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Where Should You Store Raw Fish in a Refrigerator? Your Ultimate Guide to Safe Storage

Where Should You Store Raw Fish in a Refrigerator? Your Ultimate Guide to Safe Storage

I am guilty of buying raw fish with every intention of cooking it quickly, and then placing it in the fridge for one day too long while life gets busy and takeout gets easy. As such, I began practicing safe storage techniques to protect the expensive fish, and ensure I can eat it whenever I want.

It can feel like a guessing game for those who don’t know the best way to store raw fish. So, where should you store raw fish in a refrigerator to maintain food safety and quality?

You should store raw fish on the bottom shelf and towards the back of the refrigerator to maintain cold temperatures and protect against accidental leakage onto other items in the fridge.

Your refrigerator should be set to a temperature of 40°F or below. This, plus placing the fish in airtight containers, will help keep the fish safe for 2 days. You also want to confirm the fridge is clean.

And if you can’t eat it within that window, then it’s best to freeze the fish on the day of purchase.

Unfortunately, raw fish, and all raw meats, are breeding grounds for bacteria growth and cross-contamination if they’re not stored correctly. And their shelf-life is extremely short.

This article includes FDA and USDA-backed advice for storing fish safely, but you can always check if your fish has any specific requirements or recommendations on safe storage. According to the FDA, some fish packaging will include detailed temperature and/or time considerations for storage.

Remember that it’s also important to consider the transportation from the store to your fridge. The raw fish must be kept cold and promptly placed in the fridge when you get home. Some people opt to bring a cooler with them if the drive is a bit longer, so they can maintain low temperatures for the fish consistently. Read on to learn more!

We cover the following items in this post:

Proper Storage: Use the Correct Equipment to Store Raw Fish Safely in a Refrigerator

Plastic food containers stacked on each other.

When you arrive home with raw fish, don’t waste any time before you place it in the refrigerator. You want to avoid the fish sitting at room temperature for too long as this can lead to the growth of harmful bacteria which can cause foodborne illnesses.

  • If you buy fish from the grocery store, it can be stored in the fridge in its original packaging, as long as it seems airtight. E.g., The fish is tightly wrapped in plastic wrap. It’s never a bad idea to add an additional plastic wrap or aluminum foil over the packaging to ensure it’s wrapped tightly.
  • If you buy fish from a fish market, or any other type of market selling fresh caught fish, you will likely need to place the fish in an airtight container at home prior to placing the fish in the fridge. This is because they may wrap the fish quickly, and inefficiently at the point of sale.

When we say “airtight container” — we mean any of the following:

  • A glass container with a sealable top. We love these as they’re generally microwave safe and provide strong, tight storage.
  • A plastic container with a sealable top.
  • An acrylic container with a sealable top. These are a bit stronger than plastic containers and work very well.

To prevent leaks: I always recommend placing the fish on a plate or in a larger container to catch any liquids that may leak out of the container the fish is in. A few paper towels on top of the plate or container also helps mitigate issues with leaks.

Remember what we stated above. Regardless of how the fish is stored in the refrigerator, it can’t be there for more than 2 days and the temperature needs to be at or below 40°F.

Where Should You Store Raw Fish in a Refrigerator?

An open fridge where should you store raw fish in a refrigerator
An ideal place for raw fish in this fridge would be behind the lettuce, with nothing under it.

There are two key points to remember when storing raw fish (i.e., fresh fish) in the fridge. Regardless of if you’re looking to store whole fish or fish fillets, these tips should be followed.

  • Store raw fish in the back of the fridge. This placement protects the raw fish from consistent temperature changes that impact food placed closer to the door. As people open and close the refrigerator door, this leads to quick changes in temperature.
  • Store raw fish in the bottom of the fridge to mitigate the potential impact of a leak. You don’t want raw fish juice dripping in your fridge. It’s a pain to clean up, and it can quickly lead to a foul smell and cross-contamination with uncovered items in the fridge.

By storing the fresh fish in the bottom of the fridge, and towards the back, you’ll be placing the fish in the coldest area of the fridge. You’ll also protect yourself from the urge of moving the items around often when you’re grabbing other items out of the fridge.

Everyone is familiar with the fridge dance when you take a few items out to grab an item stored behind them. We just want the fish to be the item stored behind other items, so you only take it out when you need it!

Where You Should Store Cooked Fish in a Refrigerator?

A cooked salmon with broccoli.

Cooked fish should be treated almost identically to raw fish. You still want to use airtight containers to protect the fish, and protect other items from leakage. Once again, place the fish towards the back of the refrigerator and as low as you can store it.

It’s also recommended to place the cooked fish above the fresh fish on the shelves. Cooked fish is less likely to leak than raw fish.

Most cooked fish can be safely stored for 3-4 days in the fridge. But don’t take any chances with this timeline, and look out for signs of spoilage in the fish if you’ve left it in the fridge too long. These include:

  • A foul, sour, or overly fishy smell. Your fish should never smell sour or too strong.
  • A change in color. A change in color while in storage is never a good sign.
  • The addition of spots. Fish with spots is a clear indicator of spoilage.
  • A change in texture. If the fish feels very soft, or almost mushy, toss it.

By looking out for the above items, you can better prevent food poisoning.

How Long Can You Safely Store Raw Fish in a Refrigerator?

A clock.

You can safely store raw fish in a refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Your fridge is likely already set to 40°F or below. However, it’s worth checking if you’re unsure. Keeping fish refrigerated at 40°F or below helps slow the growth of microorganisms that lead to foodborne illnesses.

Any additional storage time can lead to the unwanted growth of these microorganisms.

How About Cooked Fish Storage?

Per the USDA, you can keep cooked fish in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.

They note that the fridge doesn’t prevent bacteria growth on cooked fish, but only slows the process. As such, treat this timeline just as seriously as you would for raw fish.

Some Additional Tips on Storing Fish in The Refrigerator

A man looking into a freezer, where should you store raw fish in a refrigerator
  • Always check the expiration date on the fish packaging before you purchase or store the fish. If that date has already passed, toss the fish and move on to protect yourself from food poisoning.
  • When purchasing fish further away from home, bring ice packs and a cooler in your car to keep the fish cold on the drive home.
  • When the fish is out of the fridge or freezer, place it over cold water or crushed ice to help maintain a cold temperature.
  • If you’re transitioning the fish from the fridge to the freezer, use freezer bags to help with safe storage and prevent freezer burn on your fish.
  • If you’re going to thaw out frozen fish, place it in the refrigerator overnight to help with a slow thawing process that protects the fish from the growth of bacteria. Never leave the fish out at room temperature for more than 2 hours! If you’re in a rush, place the fish in a bowl of cold water, over crushed ice outside of the fridge.

Final Thoughts on How to Safely Store Fish In the Fridge

It doesn’t matter if you’re storing salmon, swordfish, flounder, mackerel, bluefish, or any other type of fish: the recommendations laid out above remain consistent.

You always want your fish stored in the coldest part of the fridge, towards the back, and low to keep the fish in consistently cold temperatures. This will help you fight off the growth of microorganisms that lead to unwanted foodborne illnesses.

And, if you ever feel unsure about the quality of your fish, don’t take any risks! Throw the fish out and go to plan B so you can protect yourself. Pizza is always a quick backup plan.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in learning about whether fresh scallops can be frozen.