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Preserving fish safely

Fisherman in low boat on the water.

Handling your catch of the day begins with cleaning, and icing or freezing the fish as soon as possible. The four most popular methods of fish preservation are freezing, canning, smoking and pickling.

Top quality fresh fish are essential for fish preservation. Of all flesh foods, fish is the most susceptible to tissue decomposition, development of rancidity and microbial spoilage. Safe handling of fish is important to reduce your risk of foodborne illness and to produce a quality meal.

How to prevent spoilage in freshly caught fish

Keep freshly caught fish alive as long as possible

Monitored live wells or mesh baskets kept underwater keep fish alive longer than a stringer. Spoilage and slime-producing bacteria are present on every fish and multiply rapidly on a dead fish held in warm surface water. Fish begin to deteriorate as soon as they leave the water.

Clean the fish as soon as possible

Bass fish on ice.

Thorough cleaning of the body cavity and chilling of the fish will prevent spoilage. Fish spoilage occurs rapidly at summer temperatures; spoilage is slowed down as freezing temperatures are approached.

Put the fish on ice

Ice is the key to fresh tasting fish. Pack cleaned fish in a cooler of one pound of crushed ice for each two pounds of fish. Fish held at refrigeration temperatures of 40 degrees F or lower may have a shelf life up to three days depending on refrigerator temperature and original fish quality.

Preserve your catch



Deb Botzek-Linn, William Schafer and Suzanne Driessen, Extension educator

Reviewed in 2021

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