How Long Does Smoked Fish Really Last?

How long does smoked fish last? Whether you’ve bought smoked salmon at the grocery store or caught and smoked the fish yourself, it’s very important to know if your smoked fish is safe for consumption. Even smoked, (which will last longer than fresh fish) will go bad soon enough. The question is – how long does smoked fish last? And how can you store it properly for the long term?

A smoker full of various types of fish slowly being smoked.

Guidelines for how long smoked fish lasts vary according to packaging, storage, and preparation. A vacuum-sealed pack of hot-smoked salmon lasts about ten days in a refrigerator and can be stored for nearly six months in a freezer wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and then stored in heavy-duty freezer bags or plastic bags. Once opened, smoked fish will spoil in 2-5 days.

Maybe you had a party and didn’t calculate how much BBQ per person, and now you’re left with tons of smoked fish leftovers.

Or maybe you like to meal prep and smoked fish is a part of that.

Let’s look at proper storage guidelines and factors.

Smoking fish (and BBQ in general) is one of my favorite things next to actually catching them — I have popular recipes for smoked whole trout and smoked salmon jerky to prove it.

I’m constantly smoking fish and sometimes there are even leftovers.

The fish you make yourself doesn’t come with a convenient expiry date (or any preservatives generally either) but for the best quality, I store my homemade smoked fish in plastic wrap and then in an airtight container or sealable plastic bag (to completely contain the smell) and I feel comfortable eating that up to 3 days, sometimes a day longer.

I also trust my nose and visual cues for signs of bad salmon and trout, does the fish smell sour? Is there an off smell? in general Does it look in good condition? What about the texture of the fish? Is there a slimy film? Minimal discolorations? A dull color?

These can be sure signs of bad fish or just fish that has lost its freshness and quality of taste.

I still buy smoked fish too and the vacuum packing they come in tends to give a longer shelf life, especially an unopened package, and if stored at lower temperatures and/or in a dry place. It also comes with an expiration date obviously. But once opened, how long does the fish keep?

How Long Does Smoked Fish Last?

The smoking process is a way not only to impart a rich, smoky flavor to your fish but also helps to give it a longer shelf-life, allowing you to save fish for later.

Fatty fish are the best to use for smoking as their fat absorbs the flavors well.

How long smoked fish will last depends on the smoking process used to cure it, how it is stored, and when the package is opened. Because smoked fish is traditionally brined as part of the process, the salt also helps extend the shelf-life.

Most store-bought smoked salmon, for example, is cured using a cold-smoked process, then vacuum sealed, and will expire in a fridge within about ten days, whereas if you hot-smoked your salmon, it could keep in the refrigerator for three to six months if in a sealed pack.

If you already like to smoke your fish, you probably know about cold and hot smoking and the levels of preservation each offers. Or perhaps you’re just learning the best way to smoke fish.

Either way, once you’ve prepped your fish, you’ll likely want to keep the leftovers, so it’s good to know how to store it to keep it safer for longer.

How Long Does Smoked Fish Last at Room Temperature?

While keeping some commercial smoked fish outside the refrigerator for a few days is possible, some fishmongers warn against a higher risk of contaminated fish.

With the increased number of listeria cases traced to certain fish products, I would not take the chance of leaving even smoked fish out at room temperature for long.

If you’re preparing smoked fish at home, you want to minimize the risk of food poisoning, as it is very unpleasant and potentially a killer.

For safety reasons, if you home smoke your fish, ensure your prep and cooking surfaces are spotless to prevent E. coli bacteria from spreading. Always clean your hands when handling the fish before, during, and after the smoking process.

If your smoked fish needs to be out at room temperature—say as part of a food platter—it will not go off in a matter of hours. That said, I would discard any smoked fish that has sat outside the fridge for more than twenty-four hours.

How Long Does Smoked Fish Last in the Fridge?

Most smoked fish will last longer in the fridge than raw fish. Be aware that cold-smoked salmon is still very soft, is considered a ‘raw’ product, and should be treated the same way. Cold smoked salmon is usually smoked at a lower temperature of 90 F after being dry-cured with salt, giving it that delicate, salmony flavor and soft texture.

Hot-smoked salmon is treated at a higher temperature—usually 120 F. The fish are typically brined, cured to dry, and flavored and smoked. This process imparts a much richer, smokier flavor and increases the shelf-life.

If your salmon or smoked fish is still in a sealed package, it will store in the fridge for 1-2 weeks, but as soon as the seal has been opened, the fish will spoil faster. It’s best to consume an opened pack of smoked fish within a few days.

  • An open pack of cold-smoked salmon lasts about 2-3 days in the fridge
  • Vacuum-sealed cold-smoked salmon lasts about a week in the fridge
  • An open bag of hot-smoked salmon will last up to five days in the fridge
  • Vacuum-sealed hot-smoked salmon will last approximately two weeks in the fridge

If you have a combo fridge-freezer, keep the smoked fish pack on the back of the lowest shelf of the refrigerator, closest to the freezer. This area is usually the coldest part of the fridge and will help preserve your food for longer.

How Long Does Smoked Fish Last in the Freezer?

Storing smoked fish in the freezer is an excellent way to keep your fish longer. If you prepare and smoke a lot of fish, you’ll likely want to store much of it in the freezer to enjoy later.

When buying smoked fish from a fishmonger, you can ask about their recommended dates for keeping the fish in the freezer.

While most smoked fish have a freezer date of about three months, if the process has used a lot of brine or a hot smoking method, and the fish are immediately vacuum-sealed, they could keep for up to six months in a freezer.

One of the issues with keeping smoked fish in the freezer for such a long time is not so much the risk of spoilage. When food is stored in a freezer, the texture and flavor will degrade over time, even in an air-tight package.

