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How To Tell If Salmon Has Gone Bad – The Ultimate Guide

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Knowing if food is spoiled can be one of the most daunting tasks in the kitchen. It can be especially hard when it comes to seafood.

When it comes to knowing if seafood has gone bad there is always a mix of answers. For example, some say fish should smell fishy while others say it should not. So, how do we know who we are supposed to listen to?

When it comes to salmon, one of the most popular types of fish out there, thankfully there are easy guidelines to follow to ensure you never consume fish that has gone bad. 

So, how can you tell if salmon has gone bad? Salmon has gone bad if it smells rancid and like ammonia, has any discoloration or mold, has a slimy or sticky texture, or if it tastes overly fishy. 

Keep reading to learn about the ways to tell if salmon has gone bad, how to best store and reheat salmon, and the major risks of consuming salmon that has gone bad. 

What Is Salmon?

Salmon is a pinkish-orange fish that is popular in many cuisines and many places around the world. It is a rich and meaty piece of fish and is a lot less flakey than other pieces of fish like sea bass or halibut. 

It is rich in protein and omega 3 fatty acids making it a healthy choice.

Depending on the cut, it can be eaten raw, cooked or smoked and each way is delicious. 

Raw salmon is traditionally used in Japanese foods like sushi rolls and sashimi. It is also used in a traditional Hawaian dish, poke.

Cooked salmon is used in many different cuisines. It can be baked, grilled, or steamed and tastes best with light seasoning and a bit of lemon

Smoked salmon is normally served with breakfast on bagels, toast, or as a part of a full breakfast or brunch spread. It also is often mixed with mayo, sour cream, cream cheese, capers, and tabasco sauce to make a smoked salmon dip.

No matter how you eat salmon, it is a delicious and healthy addition to your diet.

How To Tell If Salmon Has Gone Bad

There is nothing worse than eating food that has gone bad. Thankfully, we have gathered multiple ways to tell if your salmon has gone bad in both its raw and cooked state. 

Let’s first look at how to tell if your raw salmon has gone bad:

How To Tell If Raw Salmon Has Gone Bad

Here are the ways to tell if your raw salmon has gone bad and is no longer edible:

Expiration Dates

The first way to determine whether or not to cook that salmon you bought at the grocery stores a few days ago is looking at the expiration date. 

When picking a piece of salmon at the store, make sure you pick one with an expiration date that works with your cooking schedule

If you plan on cooking it that night, you will be fine with a package that will expire that night or the next day. 

However, if you plan on cooking it in a few days, it is extremely important to pick a piece of salmon that will not expire in those next few days

Do not cook salmon that is past its expiration date. This is not a “suggestion” and should not be risked. You have the potential to get very sick if you eat past that expiration!


It can be kind of confusing to decipher if your salmon is fishy because it is fresh, or fishy because it has gone bad. For those who are not used to cooking seafood, it can be especially hard and confusing. 

However, fresh salmon should smell mildly fishy, specifically like the ocean. It will smell salty and almost like an ocean breeze

The smell of salmon that has gone bad will most likely knock you off your feet. It will smell extremely fishy, rancid, sour, and a lot like ammonia (which can smell like urine or sweat).

Trust us when we say, you will know if the salmon smells bad or not. Trust your gut here. If the smell is leaving you a bit queasy, toss the fish. 


The color of the salmon is another indicator of whether or not the fish has gone bad. 

Fresh raw salmon should have a bright orange and slightly pink color with white lines running through it.

It is important to note some pieces of salmon, depending on where they come from, can be more orange while others can be pinker.

However, if your salmon looks dull or has turned grey, or has hints of green or blue, it is a sign it has gone bad

If there are any signs of mold or dark spots, the salmon should also be discarded. 

If you bought a whole piece of salmon, the color of its eyes is also an indicator of freshness.

The color of the salmon’s eyes should be bright and clear with a dark pupil in the center. If the fish’s eyes are dull, grey, or discolored, it is a sign it has gone bad.


The texture of the salmon can determine if you should or should not consume it. 

Fresh salmon should be smooth to the touch and when cut, should be nice and meaty. You want the flesh to “spring” back at you when it is lightly poked. 

The first sign of bad texture is if you lightly poke it and it stays indented or starts to fall apart. Fresh salmon should be firm, not flimsy.  

If the salmon is slimy, sticky or tacky, throw it out—this is a sign of spoilage.


Sometimes these signs, texture, smell, and color, may not be detectable when eating raw sushi at a restaurant or even at home. 

Therefore, you need to also know the signs of tasting when raw salmon has gone bad. Hopefully, you never have to get to this point, but it is much better to find out in your first bite than after you have consumed a large amount. 

Raw salmon should taste fresh, light, and not at all fishy. This is because there is a difference between regular salmon and sushi grade salmon. 

If the raw salmon tastes fishy like an ocean or leaves a filmy or sticky taste in your mouth, do not keep eating it. It should immediately be discarded.

How To Tell If Cooked Salmon Has Gone Bad

Sometimes raw salmon may not have the signs that point to spoilage so you may accidentally cook salmon that is still not edible.

Or you may buy precooked salmon from the grocery store or a restaurant and are unsure if you can or cannot consume it.

Here are the signs that your cooked salmon has gone bad:

Expiration Date

Sometimes we cook salmon that is past the expiration date without knowing. Thankfully there are other signs that will point to spoilage, but we recommend keeping the packaging until your salmon is cooked. 

