How To Tell if Crawfish is Bad [Definitive Guide]

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Crawfish are freshwater crustaceans that resemble small lobsters. They are known by other names such as crayfish, mudbugs, yabbies and crawdads.

They are found in swamps, rivers and lakes worldwide. In the US, most crawfish are harvested from Louisiana. Most crawfish are steamed or boiled and can be eaten on their own or added to a dish.

If you’re thinking about eating crawfish yourself, it’s worth knowing what to look out for if it’s going bad.

How to Tell if Crawfish is Bad

Being able to locate and buy these delectable crustaceans at markets and supermarkets is one thing, but what should you look for when buying crawfish/crayfish?

Before continuing, there’s one key factor that should be observed. Unless you’re purchasing prepared (cooked) tails, your crawfish/crayfish should be live. They need to be live when sold and taken home.

You should never buy or eat dead crawfish/crayfish; once dead, crawfish rapidly decompose and give off toxins, and consumption of rotten shellfish can lead to severe stomach aches, food poisoning, and even hospitalisation.


Crawfish are generally between 5cm/2in and 15cm/6in in length. Their tails are tightly folded under the body, and pincer claws will nip onto and squeeze anything they can get a hold of.

When it comes to colours, this can vary a little depending on the breed, but generally live crawfish range in colour from a deep blue through to a muddy green. Crawfish should only be bright orange-red when cooked.


Crawfish are usually sold already cleaned, that is rinsed in clean water to remove all sediment and grit. This cleaning process should also remove any odours that should not be present, leaving you with crawfish that smell of nothing but clean water with a faint hint of shellfish.

Crawfish that have died will smell rotten, and the smell is both unmistakable and revolting. No amount of aromatics will hide the stench of rotting fish.


Trying to poke and prod a live crawfish is a good way to lose a fingertip, but you can take comfort in seeing the crawfish eyeing you, and know that its flesh will be firm and undamaged. The shell will feel rough and strange to your fingers.

If you find a dead crawfish, this will change dramatically; the muscles of the crawfish will be lax, the legs and pincers easily flopping about, and the tail fully open and on display. The shell can also develop a film, or slim, which indicates decomposition.


It’s highly unwise to attempt to taste a live crawfish, but if you were to, you’d taste nothing but clean water with a hint of muddy fish.

However, equally, if you attempt to taste dead, uncooked, crawfish, you’ll probably find yourself feeling ill before you get that far. As with most aquatic species, after death crawfish decompose rapidly with the flesh rotting within minutes.


Live, or fresh, crawfish should never have anything even vaguely resembling mould on them. They should never excrete any liquids or have any sort of mucus.

Crawfish that have died is another matter. If it has been some time since the crawfish died it may have begun to break down, and the flesh oozing liquids as a result. These signs will be obvious to the rest of your senses.

How To Tell if Crawfish is Bad When Cooked

Whilst it is safe to store leftover cooked crawfish, see below for more details, there are a few signs you should keep an eye on before automatically eating them.


Look closely at the meat, assuming you’ve removed the shell and other inedible bits. Crawfish meat that looks mealy, that is like wet ground almonds, should not be eaten.

This mealy appearance is a sign the protein in the meat has begun to go bad and should be discarded.

Note: it is known for crawfish meat to turn ‘blue’ in some recipes, like etouffee or some stews, this is perfectly fine to eat. But, if you’re not sure, it’s also acceptable to discard it.


You, or your chef, may have used a lot of herbs and spices during the cooking process, but this will not disguise the smell of a crawfish that was dead before the cooking began.

Crawfish that were dead before being put in the pot will still smell bad, or rotten, even with all the added spices at the cook’s disposal. If the crawfish smells ‘off’ to you, don’t eat it.


Is it firm to the touch, or a little mushy and easily torn apart? Crawfish meat should remain firm, bouncy even when squeezed, but any meat that easily smushes or that tears apart with little effort are clear signs that the crawfish is no longer safe to eat.


