How To Tell If Tilapia Is Bad

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Tilapia is a popular fish as it is available almost all year round, and it can be cooked in a variety of ways, whether baked, fried, steamed, sauteed or grilled.

If you find a special on tilapia, it is a good idea to stock up if you can, but you do need to be mindful of storage and how long tilapia will stay fresh.

How do you know if tilapia is bad?

There are a few signs to look for that tilapia has gone bad. Some of the most obvious signs of spoiling is if the tilapia has an off smell, a change of appearance, a change in the texture of the fish, and also how long the fish has been kept in the fridge.

Keep reading to find out all of the signs to look for that tilapia has spoiled, as well as some tips on how to store it best, to allow it to stay fresher for longer.

Signs That Tilapia Has Gone Bad

Whether you are buying tilapia fresh from the grocers, or if you have some sitting in your fridge, it is definitely worth knowing the signs to look for that the tilapia has spoiled.

These are the signs to look for to tell whether the tilapia is fresh and safe to eat, or if it has started to go bad and is not worth the risk of eating:

Off Smell

As tilapia is a fish, it will have a seafood odor, and a small hint of a fishy smell is absolutely fine. Tilapia is not a fish that has too strong an odor, so it is easy enough to pick up when it has begun to spoil.

If the tilapia has a very fishy, off, and musty odor, then it is a very clear sign that it has gone off, or at least has begun to spoil and it is no longer safe to eat.

The bad odor indicates that there is increased bacteria growth in the fish, and the flesh has started to break down, and there is a high risk that you would become sick with food poisoning if you eat the tilapia.

So, to be safe, discard any tilapia that has a very strong fishy smell, or a bad odor.


Tilapia is quite a firm fish, and it should resist pressure applied to it, such as poking it with your finger, and it should bounce back quickly after pressure has been applied.

The flesh of tilapia should be firm and glossy, and it should have a good color to it. The flesh should be a pinkish-white color, and there might be some red veins or bloodlines running through the flesh. 

If the tilapia has gone bad, then the fish might not appear as firm, and the color of the fish might be dull or even slightly gray. If the fish is very spoiled, then there might even be white or green spots on the flesh, which are signs of mold.

If the tilapia doesn’t look fresh, then it is best to not eat it.


As mentioned above, tilapia should have firm flakes and a fairly firm body. If you press your finger down on the tilapia filet, it should make an indentation, but this should bounce back to normal almost straight away.

Tilapia that has gone bad will not be as firm and stiff, and if you press down on the filet with your finger, the flesh will not bounce back.

The mushier, softer flesh shows that the tilapia has started to go bad, and it is not safe to eat.

Liquid Pooling

There should be no liquid oozing from the tilapia, and the fish should not be sitting in a pool of liquid. If you notice any liquid coming from the filet, and if it has been sitting in some liquid for some time, then it is best to throw it away.

Storage Time

This might not be a sign to look for, but it is something to keep in mind for when deciding whether tilapia is safe to eat or not.

Make sure to take note of when you purchased the tilapia, and how long it has been in the fridge or on ice for. The tilapia will not keep indefinitely, and it will only last for a few days from fresh when kept in the fridge.

If you know that the tilapia has been sitting in the fridge for a few days, you definitely should look for other signs of spoiling.

How To Tell Whether Cooked Tilapia Is Spoiled

If you missed looking for signs that tilapia was bad while it was raw, there are some signs to look for that cooked tilapia is bad.

The fish will have a different appearance when cooked compared to raw, as it should turn from a translucent pinkish-white to an opaque white color.

A freshly cooked tilapia should be milky-white in color, with firm flakes, and with a mild fishy smell. If the tilapia is off, then it might have a mushy texture, it might have a slimy film, be flat or dull in color, and even have a sour taste.

Hopefully you will notice the signs of spoiling before eating the tilapia, but if you don’t, then you will be able to taste the off flavor when taking a bite.

If you notice any of these signs with the tilapia, then do not eat it.

How To Tell If Frozen Tilapia Is Bad

Freezing tilapia is a great way to extend its shelf-life longer, so it doesn’t spoil in the fridge.

If kept at a constant temperature below freezing, and if it was not bad before being placed in the freezer, then the tilapia should not spoil while frozen.

However, tilapia can develop freezer burn if it is not packaged properly and if it is left in the freezer for too long.

Freezer burn happens when there is moisture loss from freezing, and it damages the food to the point where the texture and the flavor decline in quality quite drastically. Look for white spots on the tilapia and excessive ice crystals on the filet.

If the tilapia was spoiled when placed in the freezer, then you will notice the tell-tale signs of spoiling once the tilapia has been thawed.

How Long Does Tilapia Last In The Fridge?

Tilapia can be kept in the fridge for up to three days, as long as it was bought fresh and as long as it is kept below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

It is best to use the tilapia within two days of being placed in the fridge, but as long as you don’t notice signs of spoiling, then it should be fine to keep for three days.

If you have purchased pre-packaged tilapia, then look for a use-by date to give you a good indication of when the fish should be used by.

How Long Does Tilapia Last In The Freezer?

If you do not think that you will be able to use the tilapia within a few days, then it would be best to place it in the freezer.

Packaged properly, either in an airtight freezer-safe container or in a resealable plastic freezer bag, tilapia can be kept in the freezer for up to four months. The tilapia will still be fine to eat after this, but it will begin to decline in quality, 

How Long Can Tilapia Last At Room Temperature?

You should never leave tilapia out at room temperature unless you are going to use it right away. The general rule for most fresh food is that it should not be left out at room temperature for longer than two hours.

After two hours, there will be an increase in bacteria growth, and the food will become unsafe to eat. With tilapia, we do not recommend keeping it out at room temperature for longer than an hour, as it can spoil quickly.

How To Tell If Tilapia Is Bad

There are a few different signs to look for to tell if tilapia has gone bad. Look for an off-odor, a dull or gray color, a soft or mushy appearance, and pooling liquid.

Make sure to keep a check on the use-by date, as well as how long the tilapia has been kept in the fridge, to determine if it is safe to eat.

If you notice any signs of spoiling, then it is safest to throw the fish away and not risk any foodborne illnesses.

Related Questions

Should tilapia smell fishy?

Tilapia will have a slight fishy smell to it, as it is seafood, However, it should not have an overwhelmingly fishy smell, and it definitely should not have a musty fishy smell either.

What should tilapia taste like?

Tilapia is quite a mild tasting fish. It has a white flesh that is slightly firm with a flaky texture. The taste of tilapia should be mild and sweet, and it should not taste too fishy. It pairs well with many ingredients because of its mild flavor.

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