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Can Butter Go Bad?

Butter is a product used by many people on a daily basis. But there are also times when we don’t use as much butter as we usually do.

Like when we go on vacation for a week or two.

Will the butter still be fine after another week or two in the fridge? Most likely it will. But can butter really go bad? It sure can.

If you’re interested in learning how to store butter, how long can it be stored, and how to tell if butter is spoiled, this article is for you. After reading it, you’ll know everything about this kitchen staple.

Sounds interesting? Read along!

Half a stick of butter
Half a stick of butter

How Long Does Butter Last?

Butter should stay okay in quality for a couple of weeks past its best-by date if you refrigerate it. If you leave it on the countertop, it will go rancid within less than a week.

When it comes to the shelf life of butter, follow the date on the package. Those dates are pretty conservative, so even if you eat butter a week or two after that date, nothing bad should happen.

Unlike other dairy products (such as cream cheese or sour cream), it doesn’t matter that much if butter is opened or not. In other words, the fact that you started that stick of butter doesn’t make it spoil any faster.

Make sure you store it properly (more on that later), and all you need to keep in mind is that date.

One more thing worth knowing – salted butter stays fine for a longer period than the typical unsalted butter. When you think about it, it’s pretty obvious – salt is a preservative, so of course salted butter will stay good longer.

Slivers of butter on bread
Slivers of butter on bread

How To Store Butter?

As I mentioned, butter should be stored properly. What does that mean?

The oils in butter will go rancid because of the oxidation process that’s ongoing. Heat and light accelerate oxidation, therefore the best place to store butter is the fridge.

The oxidation doesn’t stop when butter is refrigerated, but it slows down. Because of that, it takes quite some time for the oils in butter to go rancid (and therefore the butter to go bad).

Making breakfast
Making breakfast

Of course, you can keep butter at room temperature, but it retains quality in such conditions only for a couple of days.

If you want your butter nice and spreadable, use a butter dish and keep in there enough for 3 to 5 days. Refrigerate the rest.

Another thing to remember is to make sure your butter is always wrapped tightly. This way, most of its surface doesn’t have access to air, which limits the speed of oxidation.

Want to see oxidation in action? Leave butter unwrapped for a couple of hours in the fridge.

Breakfast ready
Breakfast ready

If you need to store butter for an even longer period, consider freezing it.

Cut it into few smaller portions, package each portion separately and thaw in the fridge when needed. This will extend the life of butter for additional 6-8 months.

How to Tell If Butter Has Gone Bad?

As mentioned earlier, butter can go bad. If kept at room temperature for a longer period of time (like a few days), the oils will go rancid quite quickly.

Fortunately enough, it’s easy to tell if butter is still fine, or not.

Look for the following when checking if your butter is still edible:

  • Mold. If you can see any, discard the stick.
  • Discolorations. If the whole stick (the surface and the insides) is intensely yellow, instead of the usual pale yellow, it’s rancid.
  • Sour or rancid smell. If it smells off, it’s no good.
  • Sour or off taste. A sour taste is usually accompanied by a rancid smell, but if it’s not, you should know that your butter is gone.
Butter: closeup
Butter: closeup

If the surface of butter is intense yellow (unlike fresh butter), and the layer beneath is paler, it means it has oxidized. Remove the oxidized part and eat the rest.

Don’t be afraid of tasting butter that might be bad – a small amount of it won’t negatively affect your health. But if you already know it’s spoiled, get rid of it right away.

Bread, butter, and veggies
Bread, butter, and veggies

Summary

  • Store butter in the fridge, wrapped tightly.
  • If you want to have some spreadable butter on hand, keep a small amount in a butter dish.
  • Butter usually keeps for a couple of weeks past its date, and opening the package doesn’t change that much.
Bread and butter topped with radishes
Bread and butter topped with radishes