At best, bad shrimp can result in a seafood dish that doesn’t taste good. At worst, bad shrimp can cause potentially dangerous food poisoning that will have you regretting that you ever thought to eat one of the tasty crustaceans. Either way, it’s vital to know all of the signs of spoiled shrimp, so you can toss them in the trash before you toss them in your mouth.
Like many types of seafood, shrimp can spoil quickly at a warmer temperature, even within a few hours, so take a close look at this easily perishable food before you begin prepping your meal.
First Thing’s First: Smell the Shrimp
Your raw shrimp should either not smell strongly at all or smell slightly of salt. If they smell strongly “fishy,” you might want to pass them up. If they smell like ammonia or bleach, absolutely toss them: That’s the sign that there’s bacteria growing on them.
If your shrimp smells bad, don't taste it to confirm that it isn't good – that's a great way to get food poisoning.
Next, Touch the Shrimp
Raw shrimp should be firm to the touch and not mushy. They should have firm, unbroken shells. If the shells are broken and soggy, or if the shrimp is at all slimy (as opposed to just wet), play it safe and throw the bad shrimp away – and then wash your hands thoroughly.
Examine the Shrimp for Red Flags
Finally, use your eyes to examine the shrimp. The shells should be translucent and colorless, while the shrimp itself should be white and pink/peach. What does bad shrimp look like? Black spots on the tail or shell is likely deterioration and a sign that the shrimp is aging. White patches on the shrimp are likely freezer burn – the shrimp may not be potentially dangerous in this case, but they might not taste as good as you want them to.
If the shrimp have intact heads, you can examine the shellfish’s eyes to pinpoint their freshness. If their eyes are glossy and moist, they’re likely fresh. if they are dry, shrunken or missing altogether, the shrimp may be old.
Check the Best by Date or Sell by Date
Some bacteria in shrimp can’t be detected by the human senses, so don’t completely rely on touch, smell or even taste. Check the Best by Date and/or Sell by Date to see if you’re still in a safe window for consuming the shrimp. If your shrimp is more than four days past these dates, stay on the safe side and order a pizza.
What’s the Shelf Life of Shrimp?
The shelf life of shrimp depends on a number of factors, such as their size and whether they’ve been shelled or not. But here are the ranges:
- Raw, shelled shrimp will last in the refrigerator for a day or two.
- Raw, shell-on shrimp will last in the refrigerator for two or three days.
- Cooked shrimp will last in the refrigerator for three or four days.
- Cooked or raw shrimp can be frozen for two to three months.
To store shrimp properly, pack it loosely in an airtight container.
Thawing Frozen Shrimp
Frozen shrimp can be thawed overnight in the refrigerator or on the counter for a couple of hours. To be safe, thawed shrimp should be cooked within 24 hours of thawing.
How Can You Find the Freshest Shrimp?
The freshest shrimp can be found on the coasts or at outlets that advertise fresh, off-the-boat seafood or seafood that has been caught recently and locally. Wild shrimp generally has a better taste than farmed shrimp.
The next-freshest shrimp may be the shrimp you find in the frozen section of your grocery store – these shrimp were frozen soon after they were caught, and they haven’t been thawed since. The shrimp at your seafood counter has likely been frozen and then thawed, and it can be hard to know how long they’ve been sitting out waiting to be bought. However, the shrimp at your seafood counter can be examined for freshness before you buy it, unlike frozen shrimp that’s already packaged.
Sarah Aswell is a freelance writer living in Montana.