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My Shrimp Smell Like Ammonia: Why This Happens And What To Do About It 

My Shrimp Smell Like Ammonia: Why This Happens And What To Do About It 

Shrimp is considered one of the most popular seafood options in the world. TasteAtlas has two separate shrimp dishes in their rankings of top 10 seafood dishes in America. But, what do you do if your shrimp smell like ammonia?

The short answer: throw them away and move on. It’s more than likely that these shrimp have gone bad and can cause you some harm if consumed.

This article will tell you everything you need to know about your shrimp, why it happens, what to look for, and what to do when your shrimp smells like ammonia. 

With this popular seafood making its way into many households, it’s essential to know the danger signs of spoiled shrimp. It’s hard to know when your shrimp has gone bad just by looking at it, which is why you need to be cognizant of the smell of the shrimp as well. The biggest tell that your shrimp may have gone bad is if they start to stink of ammonia, which is almost like a strong sweat or urine smell.

We cover the following items in this post:

Why Does Shrimp Smell Like Ammonia? 

Thawed shrimp. My shrimp smell like ammonia

The fishy smell of seafood is caused by the natural response of filling their cells with amino acids and amines or trimethylamine oxide (TMAO) to counter the saltiness of seawater and protect against bacteria. 

What Causes Seafood To Smell Like Ammonia In General?

When seafood is killed and brought above sea level, bacteria and enzymes convert the TMAO into trimethylamine (TMA), which gives seafood that fishy odor. This happens because the bacteria in the fish’s body essentially convert to new chemicals which are derived from ammonia.

The same occurrence happens in shrimp. Over time, the shrimp, as bacteria continue to grow, will start to smell more like ammonia as it moves past its shelf life.

The Cooked Shrimp Smells Like Ammonia (Not Just Raw) 

Cooked shrimp. My shrimp smell like ammonia

It may be a challenge to smell immediately if your shrimp has gone bad, whether fresh, frozen or thawed.

If the shrimp has gone bad, the ammonia smell will stick around no matter the type of shrimp you have and how you store it. It doesn’t only occur in raw shrimp. 

When you start to cook your shrimp, however, the smell of ammonia may become more robust. Cooking or heating up shrimp causes the juices to spill out, which will help to accentuate the odors coming from your shrimp. If your shrimp even smells slightly off, you should toss it and call in the pizza!

What Does Spoiled Shrimp Smell Like?

It will have a general, stinky smell. Like a 12 year old boy who doesn’t understand hygene yet.

  • Fresh shrimp shouldn’t have a strong odor, and likely will smell more like seawater with a bit of saltiness to it.
  • Spoiled shrimp smells like ammonia. Ammonia is a colorless gas that smells more like your sweat or urine. Some say it smells like dead fish, which I can attest to smelling absolutely gross.

So, if the shrimp has any degree of a strong smell to it, it’s likely gone bad.

The Shrimp Tastes Like Ammonia Too 

If you start to eat shrimp, and the taste is a little off, or if it tastes like ammonia, you should stop eating the shrimp immediately.

Bad shrimp can also taste rancid and has been compared to tasting like rotten eggs. The shrimp will smell and taste a little metallic. Being aware before tasting can help you prevent food poisoning or gastric distress.

Can You Eat Shrimp That Smells Like Ammonia?

A person peeling shrimp. My shrimp smell like ammonia

We strongly recommend against it.

The ammonia-like smell in seafood indicates spoilage. If you eat bad shrimp, you expose yourself to potential shellfish poisoning. And shellfish poisoning can be a very rough experience. The symptoms are similar to those of food poisoning, which we detail below.

What To Do If I Ate Shrimp That Smells Like Ammonia? 

The first step is to figure out how much you ate and if you’re feeling any negative effects. Chances are, you may have had one bite and stopped eating it as you noticed it tasted off.

If you eat shrimp that smells like ammonia, it is a possibility that you may get food poisoning. The food poisoning caused by spoiled shrimp can come from Salmonella, E. Coli, Vibrio, and Bacillus.

Food poisoning can cause serious health issues if you consume a considerable amount of shrimp smelling like ammonia. According to the CDC, you may have food poisoning if you experience:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Upset stomach or stomach cramps

Gastric distress is another issue you may encounter if you eat bad shrimp. According to the NIH National Library of Medicine, symptoms of a distressed gut can include:

  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramping 

You may also experience severe diarrhea and vomiting.

In many cases, if you’ve stopped eating the shrimp once you smelled the ammonia and only ate a small portion, you’ll likely be okay. Your body is built to defend itself from bacteria and viruses, and it may be enough to help deter any illness caused by eating the bad shrimp. 

Final Thoughts: What To Do If My Shrimp Smells Like Ammonia

It’s not always easy for someone to tell if shrimp is bad just from the smell.

The smell can easily be compromised if you’re sick or if other smells around you are more dominant than your shrimp. You always want to check the best by or expiration dates to ensure you are cooking and eating the shrimp at least within the recommended timeline. Always buy fresh or frozen shrimp and avoid pre-cooked if you can.

If you are unsure if the smell or taste indicates the shrimp is bad, or even if the shrimp looks a little mushy, the safest bet is to just throw out the shrimp. Take the extra time to store your shrimp in airtight containers in cool places to maintain the freshness and keep an eye on those expiration dates. That way, you can enjoy your shrimp safely without worrying about them starting to smell like ammonia!