Caught and cooked five days ago, the leftover trout fillet had been pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten. Found while rummaging for leftovers to take to work, I stared at it, debating if it would be a decent lunch or give me food poisoning. I erred on the side of caution and threw it out but now wondered, how long does cooked fish last in the fridge?
Cooked fish lasts approximately 3 – 4 days in the fridge. This can vary based on the quality and freshness of the fillet before cooking, and how the cooked fish was stored afterward. Fish with a higher fat content can go bad faster than their lean counterparts as well. Bottom line: If in doubt, then don’t eat it!
What to Watch For
Smell and texture factor heavily in determining if a cooked fish fillet is safe to eat. Be on the lookout for a pungent chemical-like odor. The texture of the fillet should not be much different from when it was cooked. If your fillet is slimy, mushy, or looks unappetizing, then it is probably not safe to eat either. Fried fish fillets are not exempt from these rules and are prone to drying out.
Seal Out the Air
Like any food, cooked fish spoils from contact with the air due to oxidation and bacterial contamination. Preventing this contact will improve the shelf life of your leftovers. A quality, tight Tupperware-like container packed with ice will suffice for this. So will a good Zip-loc freezer bag. If you wish to go through the trouble, a vacuum sealer will give you the best results in keeping contamination and moisture out of your food.
Keep it Cold
The USDA recommends setting your fridge at 40 °F, preferably colder. A few degrees above freezing is ideal. Not only will you have nice frosty brewskies, but bacteria are unable to grow at this temperature range. This will keep your cooked fish fresher for longer. As a side note, if you really want to enjoy that fillet and you won’t be getting around to eating it for a while, then freeze it. If properly packaged, your fish may last up to a month there.
Consider the Source
As stated before, knowing the condition of your fish before cooking is essential to figuring out its storage life after. If you caught the fish yourself and cooked it promptly, then you have a good chance of getting maximum shelf-life from your leftovers.
Fish from the market may have spent time exposed to the air and begun to deteriorate already. You should also be wary of keeping fish purchased from a restaurant for a long time. If you do not know the source, then consider the shelf life to be short.
When buying fish, look for clear eyes, firm but elastic flesh, and moist gills. Fish steaks or fillets should not be gray or lusterless but shiny and vibrant. Color and sheen are an indicator of freshness before cooking.
So, I was right in throwing out the leftover trout. I am glad that I did. Food poisoning is a great way to wreck a week and possibly run up a sizable hospital bill. Take the time to properly store the leftovers and make sure your fridge is set cold enough.
If your cooked fish has been in the refrigerator for more than a couple of days, please take the time to thoroughly check it out before consuming it. Your health is not something to take a gamble on. Besides, if you have to throw it out, then you have an excuse to go out and catch some more!