Is It Safe To Eat Expired Butter?

There are some food items that you just can't buy in bulk. As much as you might like to cut down on time spent in grocery stores, a weekly trip to pick up perishables like milk, yogurt, and fruit is pretty much a necessity. On the other hand, you can feel free to stock up on pantry staples like canned goods, pasta, and jarred sauces, which can last for many months if they remain sealed. As a general rule, foods in your pantry can last for a fairly long time, while foods that require immediate refrigeration tend to have a much shorter shelf life. However, if you go poking around in your fridge, you are likely to find some foods that last longer than you'd think.

Butter is an excellent example of a food with a confusing shelf life. It's a dairy product, which you'd think means it tends to spoil and go rancid fairly quickly. However, unlike cheese or milk, butter doesn't even have to be refrigerated. According to the USDA, butter can be left at room temperature for around two days without any ill effects. Can you imagine trying that with a carton of milk? Although these are both dairy products, they are far from the same. The expiration date on butter is much later than one you'd see on milk or some other dairy products. But is it still safe to use that stick of butter once the expiration date has passed?

Expired butter is generally safe to eat

Butter is typically considered "expired" after around one to three months when stored in the refrigerator. However, this expiration date is far from a hard and fast rule. For example, butter can last for up to a year in the freezer. But there are plenty of other reasons not to toss that stick of butter as soon as the three-month mark has passed.

In general, the dates that are stamped on food items are more of a suggestion than a rule. In fact, "best by," "use by," and "sell by" dates can all indicate the time by which the item might be past its peak freshness, but it doesn't mean that the food has gone bad. Butter is perfectly safe to eat even after the expiration date has passed, so long as it still looks and tastes normal. Butter can last a longer period of time than, say, yogurt, milk, or sour cream because butter is made up mostly of fat, which makes it hard for harmful bacteria to form on the surface. "The microbes that we're concerned about when it comes to food safety need water to grow. It won't grow on fat," Dr. Benjamin Chapman, a professor at North Carolina State University, explained to Well + Good. Therefore, as long as the butter still tastes good, there is nothing wrong with using "expired" butter in your recipes.

Bad butter will taste off

The shelf life of butter can be extended as long as it's stored properly. The key to prolonging the life of food is to keep it away from light and air, the two key culprits when it comes to food spoilage. Therefore, wrapping the butter in a sealed container and keeping it away from direct light can help extend its longevity. Some butter also has added salt, which is a preservative that extends its shelf life even longer. Salted butter can last for up to five months in the refrigerator, and over a week even if it's left on the counter.

The good news is that it's pretty easy to tell when butter has gone bad — no best-by or expiration date required. Bad butter will taste sour, rancid, and unpleasant, so you likely wouldn't want to eat it anyway. Old butter can also develop discoloration or a film of mold, making it simple to tell that the butter has gone bad without risking a potentially unpleasant taste test. And eating stale butter, even if it tastes off, is unlikely to actually make you sick. Although it is certainly unpalatable, the "rancidity has nothing to do with microbes or safety. What's happening is oxygen is binding to the fat and changing the chemical components, which can lead to a terrible taste but it won't make you sick," Dr. Benjamin Chapman explained to Well + Good.