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Does Margarine Go Bad? Storage, Shelf Life, and Spoilage

Let’s talk about the shelf life, expiration, and storage of margarine.

So there’s a margarine stick in your fridge that’s a couple of weeks beyond the printed date, and you’re wondering if it’s still any good. Does margarine go bad?

Or maybe you’d like to know how long margarine lasts or whether you should refrigerate it.

If either sounds familiar, this article is for you. Let’s jump right in.

This article is about all fat spreads. Some call themselves margarine, while others don’t because of the bad rap. But most of them are a blend of canola oil, palm oil, a few other ingredients that give them their flavor and texture, a portion of vitamins, and perhaps some preservatives to keep them fresh for longer.

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Image used under Creative Commons from ilovebutter

Does Margarine Go Bad?

Margarine goes bad sooner or later, depending on its ingredients. In most cases, the fat spread will either go rancid (similarly to oils), or its overall quality won’t be acceptable to eat anymore. That might mean separation, waxiness, hardening, or any other texture change.

Oils go rancid if stored long enough or in bad conditions, resulting in adverse changes in flavor and sometimes aroma. Since margarine is a blend of a couple of oils, it’s subject to the rancidification process too.

Sure, with refrigeration and some preservatives, many fat spreads don’t easily oxidize and go rancid, but that’s still one of the two primary reasons for spoiled margarine.

The second one is texture change.

That blend of oils and a few other ingredients isn’t stable forever. Sooner or later, the texture will change by hardening, separation, or any other unwelcome change.

If things get that far, tossing the spread is the way to go.

Now, even separated margarine is probably safe to eat, but it’s pretty gross, and I suggest tossing it for quality reasons.

Next, let’s talk about how to check if your margarine is okay to eat.

How to Tell if Margarine Is Bad?

Discard margarine if:

  • The texture has changed. Margarine should be uniform in consistency and easily spreadable. If that’s not the case anymore, it’s no good. It’s not a slightly separated yogurt that you can stir in and enjoy just the same.
  • It has darkened. If the margarine has access to air for long enough, it’ll noticeably darken due to oxidation. That’s not a big deal if only the surface is discolored. But if you remove a couple of layers using your knife and it’s not as light as fresh margarine, toss it. The same is true for spoiled butter.
  • It smells bad. Margarine typically has a pleasant buttery aroma, so if yours smells like soap or paint, it’s pretty obvious the product is done for.
  • It tastes off. Any noticeable flavor change means the product is no good. What’s most likely to happen is that the spread will taste bitter or harsh, both typical signs of fat going rancid.
  • There’s organic growth on the surface. Margarine won’t grow anything on the surface unless you help it. But if it gets contaminated, all bets are off. That said, if you keep the fat spread sealed and use clean knives, that should never happen.

If anything else about your margarine seems off, trust your gut and toss it. Better safe than sorry.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the shelf life of margarine.

How Long Does Margarine Last?

Margarine typically comes with a shelf life of a couple of months and keeps for at least a couple of weeks past the printed date. Opening the container or tub doesn’t really affect the shelf life, and it should still retain quality at least until the printed date, and likely beyond.

When it comes to storage time, margarine usually lasts longer than butter, but its shelf life is nowhere near that of oils (say, canola, which lasts at least six months after opening).

Now, what if your margarine is a couple of weeks beyond the printed date? Should you toss it without giving it a second thought?

Expired Margarine

Each margarine container has a best-by or use-by date printed on it. That date isn’t an “expiration” date but rather a conservative estimate of how long the spread should retain quality.

In other words, margarine can (and does) last way beyond the date on the label. So nothing bad will happen if you eat “expired” margarine, assuming there aren’t any spoilage signs and it’s a couple of weeks past its date tops.

Now, most brands recommend tossing their product if it passes the threshold, but usually, there’s no reason to do so. Unless the margarine shows any of the spoilage signs I covered above, obviously.

That said, I don’t suggest storing and using margarine for as long as it doesn’t show any signs of spoilage. Wondering why?

That’s because some margarines contain preservatives, and they can easily sit in the fridge for 4 to 6 months beyond their date without any noticeable change in quality. And I’m not comfortable recommending using margarine that’s that old, no matter how it looks and tastes.

Instead, I suggest tossing margarine that’s more than two months past its date. If that seems like a stretch, shorten that to one month.

Drawing that line in the sand makes things simple – if the margarine is two months and one day beyond its date, you discard it without giving it a second thought.

Finally, as you might imagine, storing the fat spread properly helps it retain quality for longer. Let’s talk about that.

Does Margarine Need to Be Refrigerated?

You should refrigerate margarine, as that’s what pretty much all brands recommend. That cold environment helps it retain the texture and quality until the printed date and for at least a couple of weeks beyond it.

Margarine usually stays safe at room temperature, but only for a very limited time. Stored this way, it’ll likely go rancid, or its quality will noticeably deteriorate within a few days, maybe a couple of weeks tops.

That seems like a good enough reason to keep your margarine in the fridge, the same way you store your butter.

Now, what if you accidentally left your margarine out overnight?

There’s no right or wrong answer here. I suggest you assess the quality in the morning, and if there’s nothing wrong with it, chuck it in the fridge and continue using it. Just keep an eye on the quality from now on, and expect it not to last quite as long as it usually does.

When it comes to other storage practices, it’s exactly what you expect:

  • keep the tub or container sealed when not in use
  • use clean knives and spoons when using
  • no double dipping
  • replace it in the fridge once you’re done with it

If you follow those, your margarine should last as long as possible without any quality issues.

Margarine Shelf Life and Spoilage Summary

Thanks for reading this primer on margarine. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Sooner or later, margarine goes bad. That typically happens by going rancid (which results in bad flavor and sometimes smell) or changing texture (think separation, hardiness, and the like).
  • Margarine has a shelf life of a couple of months and typically keeps for at least 1 to 2 months beyond the printed date without noticeable changes in quality. I suggest tossing yours if it’s passed that two months mark, just to be safe.
  • Margarine should sit sealed tight and refrigerated. Leaving it out at room temperature for an hour once or twice isn’t an issue, but the fridge should be where it resides. Otherwise, it’ll quickly lose quality or go rancid.