How Long Can You Keep An Ungutted Fish In The Fridge?

Fishing can be exhausting but really awarding, especially if you had a successful day on the water. But there’ll be a time where you’ll feel too exhausted to even want to clean your catch.

So what do you do? 

Luckily, you’re a problem solver and came up with the idea of keeping an ungutted fish in the fridge until you’re ready to clean it. 

But is that a good idea? 

Ungutted fish that’s lean can last up to 72 hours in the fridge, and fatty fish can last up to 48 hours. However, refrigerating an ungutted fish for more than 24 hours is not advisable. Bacteria from the internal organs can start spreading and potentially cross-contaminate the meat, causing you to become sick.

But how do you tell if a fish is starting to go bad? Here are some quick signs you should look for if you’re thinking about refrigerating an ungutted fish.

How To Tell If An Ungutted Fish Is Going Bad In The Fridge

Even after 24 hours, an ungutted refrigerated fish can still run the risk of fish spoiling. This makes these tips even more important to pay attention to if you’re refrigerating your fish longer than 24 hours. 

1. Does It Smell Like Fish?

The first sign you should notice if a fish is starting to go bad is the smell. If you open the fridge and get a whiff of a fishy odour, then it’s a sign that the fish might be starting to go.

Believe it or not, but fresh fish does not have a strong fishy smell. 

If you don’t smell a fishy odour right away, then that’s a good sign. But that does not mean you’re in the clear. When you start gutting your fish, pay close attention to the smell. The smell may not have made its way through the meat yet.

If you smell a fishy odour when gutting the fish, it does not mean the fish has spoiled. 

You should inspect the fish to ensure you don’t notice any other signs that the fish is starting to go.

2. Is It Extra Slimy?  

Another sign to tell if an ungutted fish is starting to go bad in the fridge is how much slime it has. 

If you didn’t wash off the slime, then obviously, it will have slime when you pick it up later from the fridge but what you’re looking for is the slime thickness.

The slime will become thicker and thicker as the fish becomes more spoiled. 

Just keep in mind that the slime will be naturally thicker when you pull a fish out of the fridge because the slime is cold. 

A good sign to look for is if the slime is sticking to your fingers when you pull your hand away from the fish. If you see a slime line as you pull your hand away from the fish, then chances are the fish is bad. Unless you’re dealing with a very naturally slimy fish.

3. Look At The Colour Of The Eyes and Gills

If a fish’s eyes start to become a bit hazy and not as clear as before, that is often a common sign that something ain’t right.

Also, you can take a look at the fish’s gills. It should be a nice and bright pink colour. If not, then that’s also a common sign the fish ain’t really fresh anymore.

4. Examine The Colour Of The Meat

Inspect the meat as you’re cleaning the fish. The meat should have the same colour throughout the fish and have a healthy, bright colour.

Look for spots where the meat’s colour is a different shade from the rest of the meat or have any milky looking spots. This is a common sign that the meat itself has spoiled.

Fish like Salmon or Tuna will have a rich red or pink colour to it. When the meat starts to spoil, it will start fading into a more whitish colour. But with white fish, the meat will turn into a bit more milky or cloudy colour.

5. Check the Meat’s Firmness

Checking the meat’s firmness is a great way to measure how fresh a fish is. 

Fresh Fish should feel firm when you press on it. Similar to the firmness of the palm of your hand. If it feels soft, then it has gone bad. 

Before you get in the habit of refrigerating ungutted fish because you’re feeling too exhausted to clean them, you should understand the potential health risks of doing this!

Health Risks: Refrigerating an Ungutted Fish Too Long

There’re two different types of food poisoning that you can get from eating spoiled fish.

  1. Scombroid
  2. Ciguatera

Both these types of food poisoning can have similar symptoms, such as:

  • Diarrhea,
  • Headaches,
  • Cramping,
  • Numbness,
  • Redness in the Face.

Fortunately, for most cases, these symptoms will be gone within a day or so. But you’re not going to have a fun time. It can take up to 30 mins to a few hours after eating a spoiled fish before you start feeling the symptoms. 

You can try taking some over the counter medication like Benadryl to get some relief. But if you feel like you got food poisoning, it would be best to contact a doctor right away.  

To avoid this, pay close attention to the 5 signs of an ungutted fish going bad. However, the best way to avoid getting sick is to just clean your fish when you get back onshore.

How To Prepare An Ungutted Fish To Be Refrigerated

Without proper preparation, before you refrigerate an ungutted fish, you could lose some of that fresh taste. 

Here are some tips on what you can do to ensure your fish tastes as fresh as possible.   

1. Bleed the fish

Blood in the meat is the biggest culprit to having a fishy tasting fish. Bleeding out the fish will remove a lot of the blood from the meat, keeping it tasting as fresh as possible.

Bleeding out the fish is done as soon as you catch the fish. You do this by: 

  • Knocking out the fish
  • Cut into its gills,
  • Place the fish’s head into the water. This will prevent the blood from clotting in the gills.
  • Push out the blood from the fish by running your hand along the body of the fish.

2. Don’t Wash The Fish

The slime is a fish’s natural protective coating from parasites and other organisms, but it also helps insulate the fish’s skin from the environment. 

This natural insulation helps keep the fish as fresh as possible. 

But depending on your situation, you might have to wash the slime off the fish before refrigerating. If you do, make sure you keep the scales on the fish. The scales also helps to keep the fish as fresh as possible. 

If you remove the scales, you might end up drying out the skin causing it to taste not as fresh as well as it is looking old.

How to Properly Refrigerate an Ungutted Fish

When refrigerating an ungutted fish, you might want to consider a few things like the space in your fridge and how to capture any water that might come out of the fish. 

It might seem obvious when I say it, but many people don’t think about this. When storing a fresh fish in the fridge, you should keep it in the lowest possible position in the refrigerator. This is because you will have some water that gets pulled out from fish when it’s chilled. You don’t want this water smelling like fish to make a mess in the fridge if it was dripping at the top. 

This brings the next issue, place the fish in a tray deep enough to capture any water that might come out of the fish while it’s in the fridge. 

Gutting the Fish After It’s Been Refrigerated 

Whenever you decide to clean and gut your fish after being refrigerated, there is only one thing to keep in mind. 

You should clean the fish right away when it’s pulled out of the fridge.

If you let an ungutted fish warm up to room temperature after being refrigerated, what will happen is moisture will be drawn out of the internal organs. This moisture creates a perfect environment for bacteria to grow.

Happy Fishing And Tight Lines!

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