Butter Shelf Life: Can It Go Bad?

We all need butter in our everyday life. Whether to spread on the bread, baking, sautéing, cooking, everything tastes better with butter.

Stocking up a few blocks of butter never sounds wrong. Until you notice that one of them is past the date, untouched and unopened. At this point, you’re asking: does butter go bad?

Perhaps, you forgot leaving butter on the table this morning after breakfast. You can’t stop thinking: does butter go bad if not refrigerated?

We all have been in similar situations above. Although butter is a kitchen essential that has been around for hundreds of years ago, related questions about butter’s shelf life and its storage keep popping up from time to time. If you are curious to find out the answers, keep reading!

How To Store Butter

In general, we can find some varieties of butter, namely salted, unsalted, flavored, unpasteurized butter, butter with oil, and cultured butter.

Most dairy products require refrigeration at all times, such as buttermilk, crème Fraiche, and sour cream. Most of us think that butter also needs similar storage conditions.

Producers will always recommend keeping butter in the refrigerator as it is the ideal storage to maintain the shelf life.

Does butter go bad if not refrigerated?

To a certain degree, butter can be kept at room temperature. USDA FSIS suggests keeping butter outside the fridge for 1 to 2 days.

Refrigeration is recommended for more extended storage, say until the best-by date. Additionally, during summertime or if you’re living in a warmer climate, refrigeration is highly advised to maintain its shelf life.

Refrigeration helps to slow down the oxidation process, consequently preventing butter from going rancid quickly.

Salted varieties tend to be more stable at room temperature than unsalted and other types. Salt helps to inhibit bacterial growth.

If you have whipped, raw or unpasteurized butter, it is best kept refrigerated. Pasteurization is effective in killing unwanted bacteria. In this regard, unpasteurized butter is prone to bacterial contamination when left out at room temperature.

The only downside of storing the butter in the fridge is that its texture becomes rock solid and makes it difficult to spread. Everybody has been in this annoying situation.

If you use butter daily, store a reasonable amount of butter that you can finish within a few days on the counter. Keep the rest in the refrigerator.

It’s a win-win solution. You can be assured that a spreadable butter is readily available while maintaining your butter supply for later use at a safe place.

Either way, always keep butter covered in its original package, wrapped in aluminum foil, a butter keeper, or a sealed container. Place butter away from foods with strong smells, such as onions.

Use a clean knife to cut butter. This simple habit (but often neglected) is vital to preventing contamination that may grow molds.

If you prefer to make homemade butter, make sure to keep it refrigerated in a sealed container to prolong the shelf life.

Can you freeze butter?

Yes, butter can be frozen up to a year. If you buy too many blocks than you need or the best-by date is approaching, freezing butter is your best option.

The simplest way is freezing the whole block of butter in its original paper wrap right into the freezer. For extra protection against freezer burn, place it in a resealable freezer bag. The only downside of this method is once thawed, the butter needs to be used immediately.

In most cases, we don’t need a whole block of butter at once. Hence, the following method is your new hack. Cut butter into smaller chunks or cubes. Wrap them in aluminum foil and place them in a sealed container or resealable freezer bags.

A side note, if you buy butter in a plastic tub, don’t freeze it in its original container. The plastic may crack open when frozen.

How To Tell If Butter Has Gone Bad

As with other dairy products, butter also degrades in quality and eventually goes off. Going rancid is one thing to anticipate with foods that are high in fat like butter.

Although you won’t be likely to get sick from rancid butter, it will surely spoil the flavor of your baked goods or dishes.

Some general signs of butter going bad are discoloration, sour smell or taste, growth of molds, and change of texture. If you spot one of these symptoms, there’s no better advice than to throw it out.

How Long Does Butter Last?

Store-bought butter comes with a “use-by” date or “best by” date printed on the label. This date is a guarantee from the producer that butter will maintain its peak quality, with instructed storage.

To our surprise, butter can actually last longer than we might think. So, if you happen to have expired butter, don’t rush to throw it out.

As long as you don’t find any symptoms of spoilage or butter going rancid, feel free to use it, but only if it’s still at a reasonable time frame, say no longer than a month.

If you are more convenient with keeping butter outside the fridge, try to keep a reasonable portion to finish within 1 to 2 days.

The shelf life of homemade butter slightly depends on the recipe and storage, usually between 1 to 2 weeks when stored in the fridge. This is much shorter than commercially-prepared butter.

Frozen butter can stay for 6 to 12 months, while butter with oil stays up to 4 months. Here’s how long different types of butter are good for:

Butter TypesRoom temperatureRefrigeratorFreezer
Salted or unsalted butter (open or unopened)1 to 2 daysBest-by or use-by date + 2 to 4 weeks6 to 12 months
Whipped, raw, or unpasteurized butterBest-by or use-by date + 2 to 4 weeks6  to 12 months
Butter with oil (open or unopened)1 to 2 daysBest-by or use-by date + 2 to 4 weeks4 months
Homemade butter1 to 2 days1 to 2 weeks3 to 6 months

This table is for a general estimate. The actual shelf life can be shorter or longer. It largely depends on the preparation methods, brands, and storage conditions.

Hence, don’t hesitate to spend a few minutes to give your butter a thorough check before use.


What should you do with expired butter?

Butter doesn’t necessarily go bad right after its expiration date as printed on the label. You can allow a few days to weeks after the date. Check for spoilage signs, and if you’re lucky, you can still use it. If not, it’s better to discard it rather than risking your health.

Why does butter taste like cheese?

Butter is not supposed to smell or taste like cheeses. If that’s the case, butter has spoiled and is no longer suitable for consumption.

Will eating rancid butter make you sick?

It can be pointed out that you can’t get sick with rancid butter but it won’t taste or smell very good.

Final Thoughts

Contrary to popular belief, most butter varieties can be kept at room temperature for 1 to 2 days. However, this should be avoided for raw or unpasteurized butter.

Refrigeration is always recommended for prolonged storage. Additionally, butter also freezes pretty well. Frozen butter can last for 6 to 12 months.

Rancidity is likely the reason that butter is no longer suitable for consumption. Next to that, if you spot noticeable changes in color, texture, even worse molds, it’s time to discard any leftover butter.

Up Next: The Best Butter Substitutes For Cooking

butter shelf life

*Photo by AndreySt/depositphotos

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