Can You Eat Fish Left Out Overnight?

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With summer fast approaching, you may be shifting your diet from hearty soups and comfort food to fresher, lighter meals.

Fish is a protein that can be enjoyed year-round in many forms but nothing beats a grilled fish filet enjoyed in a lovely outdoor space.

Whether you may be grilling fish out on your barbeque or braving the heat and using your oven, you should be aware of how to store any leftovers.

You should not eat fish that has been left out at room temperature for more than two hours. After the two-hour period, all perishable cooked foods enter what is known as the “danger zone” (40-140 degrees Fahrenheit) for bacteria growth. Some fish, like salmon and rainbow trout, spoil faster due to their high amount of unsaturated fats and should be refrigerated even sooner.

While there is some wiggle room in this rule when it comes to cooked foods not containing meat or varying room temperatures, the two-hour guideline should always be adhered to when dealing with seafood (cooked or raw).

If this sounds a little scary, don’t worry! I’m here to make sure you know everything you need to about properly storing fish and the reasons why you want to avoid leaving it out.

What Happens When Fish Is Left at Room Temperature?

Any cooked food, including fish, is ok at room temperature while it is freshly cooked and hot. Once the internal temperature of the food drops below 140 degrees Fahrenheit, the food becomes a perfect playground for bacteria.

This applies to raw fish (and other seafood as well). You should always make sure to store any fresh, raw fish in the fridge as soon as possible unless you intend to cook it immediately.

It is also best if you don’t thaw fish at room temperature. The safest way to do so is to transfer frozen fish into your refrigerator a day or two before you intend to use it.

The bottom line is if you are bringing fresh, raw fish home from the market, put it in the fridge immediately. If you are having a cookout and notice leftover pieces of cooked fish that no one is eating anymore, transfer those to the fridge as soon as you can.

What Can Happen If You Eat Fish Left Out?

The answer to this question depends on a lot of different factors. The first being a difference in immune and digestive systems from person to person.

While eating cooked fish that has been left out overnight is risky, some people might not be affected by it at all. So long as the fish doesn’t smell or taste off, it might still be perfectly fine to eat for those who have no pre-existing health issues and a strong digestive system.

However, eating that same meal of fish that has been resting at room temperature for hours may be harmful to people with sensitive stomachs or a weak immune system. No matter what category you fall under, you should avoid fish that has been out for over two hours.

Eating fish that has had time to collect bacteria for several hours can cause severe nausea, stomach cramps, headaches, vomiting, Vibrio infection, Salmonella, and can even lead to death in some cases.

There are other elements that come into play, as well, like the conditions of the room the fish is left in. If you leave fish out during the summer months or you live in a hot climate, the risk becomes a lot greater.

If the room your fish is left in is generally cool or you have the ac left on, the bacteria growth might be slower. But, even a cool room can’t replace the power of a refrigerator.

All of the factors I mentioned above are circumstantial and there really is no way of knowing if you’ll get sick from food that looks and smells fine even though it’s been sitting out.

Fish can be a very expensive protein and having to throw it out if you left it out by accident can be frustrating. I’ll leave it to you to use your best judgment, but keep in mind that your well-being is always more important than losing a few bucks!

How Can You Tell If Fish Left Out Has Gone Bad?

There are plenty of ways to identify if food has gone bad. Sometimes, it can be hard to know if you’re being over-cautious or if you’re doing the right thing. When it comes to fish, the following signs should tell you if your fish has gone bad.

1. It Smells (But not like fish usually does)

One of the easiest ways to tell if fish has gone bad is by how it smells. Fish has a strong and distinct odor that may be generally stinky to some people. Even if you don’t like the smell of fish, you should be able to notice any significant changes.

Spoiled fish can smell like ammonia and will have an overpowering odor. It will have the musty smell of water multiplied by 100 so if you’re someone who already doesn’t like the smell of fish you likely won’t be able to stomach it.

2. It Has Changed Color

The second way to tell if fish has gone bad is by inspecting it visually. If you notice any changes in the color of the meat or the scales then your fish may be spoiled.

3. It Looks Unusually Oily

Raw fish will become milky and glossy when it is close to completely spoiled.

4. It’s Very Slimy

Both raw and cooked fish will become slimy to the touch and mushy once they have fully gone bad so if you start noticing signs of that you may want to discard the fish before it begins to rot.

How You Should Store Fish

When it comes to storing fresh, raw fish, simply putting it in the refrigerator in a sealed container is not the ideal storage method. Fish rots easily so it can begin to deteriorate even after a night in the fridge if not stored properly.

Remember that you want to make sure your hands are thoroughly cleaned before handling fish because you can transfer bacteria easily. Then wash the fish in cold water and pat it dry with a clean cloth before storing it.

The easiest way to store fish is to put it in a single layer in large, gallon zip lock bags. You can then line those bags on top of a tray of ice. Add more ice on top of the fish to ensure it is getting enough of the cold.

You can also wrap your fish in parchment paper, plastic wrap, or aluminum foil, just make sure it is completely covered without room for airflow.

You can also freeze fish for longer storage. To do this, clean the fish as you would for refrigerating then put it in a Ziploc bag. Make sure to get as much air out of the bag before you seal it. You can also wrap your fish in parchment paper or aluminum foil before putting it in the bag.

How Long Can Fish Be Stored?

Raw fish and seafood can be kept in the fridge at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or 4.4 degrees Celsius or less for 2 days before it needs to be used to ensure its best quality. Once cooked, fish can be stored in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.

You should always remember to either consume or discard fish and seafood in the refrigerator. If it goes bad and is left in there, it will emit a horrendous smell that will remind you of its existence immediately.

You can also freeze raw fish for anywhere from 3 to 12 months depending on the type of fish. Cooked fish can remain fresh in the freezer for up to 3 months. The longer you store the fish in the freezer, the more the taste and texture may change.

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