How Long Does Butter Last?

Every time there’s a deal on butter, my wife buys a couple of sticks more than we need, to save money. We usually go through those sticks fairly quickly, but there also are times when we are concerned some of that butter might go bad. The first question that comes up in such a situation is: how long does butter last? And as it turns out, this dairy product can last quite a long time past the date on the label.

No matter if you’re buying the good old butter made from cow’s milk, or choose the sheep, goat, or even buffalo alternatives, the rules of storage and shelf life are pretty much the same. And if you’re interested in learning a bit more about those topics, read on.

Banana bread butter and milk
Photo by Whitney Wright.

How Long Does Butter Last?

Butter typically lasts a couple of months. Depending on the producer, its shelf life is between three and six months, and it’s usually a bit longer for salted than the unsalted variety. Of course, each stick comes with a best-by or use-by date, so you don’t have to calculate that date yourself every time.

The date on the label indicates how long the product will retain peak quality (LL), so it’s not like it’s going to spoil a day or week past it. In other words, you shouldn’t live and die by that date, but use it as a guideline instead. If you take good care of the butter, it should still be very much okay even a month past its date.

What’s important to know is that you can rely upon that date only if you always keep the butter refrigerated. If you keep it on the counter, so that it’s soft and ready to be spread, the shelf life shortens drastically. Depending on the temperature in your kitchen, it will start going rancid between 3 days and maybe a week.

If you already know that you won’t finish that stick of butter anywhere near its date, try freezing it. The process is super simple and allows you to lengthen the shelf life of butter even up to a year without any loss in quality.

Knowing the storage periods, let’s dive into proper ways to store this dairy product.

Breakfast together
Photo by Chris Lawton.

How To Store Butter?

You already know that butter lasts the shortest if you keep it at room temperature. But you also like having it ready to go at all times. Fortunately, there’s a way to get the most out of both worlds. To do that store a portion of butter handy on the counter, and the rest in the fridge. Keep that portion small enough so it lasts only for a couple of days, and each time it’s running out, cut and add another one. The best place for that cut butter is a butter dish, which is convenient to use, but at the same time protects the butter from oxygen.

The usual way of storing butter is to keep it refrigerated, both before and after opening. And it’s best to keep it in the coldest part of the fridge, not in the door (LL). If it comes in a big tub, close the lid after every use, and that’s about it. If, on the other hand, it comes wrapped, use that wrap to cover all its surface after every use. To give that stick even more protection from oxidation, consider putting it in a resealable bag. Easy peasy.

Now that you know how and where to keep butter, it’s time to talk about signs of spoilage.

Fresh bread and butter
Photo by Brooke Cagle.

How To Tell If Butter Is Bad?

It’s rather easy to tell if butter is off or not. All you need is to trust your senses. Here’s what to look for:

  • Funky, rancid, or bitter smell. Butter that has prolonged access to oxygen goes rancid, and the change of smell is one of its symptoms. Please note, however, that this dairy product also tends to pick up smells from other food. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that your poorly wrapped butter smells like the onions that sit next to it in the fridge. It’s up to you if you use such butter or not.
  • Bitter, sour, or stale taste. If the butter doesn’t taste fresh anymore, that’s a good indicator that it’s done for and you should get rid of it.
  • Texture change. If the stick has gone super hard of completely soft for no good reason, discard it. I have never seen that happen, but I read that it’s possible.

If the surface of butter stays in contact with air for some time, the outer layer turns darker than the insides. That’s normal and harmless if it is paper-thin. But if it’s thicker than that, it’s probably best to cut off that portion or discard the whole stick if it’s like half an inch thick. Such a thick layer of oxidized fat is no good, and you definitely shouldn’t eat it.

Last but not least, consider the date on the label when assessing if the butter is any good. If it’s already like a month and a half past its date, it’s likely best to throw out that stick and open a new one. Like with all things food-related, it’s better to err on the side of caution.


  • Butter keeps quality for up to a week at room temperature, and a month past its date if you refrigerate it. If you need more time, freeze it.
  • If you keep butter at room temperature, make sure it’s well wrapped or sits in a butter dish.
  • For butter that’s refrigerated make sure it’s properly covered, so the surface doesn’t oxidize.
  • Discard butter that smells off (funky, bitter, etc.), tastes bad, or has its texture altered.


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