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Nov 9, 2008 05:17 AM

Cold-smoked salmon freshness question

I know, the adage is when in doubt, don't, but there's like $13 in salmon at stake here, and these are tough times. :)

A week ago today, I bought two vacuum-sealed packages of cold-smoked Atlantic salmon. They were in the refrigerated case at the store and the package says "Keep refrigerated below 38 degrees" but doesn't say anything about expiry. I brought them home from the store at about 4pm, and immediately began making canapes for a party. I ended up not opening the second package, but the party was starting and I forgot to put it away. At 2am I realized the second package, still unopened, was still out, and stuck it immediately in the fridge.

So the sealed package was out on the counter in my 65-70 degree kitchen for 10 hours. I thought I would eat it right away, but then the week got away from me, no time for a bagel brunch, and I still haven't. Is it now still okay, or would you toss it?

There was a related discussion on this board about a year ago about eating shelf-stable (hot-smoked) salmon after a year in the cupboard, but this is a different issue--cold-smoked, refrigerated salmon after 10 hours at 70 deg. and then a week at 38 deg.


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  1. Recently, I bought some fresh trout to home smoke from our fish man and accidentally left it on the counter much as you did, but not for as long. When I discovered the fish, I of course put it into the refrig and started worrying about what to do with it.

    The next morning I called our friend the fish store owner and he told me something so obvious that I wondered why I hadn't thought of it. He told me his rule of thumb is not to worry about time and temperature in regards to fish being fit to eat. He simply said, "Open it and smell it, you'll know." I did exactly that and in one second, I knew it had to be tossed. Hope that help in your case.

    6 Replies
    1. re: joschus

      Seriously, that is so wrong. Do NOT just assume that because you leave fish at room temperature and it doesn't smell or feel weird that it is fit to eat. It is antithetical to anything taught in the most basic food safety certification courses, and it is just wrong.

      KNOW how long something has been in the "Temperature Danger Zone" of 41-140 degrees, and make your judgement from there. Restaurants must throw out any food that has been in the TDZ for more than four hours.

      Bacteria multiply at an exponential rate, and all it takes is one to spawn millions.

      1. re: dwagner6

        you are correct. The germs that can hurt you are not the same ones that make it smell bad.

        At least with the cold smoked salmon it was most likely brined first so may be able to resist spoilage longer.

        1. re: dwagner6

          The temperature danger zone applies to uncooked foods.

          This food was brined and smoked (cooked). Probably had a good dose of preservatives too.

          I bet it's fine. Just think about all the smoked salmon that spends 10 hours in luggage
          getting home from Alaska.

          1. re: maria lorraine

            The "TDZ" applies to any food that can support bacteria growth, cooked or uncooked. This means any food, cooked or uncooked, that has the right amount of moisture and protein, and is neutral to slightly acidic. TRUST ME, it applies to cooked AND uncooked foods.

            1. re: dwagner6

              Dwagner46, regarding this particular product -- a brined, smoked, preserved, cryovac-ed and unopened piece of salmon that has been left out overnight, what is your recommendation?

            2. re: maria lorraine

              Just did a thorough search, and the danger zone refers to UNCOOKED foods.

              Which does not mean that cooked food cannot be stored inappropriately as well.

              "STEP 3: COOK Keep food out of the danger zone by cooking it thoroughly."*

              "Between the time you cook the food and you put away the cooked food in a cooler or freezer, its temperature can fall into the "Danger Zone." **

              Once a food is cooked, it is far more mcrobiologically stable and bacteria-resistant than when it is raw. (After all, most of the nasty microbeasties have already been killed.)

              But cooked food, to be sure, can also develop problems. The lunch meat at the picnic giving picnickers food poisoning -- not the mayonnaise -- is the classic example. Best to always refrigerate when not in use.

              Acidity is a separate component from temp, and higher acidity wards off the growth of bacteria. Very difficult to grow bacteria in a pH below 3.4.

              When you consider the OPs product -- smoked, cryovac-ed salmon, either that from Alaska, or farmed Atlantic salmon, those packages are fairly shelf-stable, and some require no refrigeration. I'm a frequent purchaser of Alaska salmon. Far different from fresh fish.

              I can't speak for the indiividual brand or circumstance, but I'd urge the OP to open the sealed plastic pouch and smell it. If it smells OK, I'd take out a small piece and see if it's sticky, one of the first signs of decay of this type of product. If it's not, I'd taste a tiny piece. Maybe toast a bagel, and get out the cream cheese.

              Info Sources for asterisks:

        2. Hi veryveryrosalind,

          It's been a few days more now since your original salmon posting. I'm curious, with all the various opinions and theories and disagreements, what did you end up doing with it?!

          1 Reply
          1. re: joschus

            Thanks for your interest! Reader, I ate it. I decided to cook with it, just in case there was some bacterial growth, rather than eating it straight out of the fridge. I made a smoked salmon pizza with cream cheese, thinly sliced red onions, capers, and all 8oz of the suspect salmon, which smelled fine when I opened the package. That was Tuesday, I think, and my husband and I are still not poisoned, so it must have been okay.

            This was naturally smoked salmon, BTW--no preservatives other than smoke and salt.

          2. Taking into account the fish itself, preparation and packaging of this particular item, I would have had no problem with consuming it after being exposed to room temperature for 10 hours. Even raw, up to two weeks after the incident. In fact, If it were bad, (even after that time) I would have questioned the processing and/or preparation.