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Does Margarine Need to Be Refrigerated?

Margarine. It’s not butter. So can you leave it out? Read on and you will no longer have to wonder.

Say no more: Somebody in your household left margarine out on the counter, and it’s been sitting there for God-knows-how-long.

Not knowing much about margarine’s shelf life, you put it back in the fridge where it belongs, pulled your phone out of your pocket, and typed “does margarine need to be refrigerated” into the browser’s address bar.

It’s good that you stopped by because we have answers for you. So let’s waste no more time on introductions and help you get right to the meat of it.

Should You Keep Margarine in the Fridge?

In a word, yes. Although you can keep margarine at room temperature for a while, it’s better to store it in the fridge, where the cold temperature and lack of light will protect it from spoiling and going rancid.

Soft margarine, the kind that’s spreadable and sold in tubs, is more perishable than hard margarine, the packaged kind that’s used first and foremost for baking.

So keep your margarine in the fridge. It has a long shelf life and doesn’t need the coldest storage temperature. So you can keep it on the top or middle shelf and reserve the bottom shelf, where it is coldest, for raw meats and leftovers.

As a general rule, refrigerated margarine lasts 1 to 2 months opened, 4 to 5 months unopened, and stays good for 1 to 3 weeks past the best-by date.

How Long Can Margarine Sit Out?

In an article on AskUSDA, a question and answer website for American consumers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says that margarine is safe at room temperature. However, the agency adds that margarine can break down into oil or water and solids if not refrigerated, so storing it in the fridge is a better choice.

According to the USDA’s article, margarine that’s separated into oil, water, and solids from being kept at room temperature may still be safe to eat, even if its taste and texture are somewhat different.

(Regardless, never eat margarine that looks moldy or smells rancid, or you can get sick.)

The Washington State University Extension lists margarine as one of the foods that can safely be held at room temperature in the event of a power outage. Other products on the list are butter, hard cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables (as long as they are intact), olives, pickles, jams, and jellies.

That being said, neither AskUSDA nor WSU Extension give specific guidelines for the maximum storage time of margarine and similar foods at room temperature.

Sources on the Internet and my bookshelf differ on the shelf life of margarine at room temperature:

Anne James at Survival Freedom states that soft tub margarine should always be stored in the refrigerator, while hard margarine can be left out on the counter for up to 10 days.

In reply to a consumer’s question about leaving margarine out on its Facebook page, Becel Canada recommends keeping its soft margarine in the fridge to avoid spoilage. “It should always be discarded after the best-by date,” the reply states, “or if it’s been left unrefrigerated for an extended period.”

In Keys to Good Cooking, American author Harold McGee says that butter and margarine will keep for several days at room temperature if protected from air and light. He recommends storing them in a butter keeper, so the fat is submerged in water.

How to Tell If Margarine Has Gone Bad

When in doubt, the best thing you can do is to let common sense prevail and trust your senses.

Let common sense prevail: If a tub of margarine has stood at a warm temperature for more than a few hours, don’t eat it or cook with it. Throw it away.

If you or somebody else in your family has accidentally left margarine on the counter for a day or so—and it’s cool in your kitchen—check it for signs of spoilage and save it.

Use your senses: Margarine contains 20% water and 80% emulsified fat. Its water content makes it prone to spoilage and is a breeding ground for mold; its fat content eventually goes rancid.

If you see fuzzy spots of blue or green mold on your margarine, throw it away. Also, if the margarine smells rancid, like wet cardboard, or doesn’t taste good, it’s probably gone bad and is no longer fit for consumption.

In Conclusion

Soft margarine is a perishable fat, and it must be kept in the fridge. Store it in the tub it came in, with the lid shut and sealed tightly, or transfer it to a butter keeper and store it on the upper or middle shelf of your fridge.

When it comes to storage methods and shelf life, hard margarine is very much like butter. You can leave it out for a few days, and it won’t spoil or go rancid. That said, it will stay fresh longer if you keep it refrigerated.

Know your author

Written by

Dim is a food writer, cookbook author, and the editor of Home Cook World. His first book, Cooking Methods & Techniques, was published in 2022. He is a certified food handler with Level 1 and Level 2 Certificates in Food Hygiene and Safety for Catering, and a trained cook with a Level 3 Professional Chef Diploma.