Does Butter Go Bad?

Almost all of us are using butter every day. Often we buy it in bulk and put in the back of the fridge, or in a compartment we hardly ever open. And it sits there untouched for a few months until you accidentally stumble upon it. The butter is past the date on the label, and now you wonder: does butter go bad?

Or maybe you bought way too much butter on a sale and aren’t quite sure how to preserve it for longer. Freezing seems like a good idea, but a lot of dairy products don’t freeze that well. So you first want to make sure if freezing is okay before you put those sticks into the freezer.

Similar questions come up often, and this article is here to answer them. If you’d like to learn more about storage, shelf life, and going bad of butter, read on.

Stick of butter

How To Store Butter

Most dairy products, like buttermilk, sour cream, or margarine, require refrigeration. With butter, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Generally, the fridge is the best place for long-term storage of butter. However, it’s much easier to use butter as a spread when it’s at room temperature.

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to eat the cake and have it too. The way to go about this is to use a butter dish. You cut a portion of the butter and put it in a butter dish, which you store on the counter.


Make sure the butter dish doesn’t sit in a place where the temperature fluctuates, as the quality degrades quickly in such an environment.

You keep the rest of the stick in the fridge, tightly sealed with its original wrapping. If the original wrap isn’t quite intact, put it in a freezer bag for extra protection. Good seal makes sure the dairy product doesn’t pick up odors from other products and doesn’t oxidize that fast.

Sliced bread and butter
(credit: Jude Infantini)

Can You Freeze Butter?

If you’ve bought way more butter than you can use, freeze it. In most cases, you will freeze butter for at least a few weeks, and such a period calls for some additional protection against freezer burn.


The easiest way to go about freezing butter is to put a stick or two inside a freezer bag and toss it into the freezer. Make sure to squeeze as much air from the bag before sealing it.

Alternatively, you can use airtight containers. Keep in mind that they both take more space and allow additional air the container, which might contribute to freezer burn. If possible, go with resealable freezer bags.

If you’d like to read more about freezing this dairy product, check out our guide to freezing butter.

Unsalted Butter

How Long Does Butter Last

Let’s start with butter stored at room temperature in a butter dish. Such butter deteriorates quite quickly, so make sure you only put in the dish as much butter as you use within 2 to 3 days. Generally, after more than 5 days the quality is usually awful and the butter gross.

The given period is only an estimate. It depends on many factors, like the average temperature in your kitchen, temperature fluctuations, or how often you use the butter. But sooner than later the butter won’t be good enough to use.

Butter on a cutting board
Butter on a cutting board

Butter usually comes with a sell-by date on the label. That date isn’t an expiration date by any means. It’s mostly a recommendation for how long the butter can sit in the refrigerated section of the store.

Generally, the butter will retain freshness for at least 3 to 4 weeks past that date, maybe even more. What’s important to note here is that salted butter generally retains quality for longer than its unsalted counterpart. If you’re afraid your butter will sit in the fridge for too long, freeze it.

When it comes to freezing butter, you shouldn’t keep it in the freezer for longer than 24 months. It’s not because the butter will spoil in the freezer, but because freezing negatively impacts the butter. That means the longer it’s frozen, the worse the quality after thawing.

 Kitchen counterFridge
Butter (unopened or opened)2 – 4 daysSell-by + 1 month

Please note the periods above are estimates and for best quality only.

Bread, butter, and milk
(credit: Whitney Wright)

How To Tell If Butter Is Bad

Since butter contains quite a lot of fat, it’s prone to oxidation. I’m sure you’ve seen butter with its surface oxidized before. Any time you cut a slice of butter and the inside is brighter than the outside, it’s the result of oxidation.

Partial oxidation doesn’t mean the butter is spoiled, but its quality is definitely lower. If only the surface area is oxidized, you can always cut it out and use the rest. However, if you notice that the layer of slightly-darker yellow is quite thick already, discard the whole thing.

When it comes to signs of going bad, the usual ones are:

  • discolorations or mold on the surface
  • sour, stale, or cheesy smell
  • change of texture
  • bad taste

If you’re about to use butter that’s a few weeks past the sell-by date, make sure it’s okay before doing so.

Last but not least, if the butter sits in the fridge for way too long, like 2 months past the date on the label, just toss it out. Yes, even if it looks and tastes okay. A stick of butter doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, and it doesn’t make much sense to risk foodborne illness.

1 thought on “Does Butter Go Bad?”

  1. This is not exactly a story. I jus read what the person wrote and I saw where he said if the butter is a different, lighter shade inside it means it is bad. Oxidied. My question is How bad is that. Will it make you sick? Wrse than that? There was like a dark yellow all over the butter on the outside. So I kind of cut that away and tried just using the inside part, plus put it into a recipe with boiling noodles and butter. Do you think this will make me sick, and if so how much, I know food poisening can be horrible. I sure do Pray I won’t get that,
    or anything. Is there anything I can do?

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