How to Tell If Salmon Is Bad – A Detailed Guide for a Physical Check

No doubt, salmons have many valuable nutrients for the human health. In fact, since pre-historic times, this kind of seafood has been trusted to power the human life on this planet. If you love salmon just like me or another person next to you, there are a few things you, however, need to keep in mind.

Whether you want to eat it raw, canned or cooked, with improper handling and storage, the fish can easily go bad. Salmon is always susceptible to pathogens and that makes it vulnerable to premature spoilage. For this reason, you’re always better off knowing how to tell if Salmon is bad before you buy or even cook it. 

Luckily, for you, there’s absolutely no reason to gamble with your life. Here are some quick pointers to be on the lookout for just so you’re sure that the fish you’re about to feast on is good enough for your health.

How to Tell If Salmon Is Bad

Be On the Lookout for Fishy Smell

Good salmon should smell like fish but not fishy. Sounds confusing? Well, the difference is entirely on the quality of the smell it produces. Good fish produces a rather gentle and rich smell. Bad fish, on the other hand, tends to produce a terrible stench.

To give you an even cleared assessment, safe and fresh fish tends to produce a wonderful smell that might easily remind you of the sea and the salt. It’s a mild scent which may not arouse suspicions.

On the contrary, a fishy smell tends to be pungent. This is because as salmon decomposes, it also tends to produce an ammonia-like substance. This smell tends to be quite strong and, therefore, difficult to ignore.

Please don’t confuse this fishy smell with the smoky aroma that’s typical of some smoked or canned salmon variants. Simply put, the best way to tell a fishy smell from the ideal is to rely on your nose and instincts. If the smell is rather too strong, you probably need to avoid that salmon.

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Trust Your Eyes

Some salmon may be so bad that visual signs of the spoilage eventually begin to show. However, these take quite a long time to show. So, if your fish already has them, you may need to avoid it like a plague because.

One of the easiest ways to tell that your salmon is still fresh is by checking the pinkish color of it. If this color is missing and replaced with something else e.g. milky or anything else that looks suspicious, it’s high time you avoid that fish.

Likewise, you should steer clear of any fish that indicates any vivid signs of dryness or even discoloration.

Worth also noting is that any signs of milky white substances on the fish in addition to a slimy residue may be indicative of spoilage. This slimy residue has the tendency to stick around the gills of the fish. So, if you spot anything close to that, you might want to avoid the salmon.

Still, there is another awesome method to determine if your salmon has gone or is about to go bad and that is by pressing it gently. Avoid anything that’s wobbly to the press. Go for something that is firm and springs back when you press it.

Does your salmon leave a dimple after you press it? This is a sure sign that’s gone bad. Avoid it like a plague.

Its Eyes Tell It All

Maybe you don’t want to smell the fish or even touch it in any way, is there any other way to determine if it’s safe for eating? Well, you only need to look at its eyes.

As it turns out, the eyes are the natural window that you can use to tell if the fish is truly fresh or not. Insist only ongoing for fish whose eyes are bright and clear. In fact, the eyes should bulge a little.

While at it, please note that some fish naturally come with smoky or cloudy eyes although these are mainly of the walleye family. Salmon should, therefore, always have clear and live looking eyes.

As such, dull-eyed salmon is a big no-no. This is usually a clear indication that the fish has since exceeded its prime time and it’s a matter of time before it goes really bad.

Also, be on the lookout for fish with sunken eyes. In a nutshell, any eyes that look quite unnatural or have a weird color should always prompt you to carry out a closer inspection of the fish before you cook it.

The Skin Never Goes Wrong

High-quality salmon should always shine. Indeed, its court should be clean and metallic right from the first time you lay your eyes on it. If you discover any clear signs of discoloration or dulling, then you may need to investigate the fish further.

Please note that some fish may still be fresh but still have some discolored patches due to mishandling during transport. Such fish may still be fresh and good to eat. So, once again, the ultimate way to judge by looking at the eyes and the color of the fish tissue to avoid any doubts.

That said, a weird looking body of the fish should never, ever be taken lightly. More often than not it tends to communicate a deeper message in regards to the freshness of the fish.

The Gills

Still not sure how to tell if salmon is bad? The gills can hardly mislead you. You only need to peep under the gills and if the color is anything other than a bright pinkish one, you’ll need to avoid the fish.

In fact, besides the color, you can always tell that salmon is bad or about to go bad if you experience resistance as your peep underneath the gills.

The perfect color to expect under the gills is actually a ruby red one. If not red ruby, then the least you should settle for is pink. Typically, from there, the color tends to change to color brown, gray and eventually.

As a rule of the thumb, the redder the gills, the fresher the salmon.

Examine the Edges of the Fish

By now, you should be having a rough idea on how to tell if salmon is about to go bad in 99 percent of the cases. But if you’re a keen shopper, adding an extra quality-check tip to your bucket list wouldn’t do any harm. Right?

So here’s it. The next time you go to your fishmonger, take a keen look at the edges of the salmon. Can you notice any color changes from brown to yellowish or anything close to that? Then, you badly need to avoid that salmon.

The edges of the fish provide the earliest signs that you can use to tell if the fish isn’t fresh. Of course, sometimes the discoloration runs only skin deep but the fact that it appears should be enough to caution you that the salmon isn’t fresh.

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The Tail Check

If you are in the market for a bright fall Chinook, there’s an extra step you can take to gather a bit more data off it before you take it home. Tell your fishmonger to make an incision close to the tail of the fish. 

If it’s a bright fall Chinook (a fresh one), this will reveal a rich red flesh. On the other hand, if it’s a steelhead or tule Chinook, this will reveal pinkish flesh.

Better Safe than Sorry

Telling whether the fish is fresh or not may always be a simple and straight-forward task. So, it’s always important to ensure that whenever you get a fresh and high-quality chunk of fish that you store it accordingly.

Try as much as possible to store it in the refrigerator within two hours of purchasing it. Good salmon can last for up to 48 hours when stored in temperature levels of under 40 degrees.

Want it to last longer? Simply cook, smoke or can it. That alone can increase it storage life to 6 days or thereabouts (under refrigeration).

For longer storage – 9 months or thereabouts – you can place the salmon inside aluminum foil or plastic with the fish being frozen at 0 degrees. This would work pretty well for as long as the can isn’t opened. 

The moment the can is opened, this fish should be cooked in under 48 hours.

Salmon that’s kept at room temperature may quickly develop bacteria and this may lead to premature spoilage. This applies even if you refrigerate the fish immediately after that.

So, once you confirm that your salmon is good, be sure to rush home and put it in the refrigerator. The earlier you do that, the better.

Final Thoughts

Even though pre-packaged fish may always come with details indicating its shelf-life, you’re better off trusting your instincts. Don’t go for any canned fish who date of manufacture indicates that it was presented more than 9 months ago.

Whenever you’re purchasing fresh fish at the market, be on the lookout for discoloration among other symptoms that may show signs of bacterial infection. Most importantly, better safe than sorry. Avoid any salmon that you may be doubtful about.

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