ELI5 Why does seafood go bad faster than meat?

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Fish live in the cold. Things like cod, salmon, haddock, tuna, and swordfish live in water that is just above the freezing point of water (32F 0C). The “stuff” or enzymes in the meat that make it go bad can still “work” in the refrigerator. “Land meat” does not spend most of its life in the cold so when “land meat” is put into the fridge the “stuff” in the meat slows way down so it takes way longer for the meat to spoil. Edit: I see a little confusion in the comments so I will simplify a little further. Fish are cold blooded and their internal temperature is usually around that the temperature of the water is. Cows, pigs, chickens, ect are warm blooded. A cows normal internal temperature is about 101F (38.3C). Most fish live with an internal temperature much closer to a normal refrigerator’s temperature.


An answer I’m not seeing here is slaughter method. And there’s very easily observable evidence of this. In America, beef is king. And it is treated as such. There are strict rules and regulations surrounding the slaughter of cows to be as humane and quick as possible. Typically this involves a calming introduction to the killing line (Temple Grandin method), a stunning phase where the animal is rendered senseless immediately (captive bolt gun typically) and then the animal is immediately bled and hung and processed. Almost all four-legged animals are then hung upside down at which point gravity can help break up the rigor mortis process. This conserves a great deal of the ATP in the animal’s cells as it has not struggled in death which slows the build up of lactic acid. The bleeding of the animal helps to flush and prevent bacterial growth and by all accounts this improves every facet of the animal’s meat in eating. This is why you can age a large primal cut of beef in some instances for over a year. Perciform fish rarely get the same treatment, especially in the Western world. The vast, vast majority of fish are trawled in a massive net or purse seine, or they are gill netted where they struggle against thousands of pounds of other panicked fish or they die a slow, painful death on the line until they are hauled in. After this frenzied struggle they are typically dumped en masse on to a boat deck to suffocate to death and bake in the sun. This poor method of slaughter causes immense stress to the animal and does the exact opposite of what we discussed with beef. All ATP is consumed and converted into lactic acid, fish are rarely bled, they go immediately into rigor and then they form favorable conditions for bacteria to grow. But in Japan, tuna is king. A quick Google search of ikejime or shinkeijime will show you how fish should be treated. They are hauled in quickly on a line, they are stunned or spiked to cause instant brain death and then their gills are cut while their heart is still beating to pump out all of the blood. Then they immediately go into an ice slurry to bring their body temperature down. Properly slaughtered fish can then be aged for a great deal of time and they age much like a steak would with complex proteins breaking down into savory glutamic acid via favorable enzyme activity. This is what makes top tier sushi so delicious, it is simply impossible to develop those sorts of flavors in a fish that was killed that morning. Not that fresh fish is bad or tastes bad, but it’s just sort of been a Band-Aid signal of quality that never addressed the root issue of the problem, that being poor handling practices. ​ Source: am chef. Love the fishes. American seafood system is fucked. Not surprised.


Also, Seafood often contains a different composition of fat. They often have a higher percentage of Omega-3 fatty acids, which is “healthy” fat but also a much less stable molecule than fatty acids in other meat.


Not necessarily, if stored correctly fish dont go bad fast. Japanese sushi chefs take extreme care to prepare and store fish, gutting and removing moisture and blood from the fish stops it from going bad. Fresh fish gutted, cleaned the day its caught and wrapped in kitchen paper and refridgerated can be eaten raw for up to 1 week (can tell by smell if not suitable for eating raw or not). Some fish can last even longer, tuna is a good example where it can be aged for a long period. Almost all good sushi fish is gutted the day its caught. But if not treated well, bacteria grows really fast in fish guts, and the blood/ and high moisture is perfect conditions for the fish to rot. Meat on the other hand has less moisture inside, usually cut so theres less blood inside. Some fishermen dont keep the fish cold enough after it is caught. Another possible reason (purely speculation) is more people buy meat than fish, on average your supermarket will have fresher meat than fish. Source: making sushi and watching sushi chefs on youtube Tldr; fish has alot of water (duh), moisture/blood is good breeding ground for bacteria. Also fish guts have bacteria.


So at least part of the answer is how we treat fish on a commercial level. Like other commenters said some fish isn’t bled or cleaned until after it’s been dead for a while which encourages bacterial growth and decomposition. Then as the fish is processed it might get washed multiple times as it gets scaled, skinned, filleted, portioned and every time it gets washed the temperature rises and that warmer moist environment is great for spoilage. On an entirely different level, some commercial fishing boats might be out at sea for several days at a time before returning with a catch, so add in the time down in a holding tank before certain fish ever make it to be butchered. Alternatively if you get fish that’s bled and gutted soon after being caught and then butchered by a seafood specific market you tend to avoid these problems and fish can be good for just as long as meat. Source- work for a seafood market that gets whole fish caught in this way and butchers them in house.