Types of Smoked Fish

Common fish that are smoked include salmon and mackerel, though you can come across many types of smoked fish across the country. Israeli, Russian, Northern, and Eastern European cuisines often feature cold and hot-smoked fish.

The most common smoked fish in shops include:

  • Salmon
  • Trout
  • Mackerel
  • Whitefish

You can find the following types of smoked fish in specialty food shops, fishmongers, and East-European delis:

  • Kippers (herring)
  • Arbroath smokies (haddock)
  • Cod
  • Sablefish
  • Seabass
  • Halibut

Smoking Methods for Fish

Most smoked fish are prepared either by cold or hot smoking and fish such as salmon, mackerel, and herring, can be cured with either method.

In the US, most fish is hot-smoked, though delis may have a selection of cold-smoked fish. In both methods, the fish are hung first to dry, then brined and salted beforehand.

Cold-smoked fish are smoked without being cooked, as the process’s temperature stays between 68-86 F. Due to this, cold-smoked fish retain much of their flavor and moistness, and the flesh stays soft.

However, the food is still considered raw after the process and should be handled the same way as raw fish. Cold smoking is not recommended for the amateur home smoker, as there are too many food safety risks.

If you’re preparing your fish at home, you’ll likely be using the hot-smoking method, using a smoker at a range of 126-220 Fahrenheit. This process can take anywhere from one hour to twenty-four hours. This way, the food is cooked through but retains some moisture.

Hot smoking produces a rich, smoky flavor.

How to Keep Smoked Fish in the Freezer

If you’re freezing your smoked fish, there are a few tips you can follow to not only help improve the texture and taste and keep it longer. It’s a good idea to divide your fish into smaller portions, as you cannot refreeze fish you have defrosted.

Always freeze the smoked fish as soon as possible to preserve their freshness and taste.

Brush each piece of smoked fish with a bit of oil, as this will help keep it moist. Wrap every piece in plastic freezer wrap, and squeeze out all the air bubbles. There should be no bubbles between the fish and the plastic covering. If you have a home vacuum sealer, this is ideal.

Removing all the air will help prevent freezer burn and keep your fish fresh for longer.

You can wrap the sealed pieces in another layer of plastic or some heavy-duty kitchen foil. Place the individually wrapped pieces in another large freezer bag—you can store about 1lb of fish in each pack.

Storing them like this makes it much easier to remove a single portion when needed. If you seal the smoked fish in plastic freezer bags, they will keep for about three months before they begin to lose taste. By vacuum sealing them, you can extend this time to six months.

Defrosting Smoked Fish

When defrosting your smoked fish, please place it in the refrigerator in a bowl of cold water to thaw, as this will give you the best results.

If running short of time, you can technically defrost your smoked fish in the microwave.

First, remove the packaging and place it on a microwave-safe plate. Set the defrost function to three minutes, ensuring you don’t cook the fish.

I really, really, really do not recommend this.

If it’s a larger piece of frozen fish, you may need a slightly longer time, but check the fish during the defrosting process, so you don’t accidentally end up cooking it.

Once you’ve defrosted your frozen smoked fish, you will need to use it, as it is not recommended to refreeze thawed food. Not only will the taste and texture deteriorate, but the risk of food poisoning is much higher.

smoked salmon jerky on a granite board
My smoked salmon jerky (pictured) will last longer than my smoked trout as much more of the liquid has been removed.

Does Smoked Fish Spoil?

Once you’ve opened a package of smoked fish, it will spoil faster, as the vacuum-sealed package helps increase the shelf life of your fish.

If you’re planning on smoking and storing a lot of fish, use a vacuum sealer to prevent spoilage by removing as much air as possible. The fish will go off sooner if too much air is in the container.

All the time frames I’m going to give for how long smoked fish lasts assume an unopened package—once you’ve opened your vacuum-sealed smoked fish, you should treat it the same way you would fresh fish to ensure food safety.

If you’re worried your smoked fish may have spoiled, there are some signs to help you identify if your fish is safe to eat:

Use By Date

With store-bought smoked fish, the package is marked with a best-by or use-by date, and you can usually consume the food a day or two past the date. 

If the use-by date has passed by more than two days, you should dispose of it, even if the package is unsealed and the fish looks fine. Getting food poisoning from fish is very serious, and you should never take the risk.

If you are preparing, smoking, and freezing the fish yourself, it’s best practice to make the date you prepared it on the container. This dating will make it easier for you to know if the fish is safe to consume.

Appearance

If the package is unopened and the ub date, or use-by date, is still acceptable, you’ll want to check what the fish looks like next.

Upon opening the package, your fish should usually look pink or orange, depending on the fish type and smoking method. If any parts of the fish look discolored or have a greenish tinge, you should throw the smoked fish away.

While mold is not common on most smoked fish, it is possible on fish stored in the fridge, even if your packet is unopened. Any sign of decay means you should throw that pack away.

While cold-smoked salmon will have a soft, wet appearance, it should never have slime. If any of your smoked fish is slimy to the touch, it has spoiled, and you should dispose of it immediately.

Smell

Fresh and smoked fish should not have a strong smell. If your fish is beginning to give off a distinct aroma, that’s a sure sign it has started to decay. A strong odor or a sour smell indicates that you must toss the fish away.

Conclusion

How long does smoked fish last? A good while, especially if handled and stored properly.

Smoked fish will store for longer in the freezer or fridge if it is in a vacuum-sealed container, but it will last 3-5 days in the refrigerator once opened.

Keep the smoked fish in the coldest part of the fridge to retain freshness for longer. Smoked fish can last outside the fridge in a sealed pack for one to two days.

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