How Long Can Cooked Salmon Stay Out? When It’s Unsafe

Food safety is a concern for many people when handling and preparing meals. A common concern when dealing with seafood like salmon is the issue of storage. One question that comes to mind is how …

salmon with vegetables and lemon on a plate

Food safety is a concern for many people when handling and preparing meals. A common concern when dealing with seafood like salmon is the issue of storage. One question that comes to mind is how long cooked salmon can stay out before it becomes unsafe.

Salmon can only stay out for about 2 hours. It must be stored in the refrigerator within two hours of cooking to ensure proper food safety. This rule of thumb applies to both raw and cooked salmon, even if the salmon is frozen. Bacteria can grow at room temperature in under two hours and spread quickly.

This article will discuss in greater detail how long salmon can be out of the fridge and whether you can eat cooked salmon cold. You will also find out if you can leave cooked salmon out overnight. 

grilled salmon with fresh salad and lemon

Can You Eat Cold, Cooked Salmon?

Once your salmon has been prepared and refrigerated within two hours, it is safe for consumption. However, you may not have the extra time or desire to heat it before consumption. Is it safe to eat cold, cooked salmon?

You can eat cold, cooked salmon safely as long as proper food techniques have been followed. If the internal temperature is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.44 °C) and the salmon has not been exposed to cross-contamination, it is perfectly safe to eat.

Storage is most important when considering eating pre-cooked food without time for reheating it. While the initial cooking will kill bacteria, slicing it and putting it into packaging can increase the likelihood of bacteria growing on the salmon (source: Oregon State University). 

While you can eat pre-cooked salmon cold, you must consider several factors when safely storing your food.

It is imperative to follow basic food safety requirements to prevent the growth of bacteria on your salmon before, during, or after storing your food in the fridge. Otherwise, you can quickly spread bacteria to your food (Source: New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs). 

If you follow these basic steps to food safety, you will be able to consume cold salmon after it has been cooked safely:

  • Make sure your hands are entirely clean when handling the salmon.
  • Use a clean storage container that has not been used for other types of food or has subsequently been washed.
  • Ensure that you are using an air-tight container. 
  • Do not store salmon in a container with other types of meat, whether or not they have been cooked.
  • Do not store cooked salmon underneath or directly next to any raw meat.
cooked salmon with vegetables and lemon on a plate

How Long Can Cooked Salmon Be Out of the Fridge?

It is not uncommon to leave food out for various reasons before getting it back to the fridge or freezer. But how long can cooked salmon be out of the refrigerator?

Cooked salmon can be left out of the fridge for no more than two hours and not more than an hour in warmer temperatures. The cooked fish spoils faster in warmer conditions. This is because bacteria spread quickly and multiply even quicker in warmer climates.

While the temperature is generally detrimental from 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit (4.44 to 160 °C) it becomes hazardous when it gets over 85 °F (25.44 °C) (source: Michigan State University Extension Food and Health).

At this temperature, food can become dangerous in less than two hours. Storing it below this range of temperatures is especially important when the food is warm or cool rather than frozen because the internal temperature of the fish will increase that much faster. 

And while you cannot leave cooked salmon out for more than two hours, this rule changes to one hour if the temperatures are above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 °C).    

According to academic research done at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, “Just one bacterium, doubling every 20 minutes, can grow to over 2,097,152 bacteria in 7 hours!” (source: University of Nebraska Lincoln). 

The staggering amount of bacteria can arise on any food item left out. However, it is crucial to practice food safety with meats and fish as they can host more harmful bacteria. Some of the most deadly bacteria that you will find in foods are associated with these foods. 

Bacteria such as E Coli. and Salmonella are commonly found on uncooked meats or those stored at unsafe temperatures (source: American Meat Science Association). These pathogenic bacteria are the scariest because they are odorless, tasteless, and invisible (source: Hygiene Food Safety).    

grilled salmon and orange slices on cutting board

Can Salmon Be Left Out Overnight?

Preparing meals is sometimes a last-minute task that can leave you making instant decisions or forgetting to store food after cooking or buying it. Sometimes, you may be left wondering if you can leave salmon out overnight?

It is not safe to leave salmon out overnight. This is because it takes less than 2 hours for bacteria to multiply to dangerous levels in temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit (4.44 to 160 °C).

Leaving salmon out overnight is not safe, whether your salmon is cooked or not. If you accidentally forget to store your salmon before going to bed, you should not try to salvage it the following day. Unfortunately, cooked salmon left out overnight is no longer safe for consumption. 

Bacteria can spread on frozen food while it’s thawing the same way it does on salmon that has just been cooked. Freezing the salmon does not kill the bacteria. The bacteria can become active again once the temperature warms up (source: NPR). 

Therefore, leaving your salmon to thaw overnight at room temperature is not a safe option. Bacteria can also grow on fish this way. The only safe way to thaw salmon is to do it overnight in the refrigerator, in a microwave on defrost, or in a sealed bag in cold water for quicker results (source: US Food and Drug Administration).  

Leaving salmon out overnight is unsafe because you cannot monitor the temperature of the air or the fish if you are sleeping or not home to check on it. And since the salmon will be out for more than two hours, it is not a viable option for safely storing your salmon through the night. 

Salmon can safely be left out of the fridge for up to two hours. However, this depends on the air temperature and can be as little as one hour if temperatures are too warm.

I’ve written about other salmon safety issues, including how long sushi-grade salmon is good for, and if you need to wash salmon before cooking it.