Identifying Signs of Spoiled Salmon: Quick & Easy Guide

Today we will take a look at the most common and tell-tale signs of off-salmon. This will not only help you choose the freshest cuts but also prevent you from ingesting some seriously harmful bacteria.

If you want to learn more about food spoilage, take a look at the many educational contents on my blog. My readers benefit most from How To Tell If Shrimp Is Bad.

How To Tell If Salmon Has Gone Bad

Are There Any Exceptions?

Like most seafood, there are some pretty obvious signs of bad salmon. It’s right there! But for some reason, this is STILL one of the most searched-for questions out there.

Now, I completely understand that salmon is expensive, no matter which kind you get. I understand that you don’t want to throw it out and that you don’t want to waste such expensive food. However, nothing will make it safe to eat. 

I think so many people keep asking this question to figure out what the margin for error is. When is it acceptable to eat slightly off salmon? Is it still that bad when I only JUST started to smell the fishy odor? These are all questions I am asked all too often.

The bottom line is and will always be: no matter how subtle the signs truly are, you should never eat spoiled salmon. The risk you are taking could prove fatal! 

Salmon Has Gone Bad The Best guide

How To Tell If Raw Salmon Has Gone Bad

Okay, so let’s go through every single sign that you may come across that will indicate that salmon is past its due date. And again, you really only need one of these signs to justify tossing it.

Texture Changes

Fresh fish has a firm texture that is still soft to the touch. It isn’t mushy, it doesn’t break or crack apart, and it definitely isn’t flexible.

If you bought the freshest piece possible, it will have a plump texture that is firm, bounces back when you gently push on it and is free of any slimy, gooey substances.

The skin should be dry (not dried out), and the entire fillet or fish should just look appetizing. You know exactly what bad fish looks like. And you should never consider cooking or eating it.


If it smells fishy it is fishy! Many people have a massive misconception about what fish should smell like. But in reality, fresh fish doesn’t smell like anything.

You MIGHT pick up some salty smells, the smell of meat, and an undertone of the ocean (clean ocean). But fresh fish NEVER smells fishy.

If you even get a whiff of fish, it’s better to toss out the piece. It is not worth the risk. Even the slightest odor indicates that enough bacteria have multiplied that they are becoming noticeable.


Salmon is a very bright, orange-pink fish. Its color is saturated and should be uniform.

The older the fish gets, the paler the color will become, and you may even notice some areas starting to change color completely. That’s a dead giveaway for how to tell if salmon has gone bad.

Now, the color change may also be caused by something else. For example, smoked salmon sometimes has a slightly whiter color to it than fresh salmon. However, you will know if that’s the reason for the discoloration.

Don’t try to make excuses why the fish is pale and just looks bland. Just trust that it’s a sign you shouldn’t eat it.

Mold On Salmon

Now, it isn’t extremely common that mold grows on fish. You will usually toss it far before the specific bacteria that thrive on fish visually appears.

But obviously, if you see any signs of mold, it is much better to simply toss the fish.

It’s Past The Use-By Date

Do not ignore the use-by date that is printed on the package. These dates are pretty accurate. Meat and seafood RARELY last longer than the printed date.

This date actually even takes into account the fact that the product hasn’t been stored perfectly. Even keeping the salmon out of the cold chain for 20 minutes (to drive home) is drastically shortening the shelf life.

So, if you are still unsure about the signs of off salmon, check the use-by date. It may just seal the fate of your cut.

What Does Bad Salmon Look Like After It Has Been Cooked?

How to tell if cooked salmon has gone bad is pretty much the same as for raw salmon.

The color of cooked salmon is different from raw salmon. Usually, it is a lot paler and a light-pink color. But, when you store cooked (light pink) salmon, and it still comes out discolored, it’s likely a sign the meat is deteriorating.

Cooked salmon is far more likely to show mold growth. That’s because you definitely did expose it to other types of bacteria during the cooking process.

Another big sign of bad cooked salmon is a slimy film on the surface of the fish. This is bacteria that has reproduced significantly since you’ve cooked and stored it. It’s very common in rotting fish.

What Can Happen If You Eat Bad Salmon?

There are a lot of risks to eating rotten fish. Probably the biggest concerns when it comes to cooking raw off salmon are salmonella and Vibrio vulnificus. Salmonella is far more common and more likely, as Vibrio vulnificus lives in warm saltwater.

Both these bacteria can cause serious food poisoning. They can directly cause your death or can cause other diseases that will ultimately kill you. It’s a very scary thought.

How To Properly Store To Prevent Rotten Salmon

Wrap the fish or fillets tightly in a sheet of plastic or saran wrap. Then, wrap it in some foil. This will keep the salmon from drying out, being exposed to other bacteria, and from making the rest of the fridge smell like fish.

Keep the fresh fish in the coldest area in the fridge. Don’t store it next to fresh produce, dairy, or cooked meat and food.

How To Tell If Salmon Has Gone Bad The Best Guide And Storage.

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