Does Margarine Go Bad

So there’s this half-open stick of margarine in your fridge. You switched to butter some time ago, so the margarine is just sitting in the butter compartment. You don’t like discarding food, so you decided to use the rest. You checked the label and noticed that it’s only a few days away from the date on the label. Does margarine go bad?

Or maybe you bought a few too many sticks or tubes of margarine on a sale. Now that you realized you went overboard on that sale, it’s time for damage control. You don’t want to discard the food, so you thought about freezing some of the sticks. Unfortunately, you’re not sure if your margarine freezes well.

If any of these questions and doubts sound familiar, this article is for you. In it, we go through storage, shelf life, and going bad of margarine. If you’re interested in learning more about this popular spread, read on.

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How To Store Margarine

You should store margarine the same way you store butter. That means you should keep it in the fridge when not in use.

If it gets too difficult to spread if refrigerated, you can use the same trick as with butter, that is cut a portion and keep it in a covered butter dish at room temperature. Make sure you cut only as much margarine as you need for 2 to 3 days.

Always keep margarine sealed or appropriately wrapped. If you expect to store a stick of margarine for a couple of weeks after opening, consider some extra wrapping. You can either use aluminum foil or put the stick into a freezer bag and squeeze out the air before sealing.

Sandwich on a wooden board
(credit: Shawn Fields)

If you need to store margarine for an extended period, freezing is an option. The way to go about freezing it is super simple. If it’s a wrapped stick, put it in a freezer bag or freezer-safe container and put into the freezer. Going with the bag is better in terms of space it requires to store the food. If your margarine comes in a plastic container or tube, you can chuck it into the freezer as is.

Please note that margarines with a higher fat content, that is 70 percent and more, tend to freeze better than low-fat ones. If you’re unsure how well your margarine will freeze, test out a third of a stick before freezing a big batch. Last but not least, when it comes to thawing, just put the margarine back in the fridge the day before you need it.

SummaryStore margarine in the fridge wrapped tightly. If you find it too difficult to spread, keep a small portion in a butter dish at room temperature.

How Long Does Margarine Last

Margarine, similarly to dairy products, usually comes with a sell-by date. That date informs the store how long they can keep the product on their shelves. That’s not an expiration date by any means, and the margarine won’t spoil a day or two past that date.

As usual, there’s no good way to estimate how long your margarine will retain freshness past that date. It depends on the quality of the product, its fat content, and if and how much preservatives it has. As a rule of thumb, you can assume it should stay fresh for about a month past that date, sometimes longer.

Please note that opening the margarine doesn’t matter that much, meaning it doesn’t significantly decrease its shelf life. That is, of course, if you store it well wrapped.

Margarine (unopened or opened)Sell-by + 1 month

Please note the period above is an estimate and for best quality.

SummaryMargarine can last at peak quality up to a month past its date. It probably won’t show any signs of going bad for an even longer period, though.

How To Tell If Margarine Is Bad

Let’s start by talking about changes in color. Once you open the package and store it for some time, you will notice that the surface is a bit darker than the “flesh” of the spread. The easiest way to see that is by cutting a slice and looking at the inside and outside. That color alteration is how fat reacts to the presence of oxygen. A thin layer is not an issue, and if you want, you can easily cut it out. But if the layer of darkened margarine is thicker, it’s better to discard the stick.

There are also the usual signs of spoilage that we need to go through. Let’s begin with the most obvious ones, namely the presence of mold, off or rancid smell, or a significant change in texture. If either one is present, throw out the butter. If it looks and smells okay, you can give it a taste. While margarine from different producers tastes differently, they usually try to mimic the flavor of butter. If it tastes okay, feel free to use it. Otherwise, it’s time to discard it for quality purposes.

One final reminder. If your margarine is already like two or more months past the date on the label, toss it out. Yes, even if it seems to be perfectly okay. I know some people tell you it lasts for months on end, but that’s stretching it.

SummaryMold, rancid smell, or change of texture are obvious signs margarine has gone bad. Prolonged contact with air makes the surface of the fat darker, but as long as the darker layer is thin, the margarine is okay.