Perishables come with an expiration date – but not everything goes bad by that date. Some things can outlast their expiry date by months and even a year.
In one of our previous posts, we talked about chocolate being one such product. Today, we are going to talk about butter and its expiration.
Can you use expired butter? Will it make you sick?
If your butter is past its expiration date, check for any changes in its smell or color. When butter goes bad, it smells rancid and changes color slightly. Expired butter also tastes sour. You can safely taste it to see if it has gone bad, but eating a lot of expired butter, especially if it has molded, will make you sick.
That said, keep in mind that under the right storage conditions, butter may not go bad immediately on that date. It may stay good for days, even months. You need to look at the signs of spoilage to see if you should throw the stick out.
Now, things aren’t as easy as we just made them sound. There is a lot to know about butter and the possibility of it going bad. Here is all you need to know to tell the difference.
Let’s start with the shelf life of butter:
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Shelf Life of Butter
Dairy products have a reputation for a short life – but not butter. Butter may be the most resilient of all dairy products. Even cheese molds much earlier than butter.
If you have packaged butter, the expiry date printed on the pack is usually 3 to 6 months after the manufacturing date. Most companies use “best by” or “sell by” to denote that date. USDA also suggests using up all the butter by that time.
However, if refrigerated properly, an unopened pack can last for about a month past the printed date. If frozen, it may even last six to nine months past that expiration date.
If the pack is open, you can put it in an airtight container and extend its useable life. Store it in a container with air in it, and the butter will only last two to three weeks.
Most of you must have seen your butter lasting longer than that. That is because we usually have a salted variety of butter in our homes. The salt added for taste also acts as a preservative so that it might last longer. It will stay good for around five months after the expiration date stamped on the package.
Bear in mind that these numbers are only an estimate of how long a stick of butter is useable past the expiry date. If the storage conditions aren’t favorable, it might even go bad before the expiry date. You should be able to tell if your butter has gone bad.
Butter Gone Bad
Like most dairy products, butter won’t go bad without noticeable signs. So, if your butter seems or smells okay, it probably is.
The smell of rancid butter is its biggest giveaway. Even if you miss or ignore the smell, you will taste the difference in just one bite because of the rancid oils.
There are some visible signs, as well. Butter can change its color when it goes bad, though it usually happens when it gets mold. It is rare, but butter does develop mold, though it often gets rancid long before it molds.
Mold will be quite visible on the butter—usually, mold results from cross-contamination. The FDA warns against consuming anything with mold on it.
If you suspect your butter has gone rancid or molded for any reason, you should throw it away.
There has never been a case of food poisoning from butter. It may be because most recipes only require a small proportion of it. No one chomps down an entire bar of butter.
Even if you consume rancid butter, it probably won’t even make you sick, let alone kill you. If you have a sensitive stomach, you will likely experience some discomfort for a while.
Although some sources suggest that eating rancid butter can lower your Vitamin E and B stores, the study cited is almost half a century old.
That said, keep in mind that butter goes rancid because of its high-fat content. Fat goes rancid when it oxides. Exposure to air, heat and even light can make fat go bad. That is why it is important to store your butter away from these elements.
Better Butter Storage
Store butter in a dark, dry place at 40°F or lower. Since butter has a lot of fat in it, it will melt and eventually spoil at higher temperatures.
Temperature is just one factor here. You need to keep your butter away from light and air. Put butter in an airtight container before you put it in the refrigerator. Experts suggest keeping the stick wrapped in the paperit comes in.
Just like a sponge, butter soaks in a lot from its surrounding, including odor. Uncovered butter will absorb scent from other things in the fridge and start to smell even when it hasn’t gone bad.
If you want to make your butter last longer, store it in an airtight container in the freezer.
Before we move on, let’s add that butter will stay fine at a temperature as high as 65°F. So, if your kitchen temperature is 65°F or lower, you can keep it on the counter. Just make sure it is in a sealed container and stored away from direct light.
Remember, the higher the temperature, the shorter the shelf life. Even something with antibacterial properties, such as garlic, can spoil at higher temperatures.
A Buttery Butter
If you don’t use butter too frequently, it makes sense to keep it in the freezer. However, that frozen butter will lack the buttery texture we love so much. To spread it on the toast, or even add it in a batter, you will have to thaw it first.
Leaving it out on the counter isn’t something we recommend. It is better to use a microwave and defrost the butter for 15 seconds at first. If it hasn’t softened, repeat the process until it does.
If you don’t have a microwave, it is best to thaw it in a hot water bath. Never put butter directly in the pan over the flame.
Butter comes with a ‘best before’ date instead of an expiry date, but it can easily outlast that date by months if stored properly. As long as it doesn’t smell or taste rancid, it is safe to use. Once it goes rancid, it will develop an off-putting flavor that will ruin any recipe you use it in. However, it isn’t a health hazard. It won’t make you sick – unless you consume it in excessive amounts, which we won’t even recommend for good butter.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long is butter good after the expiration date?
When refrigerated at 40°F or lower, butter is good for around a month past its expiration date. Frozen butter can last up to 6 months or even a year if unopened or stored in an airtight container.
What happens when you eat expired/old butter?
You will have a terrible taste in your mouth, and that’s the worst that happens when you eat expired butter. It will also ruin the flavor of any recipe you use it in, but I won’t make you sick.
What does expired butter taste like?
Expired butter tastes like blue cheese, which is not everyone’s preferred taste. Even if you don’t mind that harsh, rancid flavor, the awful smell will keep you from consuming expired butter. Bad butter has an off-putting vomit-like odor.
Is it safe to leave the butter out on the counter?
Yes, it is safe to leave the butter out on the counter, but it will only stay good for a few days. If you like your butter soft and spreadable, leave it out at room temperature. However, you need to cover it properly to prevent oxidization.
Can I use expired butter in a recipe?
If the butter is past its expiry date, it is still useful as long as it doesn’t smell rancid. However, if rancid, there is hardly any way to utilize that butter. It won’t be like substituting cream for milk. The bad taste and smell will ruin any recipe you will use it in.