How to Tell If Tilapia is Bad? 5 Ways to Check

how to tell if tilapia is bad

Due to its low price and versatility, tilapia is among the most popular fish consumed in the US. How, though, can you tell if tilapia is spoiled? In this article, we’ll go over in detail how to identify spoiled tilapia and the best techniques for preserving the flavor and cookability of your filet.

Tilapia is a great option of fish to use for a variety of dishes; baked, grilled, sautéed, steamed, or even in soups. It is readily available all year long. But can you identify a bad tilapia by its appearance? Are you able to interpret the signs and determine whether something should be kept or thrown away?

This article will address all the indicators that your tilapia is spoiled as well as other frequently asked questions.

5 Ways to Tell If Tilapia is Bad

As was already mentioned, tilapia is a fish that can be used in a wide variety of recipes and is the ideal choice for picky fish haters because of its mild flavor.

Even so, there are some significant differences between this fish variety and other fish you may have purchased and kept. Let’s start by talking about buying fresh Tilapia, and what you should look for:


how to tell if tilapia is bad

Fresh fish should be quite rigid, with flesh that resists being poked by a finger.

In the case of tilapia, the skin should also appear a little odd because it is typically covered in a shielding mucus that the fish secretes to shield it from harmful waterborne microorganisms.

It’s important to keep in mind that the aforementioned film should ONLY be applied to the skin of the fish and not the flesh or fish fillet.

After the skin has been peeled off, the flesh should be hard and shiny with flakes of muscle; if you make a small indentation in it with your finger, it should quickly heal.

The color of the meat itself is another thing to keep in mind. The flesh of raw fillets will be pinkish-white in color, with visible red bloodlines or veins; once cooked, this color will turn completely white.

But keep in mind that because the skin was on one side, that side of the fish will be slightly darker.


When it comes to fresh fish, including tilapia, nothing should be dripping from it or, in the case of packaged fish, sitting inside it.

There shouldn’t ever be any runny liquids pooling around the fish or fillet, even though Tilapia fillets or the whole fish can frequently be sold with the skin on and the film membrane intact.

how to tell if tilapia is bad


Any seafood, including fish from both salt and freshwater, should smell fresh; this means there shouldn’t be a “fishy” odor. There should only be a very slight aroma of fish and the waters it was caught in. The same applies to tilapia.

The reason for the unpleasant odor is that an overtly “fishy” odor is produced when various internal organs of the fish’s body degrade over time. Therefore, if the fish you’re choosing smells fishy or simply isn’t clean like it was just pulled out of the water, don’t buy it because it’s not even remotely fresh.


The key indicators for determining the freshness of any whole fish are firm flakes, a stiff body, and clear eyes. The situation is similar when purchasing a filleted fish, though.

The fillets and flakes should be firm and able to withstand pressure from a finger being poked, even though you may not have a whole fish to test for rigidity. The fish should not be purchased if the flake separates or if your finger leaves a mark that doesn’t quickly fade.


How long has that tilapia been in the refrigerator or on ice? The fact that fish can still spoil in your refrigerator and that you shouldn’t keep it chilled for extended periods of time may surprise you.

There is a common misconception that fish can last indefinitely as long as it is kept cold and airtight in a refrigerator. This is improper and will definitely ruin the fish.

Instead, only keep your tilapia for one to two days at most and consume it as soon as it is caught, preferably the same day.

how to tell if tilapia is bad

How to Tell If Tilapia is Bad When Raw?

Use the aforementioned key indicators as a starting point, and then, if applicable, double-check the “Use By” date. Fish generally starts to spoil 24 hours after the “Use By” date, making it unsafe to consume.

How to Tell If Tilapia is Bad When Cooked?

The flakes of cooked tilapia should be firm and not mushy, and they should be a milky white color with barely any “fishy” flavor or smell. It can be stored in your refrigerator for 3–4 days at or below 4°C/39°F; after this time, it should be thrown away.

Tilapia that has been cooked and gone bad may also smell bad, have slimy cooked flesh flakes, and generally appear flat or colorless. The cooked tilapia should be discarded if it deviates from these indications.

How to Tell If Tilapia is Bad When Frozen?

Any food that has been consistently kept at or below 0 °C/32 °F will remain edible for an unlimited period of time, according to the FDA. Tilapia will be impacted by the storage method, which will be discussed in this article’s section on storage.

