Salmon is one of the most popular and nutritious types of fish. It’s rich in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and several B vitamins. However, like all types of seafood, salmon is highly perishable and can go bad quickly if not stored properly. So how long can you leave cooked salmon out at room temperature before it’s unsafe to eat?
Cooked salmon should not be left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours. After this time period, harmful bacteria can multiply quickly and cause foodborne illness. To be extra safe, the USDA recommends not leaving cooked salmon unrefrigerated for more than 1 hour.
How Long Can Cooked Salmon Be Left Out?
According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), cooked salmon and other seafood should not be left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour when temperatures are above 90°F.
Here are some general guidelines from health authorities on how long cooked salmon can be left unrefrigerated before spoiling:
|USDA||Do not leave cooked salmon at room temperature for more than 1-2 hours.|
|FDA||Refrigerate cooked salmon within 2 hours.|
|Health Canada||Refrigerate cooked salmon within 2 hours. Only 1 hour at temperatures above 90°F.|
|NHS (UK)||Eat cooked salmon within 1 day if refrigerated. Do not leave out for more than 2 hours.|
So according to food safety experts, cooked salmon that has been left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours (or 1 hour above 90°F) should be discarded.
Why Salmon Goes Bad Quickly at Room Temperature
There are two main reasons why cooked salmon spoils rapidly if left unrefrigerated:
- High protein content – Salmon is high in protein, which provides nutrients for bacteria to thrive if exposed to unsafe temperatures.
- Low acidity – Salmon has low acidity, with a pH levels typically above 5. This neutral pH makes it easier for pathogens to grow.
Refrigerating cooked salmon slows the growth of spoilage organisms and pathogens. But at room temperature, bacteria can double in number every 20 minutes.
Danger Zone Temperatures
Temperatures between 40°F and 140°F are especially dangerous for cooked fish. This range is called the “danger zone” because bacteria multiply rapidly in this temperature range.
At warm “danger zone” temperatures, salmon can develop a foodborne illness like salmonella in just a few hours. Some bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus can also release toxins that aren’t deactivated by further cooking.
Types of Bacteria
Here are some common bacteria that can grow on cooked salmon left out too long:
- Salmonella – Can cause salmonellosis leading to fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps.
- Listeria monocytogenes – Can lead to listeriosis with flu-like symptoms along with headaches and stiff neck.
- Clostridium perfringens – Causes diarrhea and abdominal cramps.
- Staphylococcus aureus – Leads to stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting.
- Bacillus cereus – Causes vomiting and diarrhea.
- Campylobacter – Leads to cramps, diarrhea, fever and vomiting.
Many of these bacterial organisms are found naturally in fish and the environment. While cooking salmon to an internal temperature of 145°F kills active bacteria, spores and toxins can survive. Over time, spores germinate new bacteria that can multiply to unsafe levels if salmon is left at room temperature for too long.
How to Tell if Cooked Salmon Has Gone Bad
If you think your cooked salmon may have been left out too long, check for these signs of spoilage before eating:
- Bad smell – Cooked salmon that has gone bad has a very distinctive unpleasant odor. Some describe it as sour, rancid, fishy or ammonia-like.
- Slimy texture – Salmon that is spoiled will develop a very slimy and slippery consistency.
- Discoloration – The color changes to a greenish, yellowish or greyish tint.
- Mold growth – You may see white mold growing on the surface of spoiled salmon.
If your cooked salmon shows any of those signs, it has most likely spoiled and may contain harmful bacteria. It’s not worth the risk and should be thrown away.
How to Store Leftover Cooked Salmon Safely
To minimize the risk of foodborne illness, leftover cooked salmon should be put in the fridge within 2 hours. Here are some storage guidelines to keep leftover salmon safe and fresh:
- Store in airtight shallow containers to allow for rapid cooling.
- Make sure your refrigerator is set below 40°F.
- Use leftover salmon within 3-4 days.
- Don’t cross-contaminate by letting raw foods touch cooked salmon.
- Consider freezing portions to extend shelf life up to 2-3 months.
You can also refrigerate leftover salmon in the cooking container if there is only a small amount. Allow it to cool at room temperature for about 30 minutes first, then cover and refrigerate.
Can You Refrigerate Half-Eaten Salmon?
Yes, leftover salmon that has already been partially eaten can still be safely refrigerated. Simply cover the container and store within 2 hours to prevent bacteria growth. Eat within 3-4 days.
