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Can frozen salmon go bad?

The Short Answer

Yes, frozen salmon can go bad, but it takes a very long time if stored properly. Frozen salmon that is continuously kept frozen at 0°F or below will keep safe indefinitely. However, quality will slowly deteriorate over time. For best quality, frozen salmon should be used within 3 to 6 months. Freezer burn, oxidation, and dehydration can affect the texture, color, moisture content, and flavor of frozen salmon over time.

How Long Does Frozen Salmon Last?

Frozen salmon that is properly packaged and consistently stored at 0°F or below can technically last indefinitely from a food safety standpoint. However, the quality will slowly deteriorate over time. Here are some general guidelines for how long frozen salmon will maintain best quality:

Raw salmon steaks or fillets:

  • 3 to 6 months for optimal quality
  • Up to 12 months before noticeable declines in quality

Previously cooked salmon:

  • 2 to 3 months for best quality
  • Up to 6 months before flavor and texture start deteriorating

Smoked salmon:

  • 2 to 3 months for highest quality
  • Up to 6 months for good quality

The freezer time shown above is for frozen salmon that is kept constantly at 0°F or below. Thawing and refreezing salmon will shorten its freezer life.

How to Tell if Frozen Salmon Has Gone Bad

It can be difficult to tell if frozen salmon has gone bad, especially if it has been in the freezer for a long time. Here are some signs that frozen salmon may have spoiled:

  • Unusual odor – Fresh salmon has a mild, ocean-like smell. Rancid or strong “fishy” odors indicate spoilage.
  • Change in texture – Signs of freezer burn or ice crystals on the salmon indicate drying out.
  • Discoloration – The fat may turn yellow or brown.
  • Dryness – Salmon may appear shriveled, wrinkled, or dried out.
  • White patches – This indicates oxidation and rancidity.

Always inspect the packaging carefully before thawing frozen salmon. If the package is torn or has signs of frost or ice crystals, this indicates the seal was broken and air leaked in, causing quality loss.

Use your senses when thawing or cooking frozen salmon. Signs of spoilage include sour odors, bitterness, sliminess, or an off-texture. If in doubt, it’s best to discard the salmon.

How to Store Frozen Salmon Properly

To get the longest freezer life out of salmon, you need to store it properly. Here are some tips:

  • Use moisture-proof packaging like freezer bags, plastic wrap, or vacuum sealed pouches. This prevents freezer burn.
  • Exclude as much air as possible from packages.
  • Avoid overcrowding the freezer. Cold air must circulate freely.
  • Store salmon toward the back of the freezer, where temperature is most constant.
  • Don’t open the freezer door unnecessarily. Maintain a constant temperature.
  • Freeze salmon as soon as possible after purchasing.
  • Once thawed, do not refreeze raw salmon. Cooked leftovers can be refrozen.

Following these tips will maximize the shelf life of frozen salmon.

How to Thaw Frozen Salmon Safely

Thaw frozen salmon using one of these methods:

  • Refrigerator thawing – Place frozen salmon in the fridge 1-2 days before it will be used.
  • Cold water thawing – Seal salmon in a bag then submerge in cold water. Change water every 30 min until thawed.
  • Microwave thawing – Use the “defrost” setting if available. Cook immediately.

Do not thaw salmon on the counter at room temperature. Pathogenic bacteria can begin growing in the outer layers before the inner areas are fully thawed.

Cook thawed salmon immediately, never refreeze raw salmon once it has thawed. You can safely refreeze cooked salmon leftovers.


Frozen salmon that is properly stored can remain safe indefinitely, though the quality will slowly decline over time. For best quality frozen salmon should be used within 3 to 6 months. Signs that frozen salmon may be spoiled include unpleasant odors, dry or mushy texture, and discoloration. Store frozen salmon below 0°F, wrapped airtight and away from air exposure. Handle thawed salmon carefully and cook it immediately after thawing for food safety. Follow these guidelines and your frozen salmon will last for many enjoyable meals.