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Safely choose, cook and store fish

Quick facts

  • Raw fish should be prepared or frozen within one to two days of purchasing.
  • Cook fish to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees F.
  • Use safe food handling practices to prevent cross-contamination.


Fish is a lean protein source. A 3-ounce portion of lean protein has less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol. Three ounces is about the size of a deck of cards.

Both white-flesh and red or orange-flesh fish are excellent sources of B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and other essential nutrients that are important for healthy hearts and brain development.

Refer to the Minnesota Department of Health Fish Consumption Guidance webpage for detailed nutrition information, serving guidelines, potential contaminants in fish, and advice on safely choosing fish from Minnesota lakes and rivers to minimize contaminants.

Selecting and purchasing fish and seafood

Fish tastes "fishy" when it hasn't been handled properly. To avoid "fishy" fish, smell and feel it. It should have a fresh and mild odor. It should be firm to touch and spring back into place. If you can see your fingerprint or it has a strong odor, the fish is old.

Don't buy cooked seafood like shrimp, crab or smoked fish displayed in the same case as raw fish. Juices from the raw fish can transfer bacteria onto the cooked or ready-to-eat fish.

For frozen seafood, look for frost or ice crystals. This is a sign that the fish has been stored for a long time or thawed and refrozen.

Storing fish in the refrigerator or freezer

  • For best quality and to minimize any food safety risks, use refrigerated raw fish and seafood within one to two days of purchasing.

  • Freeze fish and seafood to extend their shelf life.

  • For best quality, use frozen, raw fish within three to eight months, and other seafood such as shellfish within three to 12 months.

  • Store raw fish and seafood in a container below ready-to-eat foods (foods that do not require cooking before eating) in both the refrigerator and freezer. This will prevent cross-contamination if the fish or shellfish package leaks.

Thawing methods

  • Thawing fish and seafood in the refrigerator is the best method.

  • If the fish or seafood is vacuum packaged, open the package before thawing. Opening the package before thawing minimizes the risk of certain bacteria that can grow in environments without oxygen.

  • The internal temperature of food thawed in the refrigerator will stay below the Temperature Danger Zone. See How to thaw frozen foods safely for additional details.

  • Allow up to 24 hours for every 1 pound of frozen fish or seafood to thaw in the refrigerator. 

Safe cooking guidelines

Cook fish to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees F and the flesh flakes easily with a fork. Thoroughly cooking fish kills harmful bacteria such as Salmonella.

Cook seafood such as shrimp, lobster, crab and scallops until the flesh is white and opaque. Cook shellfish such as clams, oysters and mussels until the shell opens. Do not eat any shellfish that do not open during cooking. 

  • Use a food thermometer to check the temperature. Color alone is not a good indicator of doneness.
  • Before and after handling fish and seafood, wash your hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use separate plates and utensils for handling raw and cooked fish and seafood to prevent cross-contamination

To safely preserve fish by canning, pickling or smoking, refer to these recommendations

There are specific processing and handling guidelines for fish and seafood that are intended to be eaten raw (sushi) or raw-marinated (ceviche). There are parasites that can be found in some fish and seafood that are killed by freezing. Carefully read the food labels and look for terms such as "sushi grade," "sashimi-grade" or "frozen for raw consumption."

Storing leftover fish

  • Cool leftover cooked fish and seafood to 41 degrees F or below within 2 hours of cooking to prevent harmful bacteria growth
  • Quickly cool large quantities of leftovers by dividing them into smaller amounts in shallow containers, and loosely covering them in the refrigerator until chilled.
  • Once chilled, tightly cover the food.
  • Use refrigerated leftover turkey within 3 to 4 days after cooking.
  • Store leftovers for longer in the freezer.
  • Reheat leftover foods to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F for 15 seconds.

Reviewed in 2023

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