to 6 months and fatty fish for up to 4 months.
Remember that if you vacuum-sealed your fish instead, you can freeze it for up to 2 years.
How Long Will Fish Frozen in Water Last?
As promised, let’s talk about fish that has been in water. Freezing fish in water is only necessary if you do not vacuum seal your fish to store it.
If you are able to securely seal your fish in an airtight manner, we actually recommend skipping the water as this could reduce the flavor of the fish when you defrost it.
However, if there is any chance that air could get to your fish, using water is the next best thing to using the vacuum sealing method.
Freezing fish in water could make a difference as to whether or not your fish is dry or not after freezing.
If air can reach your fish and you did not use water, it is more likely to be dry. But, the truth is, water doesn’t necessarily make your fish last any longer.
When you freeze fish with water, lean fish still last for up to 6 months while fatty fish still last for up to 4 months.
Whether you use water or ice glazing does not extend the freezing time but could affect the dryness and flavor of your fish when you defrost to use. Water helps to protect the fish from freezer burn.
How to Freeze Fish in Water
Now, let’s talk about the process of freezing fish in water:
- Rinse fish fillets in salted ice water. This helps to set the fish and get them cold. The salt and the ice will help with the freezer and preservation process.
- Fill an airtight container or a heavy-duty freezer bag mostly full of tap water. Leave room to submerge the fish. You can always add water if needed.
- Place fillets into the water until they are fully submerged. Add more tap water if needed for fish to be fully covered.
- Seal bags or containers and label and date accordingly.
- Place in the freezer up to the allowable time frame (remember 6 months for lean fish and 4 months for fatty fish).
- The water will protect your frozen fish from getting freezer burnt or from being affected by the air. It is possible that when you defrost your fish, they could lose a bit of their flavor because of the water.
Ice Glazing Fish for the Freezer
There is also an ice glazing method that is very similar to freezing with water. The ice glazing method requires a bit more effort on your part.
The way it works is that you go through a slow freezing process that causes the fish to become glazed with ice.
Here is a quick overview for the process of ice glazing fish:
- Place a metal baking sheet in your freezer and get it very cold.
- Dip fish fillets in salted water (1 teaspoon salt per 1 quart of water). Immediately place fish fillets on the cold baking sheet and leave them in the freezer uncovered.
- Give the fish 5-7 minutes to get an ice glaze going.
- Repeat the process until your ice glaze measures about 1/4 inch thick.
- Place ice glazed fish into heavy-duty freezer bags or an airtight container.
- Label, date, and seal all packaging.
- Lean fish can be frozen in this manner for up to 6 months while fatty fish can be frozen for up to 4 months.
This process is more intense and requires you to be close to the freezer and the fillets at the same time.
What you will want to note is that you never want the frozen baking sheet out of the freezer for more than 30 seconds so it is best if you don’t have to remove the pan from the freezer.
Much like the water freezing process, this process does not make the fish last any longer but does work to protect them from freezer burn or adverse effects of air potentially reaching the fish.
How Long Does Vacuum-Sealed Frozen Fish Last?
We really saved the best for last, if we’re being honest. If you prepare and freeze a lot of fish, it would be well worth the investment to get a vacuum sealer for your home.
The ability to vacuum seal your fish could significantly increase how long fish lasts in the freezer.
While other freezing methods mostly only afford you 4-6 months of freezer time, using a vacuum-sealed packaging method could potentially get you 2 years of frozen fish preservation.
Yes, you read that right! With a vacuum sealer, your fish could stay fresh in the freezer for up to 2 years.
There is just something special about that airtight packaging. It’s protected from freezer burn and there is no watery mess to contend with either.
This process is pretty simple if you have the right tools available. Vacuum-sealing your fish is our highest recommendation for storing and preserving fish for any extended length of time.
Here are our recommended steps to vacuum sealing fish and freezing it:
- Start by cleaning and preparing the fish if needed. Cut into filets or the cut of your preference.
- We do recommend a pre-freeze process as well. Wrap fish in plastic wrap and place it in the freezer for a few hours or overnight. Don’t let it overstay its welcome, though.
- Place portions or individual pieces into your freezer bags or rolls for your vacuum sealer. Be sure you are using something that is freezer-safe.
- Vacuum seal packaging.
- Label and date packaging.
- Freeze your fish in this manner for up to 2 years. It doesn’t matter what type of fish it is for this process.
The reason we recommend a pre-freeze process is because you don’t want to zap all of the moisture out of the fish but you also don’t want the moisture to affect your sealing process.
Fish has a lot of moisture in it naturally and this can make it challenging to get a good seal.
If you pre-freeze the fish, you preserve this moisture but also keep it from getting in your vacuum seal and causing the seal to fail and in turning potentially ruining your fish!
Fish in Freezer for 2 Years – Can You Eat It?
This could potentially be a loaded question. Our first thought would be, how was your fish prepared and packaged for freezing?
Was it vacuum sealed? If your fish is vacuum-sealed, without a doubt you can eat it 2 years later.
If it wasn’t vacuum sealed, that’s where the line can get a little blurry. Remember that the recommended freezing time is 4-6 months for other freezing methods.
If the packaging is intact and nothing appears to be fishy (pun intended), then your fish will most likely be safe to eat.
The question will be whether it will taste very good. It could be freezer-burnt. If for any reason, your packaging wasn’t airtight, we recommend letting that fish go and not eating it.
A good rule of thumb would be if the fish looks and smells fine, it’s still safe to eat.
We hope that you find this guide to how long fish can be frozen to be a comprehensive and informative resource for freezing your fish.
We invite you to review the question and answer section for some additional information.
How Can You Tell if Frozen Fish is Bad?
If you notice any signs of discoloration like brown or gray areas that look off, we recommend you toss it. If the fish feels lighter than it should, this is also an indicator.
Do You Wash Fish to Freeze It?
No matter what freezing method you use, it’s always a good idea to clean and wash the fish before you freeze it in order to reduce bacteria potential.