Smoked salmon is a popular delicacy that is often served at parties and other social gatherings. However, there is some debate around whether it is safe to leave smoked salmon out of the refrigerator or not. This article will examine the issue in detail.
What is smoked salmon?
Smoked salmon refers to salmon that has been cured and hot or cold smoked. The smoking process cooks the salmon and adds flavor from the smoke. There are several different types of smoked salmon including:
- Hot-smoked – Fully cooked and smoked at high temperatures.
- Cold-smoked – Smoked at low temperatures so it remains raw.
- Lox – Brined rather than smoked, so it has a salty flavor.
- Nova smoked salmon – Cold-smoked and then sliced thinly.
During the curing and smoking process, salt is added which helps preserve the salmon by drawing out moisture. This removal of moisture inhibits bacterial growth. However, smoked salmon is not fully “cooked” in the same way something like cooked chicken breast is. So safety precautions are still important.
Can smoked salmon be left at room temperature?
The general recommendation is to not leave smoked salmon out of refrigeration for more than 2 hours. After this time period, bacteria can start to grow to dangerous levels. Smoked salmon has a “danger zone” between 40°F and 140°F. In this temperature range, bacteria multiply rapidly.
According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), smoked seafood should not be left out of the fridge for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour if temperatures are above 90°F. FSIS recommends:
- Keeping smoked salmon refrigerated at 40°F or below.
- Discarding any leftovers that have been left out for over 2 hours.
- Putting leftovers back in the fridge within 1-2 hours of serving.
Dangerous bacteria like Listeria, Clostridium botulinum, Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella, and others can grow in smoked salmon left out too long. Food poisoning from these bacteria can cause serious illness, hospitalization, and even death in some cases.
What about freezing and thawing smoked salmon?
Smoked salmon that has been frozen for preserving can also have food safety concerns if thawing guidelines are not followed properly:
- Keep frozen smoked salmon frozen at 0°F or below until ready to thaw for consumption.
- Thaw in the refrigerator rather than at room temperature.
- Consume thawed smoked salmon within 3-5 days.
- Do not refreeze thawed smoked salmon.
The concern with room temperature thawing is again the “danger zone” temperatures that allow bacteria to multiply quickly. The fridge thaws food more slowly and keeps it out of this unsafe temperature range.
How to store smoked salmon safely
To store smoked salmon safely, the general food safety guidelines are:
- Refrigeration: Keep smoked salmon stored in the fridge at 40°F or below. Use within 3-5 days for highest quality.
- Freezing: Smoked salmon can be frozen for 2-3 months for long-term storage. Thaw in the refrigerator before use.
- Prep: Hands, surfaces, and utensils should be washed thoroughly before handling smoked salmon to prevent cross contamination.
- Serving: Do not leave smoked salmon appetizers out for more than 2 hours. Discard any leftovers.
Storing an opened package of smoked salmon in the refrigerator will preserve safety and quality for a short time. But for longer term storage, the freezer is best. Properly frozen smoked salmon can keep for 2-3 months.
Can smoked salmon make you sick?
Yes, smoked salmon can cause food poisoning if contaminated and mishandled. Most foodborne illnesses from smoked fish like salmon are caused by:
- Listeria bacteria
- Salmonella bacteria
- Staph bacteria
- Clostridium botulinum
Listeria is most likely in smoked seafood. Refrigeration at 40°F or below helps control Listeria and other bacteria. But cross contamination from unclean hands, surfaces, and utensils can still allow dangerous bacteria to spread.
Proper food safety precautions when handling smoked salmon reduces the risk of illness. But pregnant women, young children, older adults, and those with weakened immune systems should take extra care and may even want to avoid smoked seafood entirely to reduce risk of a severe infection.
Smoked salmon food poisoning symptoms
Symptoms of food poisoning from bacteria in spoiled smoked salmon typically include:
- Abdominal cramps
Symptoms often start 12-72 hours after eating contaminated smoked salmon. In healthy adults, symptoms typically last 1-3 days and resolve without treatment. But certain high-risk groups can develop life-threatening illness.
Botulism poisoning is rare but extremely serious. Early signs can include blurred vision, drooping eyelids, trouble swallowing, dry mouth, and muscle weakness.
Seek medical care immediately if food poisoning symptoms are severe or if botulism is suspected. Prompt treatment with antibiotics in severe cases can reduce risk of serious complications.
How to reduce your risk
You can lower your chances of getting sick from smoked salmon by:
- Checking sell-by and use-by dates at the store.
- Looking for proper refrigeration at the market.
- Keeping smoked salmon refrigerated below 40°F.
- Avoiding the danger zone between 40°F and 140°F.
- Discarding after 2 hours at room temperature.
- Thawing properly in the refrigerator.
- Avoiding cross contamination in the kitchen.
- Cooking hot smoked salmon to 165°F.
Proper handling and cooking kills bacteria and makes smoked salmon safe to eat. Use good judgement when storing leftovers and serving smoked salmon at parties or gatherings to reduce food safety risks.
Who is most at risk for illness?
Although anyone can get sick from eating contaminated smoked salmon, some groups have higher risks including:
- Pregnant women – Harm to unborn child
- Young children – Severe dehydration
- Older adults – Weakened immune system
- Those with chronic diseases – Increased complications
- People taking antibiotics – Reduced medicine efficacy
- Those with weakened immunity – More severe illness
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends this higher risk population take extra care to only consume smoked seafood freshly refrigerated. They may even want to avoid it entirely when pregnant or ill.
What temperature kills bacteria in smoked salmon?
Most foodborne illness-causing bacteria are killed at temperatures above 165°F. So hot smoked salmon that reaches this internal temperature during processing should be safe if handled properly after opening.
However, cold smoked salmon does not reach 165°F during preparation. It can still harbor dangerous bacteria after packaging. That’s why cold-smoked salmon has a higher risk of causing illness than hot smoked versions.
Here are some key temperatures for smoked salmon safety:
- 40°F (4°C) – Maximum refrigerator temperature to inhibit bacteria growth
- 140°F (60°C) – Danger zone minimum where bacteria can rapidly multiply
- 165°F (74°C) – Minimum internal temperature to kill most harmful bacteria
The FDA Food Code also notes most bacteria stop multiplying below 41°F and are killed rapidly at temperatures above 126°F.
Smoked salmon shelf life
How long does smoked salmon last? With proper refrigeration, the shelf life is:
- Fresh smoked salmon – 3 to 5 days
- Vacuum packed – 14 days
- Frozen – 2 to 3 months
Of course, this shelf life assumes continuously refrigerated temperatures below 40°F. Leaving smoked salmon out for even a portion of this timeframe can allow dangerous bacterial growth.
Here are some signs smoked salmon has spoiled and should be discarded:
- Slimy texture and foul odor
- Discoloration or mold
- Dry, dull flesh
- Fishy, rancid, or ammonia-like smell
When stored properly in a clean, working refrigerator, smoked salmon can stay fresh for use within a week or two before quality declines. But any temperature abuse can allow risky bacterial growth in both refrigerated and frozen smoked salmon products.
Smoked salmon does not have an indefinite shelf life or remain safe at room temperature indefinitely. To prevent foodborne illness, it’s best to limit time out of the refrigerator to less than 2 hours. follow freezing and thawing guidelines carefully. And consume refrigerated smoked salmon within 3-5 days for optimal safety and quality.
At-risk groups like pregnant women and young children may want to avoid smoked seafood altogether or take extra precautions. But for most healthy adults, smoked salmon is perfectly safe to enjoy when simple food safety guidelines are followed during handling, storage, and consumption.