Identification of lymph node (LN) metastasis is essential for staging of solid tumors, and as a result, surgeons focus on harvesting significant numbers of LNs during ablative procedures for pathological evaluation. Isolating those LNs most likely to harbor metastatic disease can allow for a more rigorous evaluation of fewer LNs. Here we evaluate the impact of a systemically injected, near-infrared fluorescently-labeled, tumor-targeting contrast agent, panitumumab-IRDye800CW, to facilitate the identification of metastatic LNs in the ex vivo setting for head and neck cancer patients. Molecular imaging demonstrates a significantly higher mean fluorescence signal in metastatic LNs compared to benign LNs in head and neck cancer patients undergoing an elective neck dissection. Molecular imaging to preselect at-risk LNs may thus allow a more rigorous examination of LNs and subsequently lead to improved prognostication than regular neck dissection.