Shrimp: How Long They Last, How to Store Them

Published Categorized as Food
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It’s shrimp season, baby! Here’s how to keep your shrimp fresh so they make a great appetizer for the most important meal of the day.

Delicious and nutritious, shrimp are a great appetizer on the table in the dog days of summer. They’re carried by any self-respecting supermarket, and they’re quick and easy to cook.

But shrimp, like all other aquatic creatures, spoil quickly at room temperature and last less time in the refrigerator than most of us think. So, for a safe and tasty family dinner, you need to know how they last—and how to store them.

See below for this, and more.

How Long Do Shrimp Last?

Shrimp smell and taste their best the moment you bring them back home from the store and unpack them from your grocery bag. The longer you store them, the more their quality deteriorates.

Raw Shrimp

Raw shrimp last for 1-2 days in the fridge and keep their best quality for 3-4 weeks in the freezer. Freezer temperature halts bacterial activity, so frozen shrimp are still safe to eat after this time. But prolonged freezing will cause them to dry out and lose much of their aroma and flavor.

To keep refrigerated shrimp as fresh as possible for as long as reasonable (never more than a couple of days), bury them in a bowl of crushed ice and place them on the bottom shelf of your fridge, where it is coldest. Replace the ice every few hours.

Cooked Shrimp

Cooked shrimp shouldn’t be kept at room temperature for more than 1-2 hours. Otherwise, disease-causing germs will form on the shrimp’s surface and jeopardize their safety. Discard shrimp that have been on the stove, counter, or dining table above this time—if you eat them, you can get food poisoning.

Refrigerate leftover cooked shrimp as soon as possible after you’re done cooking or eating them. The most important thing is to minimize their exposure to air, so place them in shallow storage containers with lids closed or wrap them tightly in plastic wrap.

Properly refrigerated, cooked shrimp stay good for 3-4 days in the fridge. Discard them if they’ve been in the refrigerator longer, even if they still smell and taste good.

Can You Eat Freezer-Burnt Shrimp?

If you keep shrimp in the freezer for too long or don’t wrap it tightly for freezing, they can get freezer-burned. Freezer burn occurs when the shrimp dry out and oxidize due to the continuous exposure to the cold air circulating in your freezer.

Freezer-burned shrimp are still safe to eat. However, they have a dry, leathery mouthfeel and no aroma or flavor at all, making them pretty much unpalatable. Cut off the parts where the shrimp have gotten freezer-burned and throw them away; the rest of the shrimp should be just fine.

How Do You Know If Shrimp Have Gone Bad?

Shrimp have gone bad when their shells have a yellowish or grayish tint, their meat is hanging loosely from the shells, they have a fishy or iodine odor, and they feel sticky and slimy to the touch. If the shrimp have heads, the eyes are murky and shrunken.

Whether you’re buying fresh shrimp or thawing shrimp in your fridge, discard them if you notice any of these signs.

When shrimp are at their best, they should smell fresh, sweet, and slightly briny. An overly fishy or perceptibly iodine smell is a sign of age and spoilage, writes American cookbook author Wayne Gisele in his 1983 illustrated cookbook, Professional Cooking.

Fresh shrimp should have firm flesh that’s tightly attached to the shell. Their color should be white, pink, or slightly brownish in color, and their surface should be slick and glossy. When they have heads, their eyes are bright and bulging.

Can Eating Spoiled Shrimp Make You Sick?

If you suspect your shrimp have gone bad, don’t eat them. They can give you food poisoning. If you have kept leftover shrimp in the refrigerator for more than 3-4 days, assume they’re no longer edible and throw them away.

Unlike spoilage bacteria, pathogenic bacteria (the kind that cause foodborne illness) don’t change the aroma, taste, and texture of your food. This means that the shrimp may smell and taste perfectly fine, and yet still make you sick.

The risk of foodborne illness is not to be taken lightly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 48 million Americans contract food poisoning each year, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die.

Our Best Shrimp Hints and Tips

Buy the best shrimp at the store:

Wild-caught shrimp is taster than farm-raised shrimp for an array of reasons, but it’s also harder to find and more expensive.

Shrimp are sold raw or pre-cooked, fresh or frozen. Frozen shrimp with shells and without heads are often the freshest and offer the best value, whether you live near the shore or not. If you can, get your hands on Individually Quick Frozen (IQF) shrimp; this freezing method is the absolute best at preserving shrimp’s freshness.

Don’t buy frozen shrimp if the package is open, torn, or crushed at the edges, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) warns. Avoid packages that have frost or ice crystals on them, the agency says, as they’re likely to have been there for too long.

Understand shrimp sizes on the package:

Frozen shrimp are sold in packages with the number per pound indicated on the label. As a general rule of thumb, the larger the shrimp, the higher the price.

The largest shrimp are labeled as Under 15 (U15), Under 12 (U12), and Under 10 (U10) because that’s how many crustaceans per pound are contained in the package.

16/20 shrimp are jumbo-sized shrimp because there are 16 to 20 crustaceans per pound contained in the package, and 61/70 shrimp are extra small-sized shrimp because there are as many as 61 to 70 crustaceans per pound in the package.

Revive refrigerated leftover shrimp:

To reheat boiled shrimp, place them in a shallow saucepan of simmering seafood stock or salted water, then toss and turn them until they’re steaming hot. To reheat grilled, sautéed, or broiled shrimp, jump them in a preheated pan with olive oil or unsalted butter until they’re too hot to touch.

Leftover shrimp can also be a delicacy served cold the next day. Consider serving refrigerated leftover shrimp cold—in a salad, a paste, or as an appetizer.

In Summary

Shrimp—accustomed to the cold temperatures of oceans, lakes, and the rivers that connect them—will spoil quickly in the fridge and even quicker at room temperature. Store shrimp properly and check for spoilage before cooking; eating bad shrimp can make you and the other guests at the table sick.

By Jim Stonos

When Jim isn't in the kitchen, he is usually spending time with family and friends, and working with the HCW editorial team to answer the questions he used to ask himself back when he was learning the ropes of cooking.