How can you tell if the Tilapia you bought frozen is bad? Freezer burn typically manifests as a chalky-white discoloration of the flesh that sits on top of the normal or anticipated color.

how to tell if tilapia is bad

Another reliable indicator is how long the food has been in the freezer; anything beyond 12 months should be avoided.

When frozen tilapia is spoiled and then thawed, it will resemble spoiled raw fish; for signs, see above. Fish that have gone bad should be thrown out right away.

How Long Does Tilapia Last?

How long do you think your fish, whether it came from a fishmonger or a grocery store, will last now? Depending on where you keep it, the times can vary a lot, read on to find out more:

In the Fridge

Any fish will keep in your refrigerator for 1-2 days below 4 C/39 F; after this point, it is not advisable to eat the fish because it may have spoiled but not yet shown obvious signs. Fresh fish is much safer, as is using pre-packaged fish well after the “Use By” date.

In the Freezer

Any food, including tilapia, will keep indefinitely in a freezer that is maintained at a constant 0 °C/32 °F temperature. It is best to avoid storing your tilapia for more than a year, or for more than six to nine months, as most freezers will fluctuate as they are opened and closed.

On the Countertop

Fish quickly begins to turn once the temperature reaches 4 C/39 F, and this occurs at room temperature as well. Ideally, no fish should be left at room temperature (average: 25 °C/77 °F) for more than 70 minutes, and at most, 90 minutes.

Fish left out longer than this are more likely to quickly spoil, and eating spoiled fish can sometimes result in severe gastroenterological illness or worse. If a fish is left out at room temperature for more than 90 minutes, it should be thrown out.

How to Store Tilapia?

In a freezer, refrigerator, or on the counter, keep your tilapia in an airtight container. What do you do with it, though, after that?

In the Fridge

Without any additional instructions, your whole or filleted tilapia will keep for 1-2 days in the cooler, back section of your refrigerator. Avoid placing fish or other delicate foods near the front of the refrigerator because the door’s opening and closing will affect the temperature and could potentially result in spoilage.

However, you can marinate or flavor the fish in the airtight container right before cooking; just make sure the fish is still fresh!

In the Freezer

how to tell if tilapia is bad

In order to prevent freezer burn and spoilage, no fish should ever be placed directly on frozen surfaces. Instead, wrap it in multiple layers of greaseproof paper or thick plastic (like old bread bags) before putting it in an airtight container that is safe for freezing.

This will protect the fish from being harmed by the extremely low temperatures.

Freezing your Tilapia fillets will allow you to gently infuse them with herbs and spices. Grill the fish for mouthwatering flavor after it has thawed.

On the Countertop

Any fish should not be left on a countertop for an extended period of time, as was stated in the paragraph before. In contrast, it’s acceptable to do this just before cooking. It is time to infuse the fish with herbs and spices once its temperature reaches 4 C/32 F or higher. The fish should be boiled right away, and in the meantime, it should be kept in an airtight container.

Can You Eat Expired Frozen Tilapia?

If the frozen tilapia was kept at 0 degrees Fahrenheit and doesn’t exhibit any signs of deterioration, then the answer is yes. If it has white or grayish-brown flakes or patches, you can tell it’s bad.

Freezer burn is what this is. It will be visible over the surface or at the fish’s edges. The fish has dried out, as indicated by this.

Additionally, the fish has lost moisture if it is lighter than it was before being placed in the freezer.


How Long is Cooked Tilapia Good in the Refrigerator?

Before having to be thrown out, cooked tilapia can be kept in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.

Can I Eat Spoiled Tilapia?

Any kind of spoiled fish should never be consumed, especially if it is raw. Consuming spoiled tilapia puts you at risk of getting ciguatera and scombroid poisoning.

What Does Tilapia Taste Like?

When tilapia is cooked, its flesh is flaky, white, tender, and firm. Good-quality tilapia has a mild, sweet flavor, but the flavor of tilapia is affected by the environment in which it grows, such as the water quality and feed.

Whether tilapia is raised on an aquaculture farm or is caught in the wild in the ocean, it has a different flavor. This fish’s environment will affect how it tastes.

Conclusion: is Your Tilapia Bad?

It’s critical that you understand how to recognize spoiled tilapia. You can avoid contracting food poisoning or other illnesses by taking this action.

Tilapia can be frozen for nine months or kept in storage for a few days when it is not frozen. After eight months, the fish’s quality will, however, deteriorate. Although the fish can be refrozen for up to six months, it should never be left at room temperature.

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