If the other signs are not pointing to spoilage but the cooked salmon just still seems “off,” this would be a good time to check the expiration date again.

If you are buying pre-cooked salmon from a store (canned salmon for example) always check the expiration date before consuming

Checking the expiration date is the quickest and easiest way to determine whether or not the salmon should be consumed. 


The smell of cooked salmon can determine whether or not the salmon is edible. 

While it is okay for raw salmon to have a fishy smell to it before it is cooked, it is not okay for it to be overly fishy after it is cooked.

The cooking process should have removed the fishy smell and left only the smell of whatever herbs and spices were used. 

In addition, if the cooked salmon smells sour or rancid, it is a sign the fish has gone bad


The color of the cooked salmon can indicate if it has gone bad. 

Cooked salmon should be an extremely light pink color. If it becomes dull, grey or has any amount of dark spots, throw it away


Texture is one of the best ways to tell if your cooked salmon has or has not gone bad. 

Cooked salmon should be light, flaky, and able to fall apart easily. If the salmon becomes hard, it is no longer edible

If the cooked salmon is slimy, stringy, sticky, or tacky, it is also a sign that the fish has gone bad. 


It may be hard to spot some of these other signs in cooked fish. It could be possible that there are no signs of bad smell, color or texture but the cooked salmon is still bad. 

Unfortunately, this might mean you may have to rely on taste to determine whether or not the salmon has gone bad. 

Like raw salmon, cooked salmon should not taste fishy. Cooked salmon should taste light, rich and almost buttery, and like whatever herbs or seasoning that was used in the cooking process. 

If the cooked salmon tastes fishy or leaves a slimy feeling in your mouth, it has gone bad and should be immediately thrown out.

What Are The Risks Of Eating Bad Salmon?

There is a wide array of risks, which can include intense stomach and intestinal discomfort, that may happen after consuming bad salmon. The danger comes from bacterial growth and mold. 

These risks are not worth consuming questionable fish. Always double check your salmon is fresh by looking at the signs like smell, color, and texture.

If you have eaten salmon that has gone bad and begin to feel intense nausea or lightheadedness, seek medical attention.

Other Tips For Avoiding Bad Salmon

Though these are signs that help you avoid consuming bad salmon after you have purchased it, there are a few ways to help avoid buying bad salmon. 

Check Where It Came From

Knowing where your salmon is coming from can help you avoid buying bad salmon and ensures high-quality fish. 

When buying at a grocery store, opt for wild salmon over farmed salmon.

When going to a restaurant, do some quick research or make a quick phone call to see where they are buying their salmon from. 

Cook It Correctly (Or Buy it Correctly!)

If you are cooking salmon, make sure to cook it to an internal temperature of 145°F. The only salmon that should be consumed raw is sushi-grade salmon.

Speaking of, if you plan on eating raw sushi, make sure it actually is sushi grade. The best place for this is your local fish market. 

Related Questions

Now that we’ve gone over how to tell if your salmon has gone bad, let’s take a look at a few related questions on the subject!

What is the best way to cook salmon?

You can cook salmon a few ways! Baking, grilling, or poaching tend to produce the best-tasting salmon. 

To bake, cook your salmon at 400°F for about 12-20 minutes depending on desired doneness (an internal temperature of 145°F is the recommended temperature).

Make sure to coat in oil (olive oil or avocado work well here) and season to your liking. 

To grill the salmon, make sure your grill is clean and nice and hot. Lightly baste the salmon with oil and keep the seasoning simple here (sauces or marinades can burn quickly and leave you with undercooked salmon).

Grill it for about 5 minutes on each side or until the internal temperature reaches 145°F

Poaching the salmon requires no oil, so it tends to be the lowest in calories. To poach, add the salmon to a pot of broth or heavily seasoned water (bay leaves, onions, garlic and lemon work here). 

Let it simmer for about 20-25 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 145°F

What’s the best way to store salmon?

There are a few different methods to storing salmon that depend on whether it is raw, cooked, and when you plan on consuming the fish. 

For raw salmon, it can stay in the fridge uncooked for about two days before spoiling. You want to make sure it gets into the refrigerator no longer than two hours after taking it out of the cooler at the grocery store. 

Unlike some other meats and fish, raw salmon can only last in the freezer for about 1-2 months. Make sure to wrap in freezer wrap to keep it as fresh as possible. If it has freezer burn or any of the other signs of spoilage, do not eat it.

Cooked salmon can be left in the fridge for 2-3 days. This depends on how fresh it was when you bought it and how close to the expiration date it was when cooked. Do not eat salmon in the fridge after 3 days

Cooked salmon should not be stored in the freezer. It will lose its texture and flavor and does not do well when reheated.

What’s the best way to reheat salmon?

If you are in a hurry, heating up salmon in the microwave is fine; however, plan on your whole house (or office) smelling like fish for a few hours. Also, plan on the fish losing a bit of its flavor when heated up in a microwave

The best way to reheat a piece of salmon is in the oven. Keep the oven low, at around 275°F, and let it heat up for about 10-15 minutes. It may take a bit longer, but it will keep the flavor and texture intact. 

Another way to reheat salmon is in a pan on the stove. Add a small amount of oil and keep the heat on medium/low. Put the salmon in the pan and cover with a lid. Cook each side for about 3-4 minutes

The last way to reheat salmon would be an air fryer. Set the temperature to about 350°F and cook for 5-7 minutes. This is not only quick but will keep the flavor and texture of the salmon.

Up Next: Can You Cook Frozen Battered Fish In An Air Fryer?

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