How Many Days Does Cooked Salmon Last in the Fridge?
According to FSIS, cooked salmon that has been continuously refrigerated will keep for 3-4 days. Poke holes in plastic wrap to prevent air pockets which can encourage bacterial growth. After 3-4 days, it’s best to throw away any uneaten salmon.
You may see recommendations to keep cooked fish for up to 5 days refrigerated. However, salmon has a shorter shelf life than many other fish. So 3-4 days is a safer guideline.
Can You Freeze Leftover Cooked Salmon?
Freezing is a great way to extend the shelf life of leftover cooked salmon. According to FSIS, frozen salmon remains safe indefinitely, but quality will start to decline after 2-3 months.
To safely freeze cooked salmon:
- Let refrigerated salmon completely cool before freezing.
- Portion salmon in airtight containers or freezer bags.
- Remove as much air as possible.
- Label bags with date and contents.
- Freeze at 0°F or below.
Properly frozen salmon can keep for 2-3 months in the freezer before noticeable frostburn and freezer burn changes the taste and texture.
Can You Refreeze Salmon After Thawing?
You can safely refreeze thawed salmon one time, although the texture may become more watery. Try to refreeze as soon as possible before the “danger zone” temperature range allows bacteria to multiply.
To refreeze thawed salmon, make sure it still smells fresh and has no signs of spoilage. Refreeze in an airtight container or freezer bag, removing as much air as possible. Use within 2 more months for best quality.
Reheating Leftover Cooked Salmon
The right way to reheat leftover salmon is to gently warm it up to 165°F. Here are some reheating methods to bring salmon to a safe temperature without overcooking:
- Microwave – Heat salmon covered on Medium (50%) power for 1-2 minutes.
- Stovetop – Gently heat salmon in a skillet over low heat with a splash of water or broth.
- Oven – Bake in a 375°F oven for 10 minutes on a foil-lined pan.
Only reheat as much salmon as you plan to eat. Split thicker pieces in half so it reheats evenly. Discard any uneaten reheated salmon.
Avoid Eating Reheated Salmon More Than Once
Don’t reheat salmon more than once. The repeated heating process continues to degrade the quality. Eat up fully reheated leftovers and then toss any remaining salmon.
How to Know if Reheated Salmon is Bad
Signs that reheated salmon has gone bad and should be thrown out include:
- Fishy or sour smells
- Slimy, sticky texture
- Discolored flesh
- Dry, flaky flesh
- Mold growth
If reheated salmon smells and looks fine, it should be safe to eat. But take note of any off tastes or textures that indicate spoilage.
Food Safety Tips for Salmon
Here are some key food safety practices to keep in mind when cooking, storing and reheating salmon:
- Defrost frozen salmon safely in the refrigerator, cold water, or microwave.
- Marinate salmon in the refrigerator.
- Cook to an internal temperature of 145°F.
- Don’t cross-contaminate by letting salmon touch other foods.
- Never leave cooked salmon in the “danger zone” above 40°F for over 2 hours.
- Store leftovers in shallow airtight containers for rapid cooling.
- Refrigerate within 2 hours.
- Use leftover refrigerated salmon within 3-4 days.
- Freeze for long-term storage of 2-3 months.
- Reheat to 165°F before serving reheated salmon.
The Best Way to Store Cooked Salmon
The best way to store cooked salmon is in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Place leftovers in shallow containers no more than 2-3 inches deep. This allows the salmon to chill quickly to keep bacteria in check.
Keep the fridge at 40°F or below. Use leftover refrigerated salmon within 3-4 days for optimal quality and food safety.
Freezing cooked salmon in freezer-safe containers is the best long-term storage method. Frozen salmon stays safe indefinitely and maintains good quality for 2-3 months.
Cooked salmon should never sit out at room temperature for more than 2 hours before refrigeration. Leftover salmon needs to be stored properly to prevent bacterial growth that can lead to foodborne illness. Refrigerating within 2 hours helps maintain both quality and safety.
Prepared salmon that has been continuously refrigerated keeps for 3-4 days. Freeze portions for longer storage. Discard salmon that has developed an off smell, slimy texture or other signs of spoilage.
Following safe refrigeration and reheating methods for cooked salmon reduces your risk of food poisoning. Take care to store leftover salmon promptly in shallow airtight containers, keep refrigerated, and reheat fully when ready to eat.