While cooking, sometimes you get distracted. After retrieving the necessary items, arranging them on your kitchen counter, perhaps a phone call pulls you away, or a cry from your child sends you running. Whatever the reason, you’ve left your ingredients waiting in the open. Of course, food may sit out for a length of time before it spoils. However, different items spoil at different rates.
So, how long can fish sit out? The short answer is 2 hours. Fish tends to spoil beyond that 120 minute mark. Any longer, you run the risk of cooking bad fish.
That said, different circumstances affect this timeline. Before you determine if you’ve left your fish out too long, consult this information.
While the rule of thumb states fish goes bad after 2 hours at room temp, you must adjust for hotter days. The important numbers to note are 40°F and 140°F. These mark the limits of the food danger zone. Food within this range becomes susceptible to bacteria. When your fish rises above 40°F, it enters this zone. The longer it stays there, the greater the chance of spoiling.
Fish at room temperature
Therefore, if fish sits out in a warmer room, the 2 hour window starts shrinking. Food safety guidelines suggest only 1 hour if the kitchen rises above 90°F. So, watch out if you’re cooking on a hot day without air conditioning. Your fish warms up quicker than you expect. If it’s not ready to go in the pan or the oven just yet, maybe pop it back into the fridge until it’s time.
How do I know if my fish is bad?
If you’re wondering exactly how long you’ve left your fish on the countertop, the safest option is to start over with fresh fish. However, if you suspect the fish hasn’t gone bad, there are a few tests to help you determine if it’s still good.
First, bad fish develops a slimy, milky coating. This visual sign foretells bacterial growth. Additionally, the scent of the fish changes. Of course, fish notoriously smells, but the aroma of bad fish stinks distinctly like rotting meat. If a sniff test elicits revulsion, don’t cook that fish. It won’t improve, just throw it out.
How long can cooked fish sit out?
Just like raw fish, cooked fish starts to go bad beyond the 2 hour mark at normal room temperature (don’t forget that changes for abnormally hot kitchens). You may still eat or store cooked fish up until that time limit.
Smoked fish, interestingly, lasts a bit longer. This is because the smoking process actually helps preserve the meat. However, smoked fish still only lasts for 3 hours at room temperature before it spoils.
So long as you store fish properly in the refrigerator, it reliably keeps for up to 2 days. Beyond that, you should cook, freeze, or toss it out. Cooked fish lasts a bit longer, for up to 3 or 4 days. Frozen, fish lasts potentially forever, but the flavor drops off after 3 months.