Does Fish Sauce Go Bad? How Long Does It Last?

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Once upon a kitchen cleaning day, you found an opened bottle of fish sauce sitting at the farthest part of your pantry. You just realized that it had been a while since you last used it, and now you’re not certain if you still need to keep it there or just dispose of it. So, does fish sauce go bad?

The good news? Fish sauce can last in your food storage for three to four years because it contains high amounts of salt as one of its ingredients. But once you open the bottle, the shelf life and overall quality decrease over time.

In this article, you’ll explore the answers to these questions concerning fish sauce:

Let’s find out!

What Is Fish Sauce – a fermented fish product.

Fish sauce is a staple ingredient or condiment found in many East Asian and Southeast Asian kitchens. It is made from salted fish; usually, anchovies or krill, fermented at least 12 to 18 months, or even up to two years.

As an end product of the fermentation process, it will give you a brown, savory, and salty liquid that enhances the taste of dishes such as soups, stews, curries, stir-fries, etc. It is also added in dipping sauces, salads, or marinades.

Fish sauce is vastly produced in Vietnam, Thailand, and other parts of Asia. Some fish sauce brands may contain sugar, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and other preservatives.

If you’re looking for premium quality fish sauce, it should only contain fish and salt minus the added preservatives.

What Is The Shelf Life Of Fish Sauce?

Every manufactured fish sauce comes with a “best-before” or “best by” date. These dates will tell you how long this product can hold its freshness and prime umami flavor.

Fish sauce is a shelf-stable condiment because of its high sodium content. And that explains why it rarely goes bad, to the point that it will make you sick. (*)

An unopened bottle of fish sauce can last on an average of 3 to 4 years after its bottling date.

If we are talking about premium quality fish sauce, the shelf-life is shorter; a bottle can last for up to 36 months after the manufacturer’s date. Anyway, it’s still considered shelf-stable.

After opening your fish sauce, expect that the taste and flavor will start to decline as time goes by. You will notice later on that the flavor and taste become flat.

If you keep it in the fridge, it can stay good for up to one year.

If you only put it in the storage at room temperature, that will last within 3 to 6 months.

Now, if you do not use fish sauce that often, just buy the most miniature bottle available in the market.

How To Tell If Fish Sauce Has Gone Bad?

As mentioned earlier, fish sauce rarely goes bad if we talk about food safety. Due to its high sodium content, fish sauce can’t serve as the best environment for harmful bacteria to thrive.

Again, note that your fish sauce’s flavor and taste will slowly depreciate over time, and that would most likely be the reason for you discard it instead of using it.

Here’s what you should do to check if you are fish sauce is still good for consumption:

1. Check the appearance

Check how it looks for a small amount of fish sauce into a small ceramic bowl. A good bottle of fish sauce should be clear, and it should be goldish brown in color.

If you notice some bits of clear crystals that have settled on the bottom, you should not worry about them. Those are just the salts of your fish sauce, and they will not affect the overall quality of your condiment.

If you have observed that your fish sauce has turned dark, that’s also an expected change because fish sauce also ages as time goes by.

Next, if you see particles or clouds are floating on your fish sauce’s surface, those are just the proteins from protein precipitation. This process happens due to temperature changes. There’s nothing to worry about this as they won’t affect the quality of your fish sauce, and they’re also deemed harmless.

However, if you see molds going on the lead or surface of your fish sauce, that’s the time you should immediately throw it away. Likewise, if molds are growing on the lid or surface of the bottle. (*)

2. Check the smell

If the appearance seems fine, give it to sniff and find out if it still holds the same smell as the first time to open the bottle. If it gives off a terrible smell, you should never use it.

But, if fish sauce develops an off-smell that’s distinctively different from the first time you opened the bottle, you should consider discarding it.

How To Store Fish Sauce Properly?

Storing fish sauce is as easy as storing soy sauce, oyster sauce, or other condiments. Whether you have highly processed fish sauce or a premium one, here’s what you need to do:

Unopened fish sauce bottle

  1. Keep it in a pantry or kitchen cabinet or in a cool, dry, and dark place.
  2. See that it should be away from direct sunlight and heat exposure.
  3. You may put it in the fridge, but it’s not necessary.

Opened fish sauce bottle

  1. Don’t forget to close the lid of the bottle tightly. Then, just put it back in your pantry or kitchen cabinet or in a cool dark place.
  2. Make sure that you should keep it away from direct sunlight and heat exposure.
  3. Keep it in the refrigerator to extend the shelf life. But that’s not necessary, especially if you use it more often.
  4. If you notice that there are a few amounts of fish sauce left in its original container, transfer the contents in a smaller airtight bottle.

To ensure that you are storing it the right way, check the manufacturer’s specific instructions for more details.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I leave fish sauce out of a recipe?

It’s ok to skip the fish sauce in your recipe if you don’t mind losing its distinct rich flavor in your dish.

If you’re trying to find fish sauce alternatives, you may use Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, or other types of sauces that are available at your reach.

Take note that there will be changes in the taste of your dish when you try substituting ingredients.

2. Are fish sauce and oyster sauce the same?

No, they are not. Fish sauce is made from fermented fish and salt.

On the other hand, the Oyster sauce is derived from caramelized oyster juices, sugar, salt, and soy sauce.

3. Can fish sauce make you sick?

Anything taken in excess is not good for your health.

Fish sauce is recognized as one of the saltiest Asian sauces. A tablespoon of fish sauce can already meet almost 100% of your daily salt intake.

A diet high in salt is linked to high blood pressure and other heart-related conditions.

4. Should I refrigerate fish sauce?

Of course, you can. If you have an open bottle of fish sauce, we recommend that you should keep it in the refrigerator if you don’t use it a lot. That way, it can stay fresh last for at least a year.

5. Is fish sauce supposed to stink?

Fish sauce does smell fishy because manufacturers use anchovy extracts. People claim that it smells terrible, but it tastes amazing, especially if you use it for the right dish.


Fish sauce is a common ingredient used in Asian dishes. It’s a shelf-stable condiment that does not immediately go bad due to its high salt content.

Highly processed fish sauce lasts longer than the premium because they contain preservatives and food additives. The premium quality fish sauce only contains natural ingredients.

Refrigeration is not required for fish sauce unless you need to keep it for more than six months. Don’t forget to seal the cap of your fish sauce bottle tightly before you put it back in its storage place.

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