Can Butter Go Bad?

Butter is a familiar household food item that has a wide range of uses, from simply spreading it on a piece of toast to including it as an ingredient in complicated recipes. Butter is a produced by churning milk or cream until the butterfat solids are separated from the liquid. While cow’s milk is most commonly used, the milk of goats or of other mammals is also a source of butter. The two main types of butter are cultured butter and sweet cream butter. The former is most popular on European continent, while the latter is most commonly used in the U.K. and the U.S.

Image used under Creative Commons from Steve Johnson

Storage Techniques

Butter is solid when cool, spreadable at room temperature, and liquid when warm. It must be kept cool and solid to prolong its life. Since butter softens at 15°C (60°F), far higher than the usual temperature settings of commercial refrigerators, it is often stored in one of the warmer sections of the fridge. For this reason, some professional refrigerators even have a special butter compartment, which is purposefully kept at a higher temperature by means of a small heater. This heater keeps the butter section warmer than the rest of the fridge but still above room temperature.

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As to packaging, butter is wrapped in foil and/or wax paper to keep it from being exposed to the elements. It is normally shaped into a stick, which will contain 250 or 500 grams. In the U.S., the measure is approximately nine tablespoons per stick.

Once at home, your butter will be protected by a glass or plastic shield while in the fridge. When out on the counter, it should be kept under a covered dish. Butter is quite sensitive and must be constantly kept safe from all possible external contaminants.

Shelf Life

If wrapped tightly so as to prevent exposure to light and air and kept at appropriately cool temperatures, the life span of butter can be extended to a full three months. If the butter is salted, you can expect it to last for five months. These are only estimates, and so, one has to check each stick before usage to be sure it has not gone bad.

Image used under Creative Commons from Mike Haller

Checking For Freshness

The easiest method to check your butter for freshness is simply to look at the expiration date. The next step is to make sure that the stick of butter was tightly sealed before opening. Smelling the butter for any unpleasant odors it may have acquired and tasting a small bit of it to see if it has gotten sour are additional methods.

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Probably the most reliable method, however, is to cut off a cross-section slice of butter and view its coloration. The color of butter can range from pale yellow to nearly white, but what you need to check is not the quality of the color but the consistency of it. If the outer edges of the slice of butter are the same color as the middle section, it is fresh. If the edges are darker, then it is starting to go bad.

Butter is one of the most delicious things we can eat, but when it goes rancid, it is one of the worse surprises you will ever find in your refrigerator. You need, therefore, to always keep a watchful eye on the butter to make sure it stays fresh.

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