Shrimp stays fresh in the refrigerator depending on its size, ranging from jumbo to miniature, its sea of origin from around the world, or its species, of which there are hundreds. But no matter what type of shrimp you buy, the fresher it is at the store, the longer it stays fresh once you get it home. When buying shrimp, look for plumpness in cooked types and for firm texture and consistent color in raw shrimp.
Raw shrimp, either shelled or unshelled, stays fresh in a refrigerator for two to three days. Make sure your refrigerator registers at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, and place the fish in the lowest section of the fridge, where temperatures are coldest. Wrap the shrimp well in plastic or keep it in an airtight container, and place the container on a plate to catch any errant drips.
Shelled and unshelled, cooked shrimp stays fresh for about three to four days in the fridge, wrapped in plastic or stored in an airtight glass or plastic container. If you buy shrimp on a hot day, ask for a cold pack with which to take it home or put a cooler in your car to transport the fish home. Some shrimp retailers will pack the shrimp in ice as a regular practice to ensure the shrimp will keep until you get home. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, some food-borne bacteria double their growth for every 20 minutes they sit at temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
When Shrimp Goes Bad
If you smell a strong ammonia odor when you unwrap either cooked or raw shrimp, it is past its prime. Both cooked and raw shrimp should have a mild smell, so anything overpowering is a sure sign of spoilage. The shrimp should also be firm-textured, not soft and squishy when at room temperature or in the refrigerator. Cooked or raw shrimp should also have no dark spots or blotches, which are signs of bacteria growth. Throw away any shrimp that you suspect might be spoiled in any of these ways even if it has been refrigerated for just one or two days.
Shrimp in the Freezer
Although shrimp stays safe from bacteria growth indefinitely in the freezer, its quality suffers. Cooked shrimp will have soft, unappetizing flesh if you leave it frozen for too long while uncooked shrimp will toughen. Though shrimp properly stored in the freezer are safe to eat up to six months after freezing, the taste of the shrimp will be diminished and the texture will be much tougher, making them less enjoyable to prepare and eat.
For the best quality, double-wrap the shrimp tightly, first in plastic cling wrap and then in aluminum foil. Once the shrimp is wrapped well to prevent freezer burn, place the shrimp into a self-sealing plastic bag to further protect the shrimp.
Cooked shrimp will keep cooked shrimp frozen for two to three months. Fresh, uncooked shrimp will stay good in the freezer for up to four months. Thaw frozen shrimp overnight in the refrigerator to safely and properly bring them up to a temperature at which they can be cooked.
- The Deluxe Food Lover's Companion; Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst
- Clemson Cooperative Extension: Safe Handling of Seafood
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service: Fighting BAC! by Chilling Out
Susan Lundman began writing about her love of cooking, ingredient choices, menu planning and healthy eating after working for 20 years on children's issues at a nonprofit organization. She has written about food online professionally for ten years on numerous websites, and has provided family and friends with homemade recipes and stories about culinary adventures. Lundman received her M.A. from Stanford University.