The flavour of crawfish has been described as addictive, and anyone who’s tasted them will happily attest to this. But, crawfish that has gone bad will equally leave a long-lasting impression.

Instead of tasting sweet and juicy, with just a hint of shellfish, the spoiled crawfish will taste wrong; sour, rotten, and thoroughly unpleasant.


Freshly cooked crawfish will be brightly coloured, with iridescent scarlet shells and vibrant orange-red legs, all free from any growths.

Crawfish that has been kept for too long in the fridge, or anywhere else, can eventually develop growths, and leak liquids as the proteins in the meat break down. Discard any crawfish, cooked or raw, that has any growth or liquid oozing from it.

How Long Does Crawfish Last

Depending on whether you purchase them live, or prepared, there are a few different ways to store your crawfish so you can enjoy them for as long as possible.

How Long Does Crawfish Last In the Fridge

As mentioned at the outset of this article, crawfish/crayfish must be bought and kept alive prior to cooking. As the meat rapidly decomposes, it’s best to keep your fresh crawfish for a maximum of 1-2 days.

Once cooked, crawfish/crayfish can be kept for a further 3-4 days, either on their own or cooked in a variety of tasty dishes. If you need to keep your plain crawfish, or crawfish leftovers, for longer than this, then it’s best to freeze them.

How Long Does Crawfish Last In the Freezer

Keeping your crawfish in the freezer is a great way to enjoy crawfish for days, weeks, and even months. However, it’s best to process the crawfish first, and freeze the tail meet within two hours of cooking.

It is cruel to freeze live crawfish, and it is strongly advised not to do this. Cooked crawfish will keep indefinitely at -17˚C/0˚F, however, it’s recommended to consume your crawfish within 3 months to enjoy the maximum flavour and best quality of the meat.

How Long Does Crawfish Last on the Countertop

This is the worst option. Crawfish should only be left on your countertop for a maximum of a few minutes prior to cooking. The ambient room temperature will not do them any favours, and can also be considered cruel to the still live crawfish.

Crawfish that has already been cooked should not be left out on countertops, as this will hasten the meat’s decomposition. If it must be kept out, it should be kept on a bed of ice, and covered from airborne bacteria or insects.

How To Store Crawfish

It’s incredibly easy to story crawfish/crayfish, whether that’s live from the fishmonger or seafood section in your supermarket, or as a prepared and packaged product. Here are the best tips for keeping your crawfish in tip-top condition.

How to Store Crawfish in the Fridge

Keeping your crawfish fresh and alive? Then simply place them in a suitably large, high-sided container, and cover them with a damp cloth. You can keep them like this for 1-2 days tops!

Note: do not place a lid on them, or seal them in!

If storing cooked crawfish, then place them in an airtight container, and be sure to eat them within 3-4 days.

How to Store Crawfish in the Freezer

As you should never freeze live crawfish, this option is only available to you if you have already cooked your crawfish. If you need to freeze part of your crawfish purchase for later, this is best done as soon as the crawfish are brought home – do not keep them in the fridge for 1-2 days first, but prepare them for freezing as soon as possible.

To freeze your crawfish:

  • Simply place a large pot of water on to boil, and once a rolling boil is achieved, carefully drop the still-live crawfish into the boiling water.

Note: discard any crawfish that are dead, they are not safe to cook and eat.

  • Once scarlet in colour, after about 10-15mins, remove them from the boiling water and plunge the cooked crawfish into iced water.
  • When cooled, place the cold crawfish into freezer-proof and airtight containers, remove as much air as possible, and place it into your freezer. It’s worth noting the date of freezing so you don’t keep them too long.

How to Store Crawfish on the Countertop

Do not store your crawfish on the countertop, as the ambient temperature is unsuitable for raw or cooked crawfish. If they must be placed on the counter for serving, keep them as cold as possible (on a bed of ice).

To Sum Up

Crawfish should only be bought live, cooked fresh, or in prepared commercial packaging.

Stored alive in the fridge for 1-2 days, or 3-4 days when cooked, crawfish should otherwise be kept in the freezer for up to 3 months for the best quality and flavour.