If you check out the refrigerator case at the grocery store, you’ll likely see a slew of tubs and packages next to the regular butter – but it’s not butter! Margarine, buttery spread, “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” – what is this butter-like substance anyway, and does it go bad?
We’ll explain what margarine is soon, but as far as when it goes bad:
Margarine will keep in the refrigerator several months past its expiration date when sealed (6-12 months in the freezer). Once opened, margarine should last 2-3 months when stored in the refrigerator (6-8 months in the fridge).
What is margarine?
Margarine is a substitute for butter that can be used for cooking, baking, or adding flavor to things like toast (just like regular butter!). Unlike butter, which is made from cow’s milk, margarine is usually made from vegetable oils like sunflower oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, and corn oil.
This makes margarine lower in saturated fat than butter, which is why it can be considered more “heart healthy”. Most types of margarine are also vegan-friendly.
Is margarine “bad” for you?
Margarine used to be considered “less healthy” than butter because it was often made with partially hydrogenated oils. (Hydrogenation is a process that changes liquid oils into a solid form.) Partially hydrogenated oils are a source of trans fat, which is linked with an increased risk of heart disease.
However, the Food and Drug Administration banned using partially hydrogenated oils in 2018, so any margarine on the market today is made with fully hydrogenated oils, which aren’t a source of unhealthy trans fats.
What is the shelf life of margarine?
Because margarine has more additives than regular butter, its shelf life is longer. Once you open margarine (it should always be stored in the refrigerator sealed or unsealed), it should last around 2-3 months. Unopened, it will last up to 4-5 months past the “best by”, “use by”, or expiration date (at least 3-4 months past).
When sealed, margarine should last at least 3-4 months after its expiration date in the fridge and 6-12 months in the freezer.
How long does margarine last after opening?
Once you open margarine it will last at least 2-3 months, if not a bit longer, when stored in the fridge. You can leave margarine out at room temperature for a few days, but if you store it outside of the fridge for a long time you’ll likely have a mess with the oil separating from the solids (not dangerous, but it doesn’t have a nice mouth feel!).
Can you use margarine after its expiration date?
If the margarine was sealed, you can likely use it for several months past the expiration date. Why so long? Margarine has several preservatives and additives that help it stay fresh beyond its expiration date. On the other hand, butter usually doesn’t have any additives other than salt, which is why its shelf life isn’t quite as generous as margarine.
How to tell if margarine went bad
Margarine isn’t likely to spoil very quickly, but it is possible if you have a neglected open container for many months (or years…some things can get lost in the back of the fridge!).
You can tell if margarine has gone bad if:
- It has a chemical-like smell, or just smells “off” compared to when it was fresh.
- Its color turns darker or otherwise becomes discolored.
- The margarine has a sour or soapy taste.
- There is mold present.
What’s the danger in using margarine after it’s gone bad?
Like other solid fats (butter, lard, etc.), eating margarine after it’s gone bad doesn’t come with great risk in terms of health and safety. You’d likely realize the margarine was bad before you ate enough of it to make you sick. Even if you did get sick from eating old margarine, it would likely be something like a minor stomach upset, but nothing too serious.
Best storage practices for margarine
- Margarine should always be stored in the refrigerator whether it’s opened or sealed. Keeping margarine in the pantry/at room temperature for prolonged periods can lead the oils to come out of separation, which will alter the creamy texture margarine is supposed to have.
- Always keep the lid on the margarine tightly sealed. If you buy margarine sticks, wrap them tightly once they’re opened to keep them fresh longer.
- If you’re not planning on using margarine very quickly, you can pop it in the freezer for even longer storage.
|Opened margarine||A few days||2-3 months||6-8 months|
|Sealed margarine||A few days||At least 3-4 months after the “best by” date||6-12 months|
Thanks to the additives and preservatives in margarine, you can use it past its expiration date if it’s sealed. If it’s unsealed, check for signs that it’s gone bad (off taste, smell, etc.), and if it seems fine then it’s likely still safe to use!
Leaving margarine at room temperature for a few days is unlikely to change its texture too much (nor is it considered unsafe). Leaving margarine at room temperature long-term can cause the water and oils to separate from the solids, which will make its texture unappealing. That’s why it’s recommended to store margarine in the refrigerator long-term!