Fish sticks are the breaded and quick-fried fillets of fish we all love! They’re relatively cheap meals, easy to prepare, and delicious in their simple way.
But how easy is it to store and keep them, and do frozen fish sticks actually expire?
Both frozen and prepared fish sticks can be kept in the freezer indefinitely but are best eaten within three to six months. In the fridge, they can last between two and four days, and at room temperature, they can sit out for up to two hours.
Keep reading this article and find out how long you can store your fresh or frozen fish fingers, what to keep them in, and how to tell if they have gone bad.
How Long Can You Keep Fish Sticks in the Freezer?
In the right conditions, fish sticks can be kept indefinitely in the freezer and consumed long past their expiration date.
The right conditions basically imply two main things here:
- Your freezer must have a temperature of 0 °F or less
- Your fish sticks must be stored in an air-tight container (such as tupperware or a sealable freezer bag)
If those conditions are met, fish sticks can remain frozen without the risk of spoiling for a very long time.
However, over time, they will likely lose some of their flavor and texture, but that’s totally normal for any food stored for a long time in the freezer.
For best quality, consuming your frozen fish sticks within three to six months is generally advised.
But most brands will retain much of their overall quality even within 12 to 18 months in the freezer.
That’s why brands like, for example, Branton’s don’t have an expiration date on their packages. Instead, they have a “best if used by” date.
And while they can’t guarantee the same quality if the fish sticks are eaten after that date, they stress that they are usually perfectly fine to eat if they have been stored appropriately in the freezer and cooked according to the directions on the package.
How Long Can You Keep Fish Sticks in the Fridge?
Uncooked fish sticks (or fish fingers) can be kept safely in the fridge for up to 2 days, while cooked fish sticks can last up to 4 days in a properly refrigerated environment.
GOOD TO KNOW: Fish should be stored in a refrigerator with a temperature of 40 °F or less.
2 days are generally recommended for raw fish and seafood, but as most fish sticks are only partially pre-cooked, the risk of foodborne bacteria is higher with this type of food, especially in the fridge. Why take the risk, right?
Fully prepared fish sticks, on the other hand, can be safely stored in the fridge for longer, as bacteria won’t be able to grow on them as quickly.
Of course, keeping them in an air-tight container (again, tupperware or a zipper back will do fine) is vital in this regard!
However, the longer you keep them in the fridge, the soggier they tend to get, air-tight container or not.
The sticks’ breadcrumbs especially have a tendency to get soggy, as they suck out some of the fish stick’s moisture.
So if you want those sticks to remain yummy and crisp, you should only keep them in the fridge for up to two days!
How Long Can Fish Sticks Sit Out?
Whether uncooked and thawing or fully cooked and cooling down, fish sticks should never be left in a room temperature environment for more than 2 hours.
Additionally, it also states that this timeframe is reduced to only one hour in room temperatures above 90 °F.
Bacteria can grow quickly on foods such as meat and fish, and their optimal temperature ranges between 40 °F and 140 °F.
A good rule of thumb is to keep cold fish and seafood cold and warm fish and seafood warm.
Keep your refrigerated fish sticks in the fridge until it’s time to cook them (or eat them cold if you like).
Similarly, it’s best to keep your prepared fish sticks heated until it’s time to serve them.
This way, you can keep your sticks away from harmful bacteria and you and your family or friends from any illness. And who really likes lukewarm fish sticks anyways, right!?
How Do You Know if Fish Sticks Have Gone Bad?
If for some reason, you haven’t stored your fish sticks the way you should in the freezer or fridge, they can certainly go bad, and if they have, you should never eat them.
But how do you know if they’ve gone bad?
Well, there are a few fairly sure ways of finding out if your fish sticks are spoiled:
If your fish sticks smell rancid, sour, fishy, or have an ammonia odor, do not consume them!
If the sticks look discolored, darkened, or dry around the edges, toss them right away!
If your fish sticks feel dried out, spongy, or have a slimy surface, do not consume them!
If you go through the first three tests, hopefully, you won’t ever have to taste spoiled fish sticks.
But if you do happen to do so and they taste sour, bitter, or off in any other way, spit them out immediately and do not continue eating them.
Can You Get Food Poisoning From Fish Sticks?
Even though most brands partially precook their fish sticks, you should always cook them thoroughly before consuming them.
Eating raw or undercooked fish can lead to severe food poisoning (diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting, headaches, etc.), commonly referred to as scombroid.
Additionally, there’s always the risk of getting salmonella (diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps, infections in urine, blood, bones, joints, etc.).
And while most people recover from salmonella within 4 to 7 days without antibiotics, some cases have led to hospitalization and long-term health problems.
So please always check your fish sticks and heat them thoroughly before you eat them.
Can You Eat Freezer-Burned Frozen Fish Sticks?
While freezer burn draws out the sticks’ moisture and flavor and hence affects their overall quality, freezer-burned fish sticks are safe to eat.
Freezer burn occurs when food stored in your freezer has been there for too long or hasn’t been wrapped appropriately.
Over time, the food becomes exposed to air, and more and more water molecules escape its surface.
Your fish sticks will slowly dry out and develop freezer burn.
Most commonly, this will appear as dry, grey, and shriveled patches on your sticks. There may also be ice crystals that cover the fish sticks’ surface.
If prepared, you’ll probably notice that your fish sticks have a tough texture and faded flavor.
And while they won’t be as fresh and yummy anymore, freezer-burned fish sticks remain totally safe to consume!
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