How to Tell If Your Fresh Fillets Are Fresh

Seafood is a delicious and nutritious part of a healthy diet. But with so many varieties of fish available, it can be tricky to know how to choose the freshest option, especially when it comes to fresh fish fillets. Here are some key tips to ensure you get the best quality fish at the market.

Look for Visual Cues of Freshness

Fresh fish should be visually appealing. Here’s what to look for:

  1. Sparkling Eyes

The eyes of a fresh fish are bright, clear, and bulging. They should look almost wet and have a distinct pupil. Cloudy or sunken eyes indicate the fish has been sitting out too long.

  1. Vibrant Gills

Healthy gills are vibrant red, almost like fresh blood. As fish age, they will turn dull brown or grey. Check for slime or mucus on the gills, which is another sign of spoilage.

  1. Shiny, Metallic Skin

Fresh fish should have a beautiful, iridescent sheen to its skin. This indicates the fish has been well-handled and hasn’t been sitting out for long. Discoloured patches, dullness, or a slimy coating are all signs of ageing fish.

  1. Firm Flesh

Give the fresh fillets a gentle press with your finger. The flesh should be firm and spring back into place immediately. If it leaves an indent or feels mushy, avoiding that particular fish is best.

  1. Bright Colour

The natural colour of the flesh will vary depending on the type of fish, but it should always be bright and vibrant. Dull or faded colours suggest the fish is past its prime.

  1. Intact Scales

Check the scales to see if you buy whole fish or fillets with skin on them. They should be tightly attached to the skin and shimmer slightly. Loose or missing scales indicate the fish is not at its freshest.

Trust Your Nose: The Smell Test

Fresh fish should have a mild, pleasant, sweet, or salty smell. It should smell like the ocean, perhaps with a hint of seaweed. A strong, fishy odour is a red flag. This indicates the fish is starting to decompose and is no longer safe to eat.

Beware of Ammonia

If you detect a strong ammonia-like smell, avoid the fish altogether. This is a clear sign of spoilage and can be harmful if consumed.

Ask Questions and Build a Relationship with Your Fishmonger

A good fishmonger is a valuable resource. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the origin and freshness of the fish. They should be able to tell you where the fish was caught, how long it’s been on display, and how it was handled and stored.

Building a rapport with your fishmonger allows them to get to know your preferences and recommend the freshest fish based on your needs.

Proper Storage is Key

Even the freshest fish can spoil quickly if not stored properly. Here are some tips for keeping your fresh fillets at their best:

  1. Wrap the fish tightly in plastic wrap or store it in an airtight container.
  2. Place the fish on a bed of crushed ice in the coldest part of your refrigerator (ideally, just below freezing).
  3. Fresh fish is best consumed within 1-2 days of purchase.

If you plan to keep the fish longer, it’s best to freeze it. Wrap the fillets tightly in plastic wrap and place them in a freezer bag. Frozen fish can be stored for up to 3 months.


By following these tips, you can be confident that you’re buying the freshest possible fillets. This not only ensures a delicious and safe eating experience but also allows you to reap the full health benefits of seafood. So, next time you’re at the market, take your time, scrutinise the fish, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your taste buds and your health will thank you for it!

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