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I have just purchased 250g of Lescure salted butter (Beurre Demi-Sel) with a best before date of 23 July 2011. Today is the 2nd July 2011. I thought that butter has a shelf life of months, not 21 days!

What is the shelf life of salted butter supposed to be? Is my shop holding old stock or am I just being paranoid?

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There is a possible case that the butter isn't old. McGee writes that butter made from unpasteurized cream should be eaten within 10 days, else its unique aroma is lost. Maybe the addition of salt and/or other preservatives stretch that to over 20 days, or the manufacturer is being optimistic.

On the other hand, even if the butter is old, there is no need for concern. Butter doesn't catch germs or molds. It can go rancid, but this is a chemical change, which happens slowly. The affected parts are visible, and after removing them, there is no problem with the remaining butter - this is no invisible penetration as with mold. The butter must get really old (maybe > 6 months) to get small pockets of rancidity on the inside which are too much trouble to remove. And even if they aren't removed properly, eating small amounts of rancid butter isn't a health concern (although the taste is ruined).

Butter also doesn't undergo signinficant changes when it ages - it isn't like eggs, which are good to eat for weeks, but behave differently when fresh. So eating old butter isn't worse than eating fresh butter (with the exception of the raw-cream butter mentioned above).

For these reasons, I wouldn't worry about the butter. Unless it was sold as raw cream butter, it is probably old stock. But it is still good to eat, and will be good to eat well past its stamped date. If it should develop an oxidized layer on the outside, just cutting it away will be good enough.

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An excellent and comprehensive answer. Thanks! –  Hungry Horace Jul 3 '11 at 10:59
    
How to determine whether butter has gone rancid or not? I mean what are the symptoms? –  TheIndependentAquarius Jul 13 '11 at 4:02
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@Anisha Kaul parts of the butter turn a dark yellow and transparent, looks like melted butter. If you try it, it tastes very unpleasant. It is usually the outside which goes first, and then the bad part can be cut off, like the rind of a cheese. But if it is too old, it gets rancid pockets in the middle, and then there's nothing you can do but throw it out. –  rumtscho Jul 13 '11 at 11:29
    
Oh God, I have been eating it all till now, thinking it's just the melted butter! :banghead: Thanks for the enlightenment. –  TheIndependentAquarius Jul 13 '11 at 11:33
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@Anisha Kaul It isn't dangerous to eat it, just very unpleasant in advanced stages. But there are people who are highly sensitive to the smell and others who are less sensitive. Cut a small piece of the darkened butter (half a centimeter squared is enough) and put it on your tongue pure, compare with a similar piece of just-purchased butter which is still light on the outside. If you don't notice an off taste, there is no problem to continue eating it. –  rumtscho Jul 13 '11 at 11:48

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