Glass jar with peanut butter on kitchen table

There's no denying that there are many delicious ways to use peanut butter. You can spread it, bake it into cookies, whip it into a delicious Pad Thai, or go for some peanut butter fingers like Joey from Friends. Whichever way you spoon it, peanut butter is a hot commodity that currently resides in many of our pantries. In fact, over 296 million Americans consumed peanut butter in 2018 alone, according to Statista. In other words, we are peanut butter fiends!

Sadly, there is such a thing as peanut butter going bad. Sounds nuts, we know. It's a hard truth to swallow, but keep reading to find out the shelf life of peanut butter, how to properly store it, and how to tell when it's gone bad.

The typical shelf life of peanut butter

The shelf life of peanut butter depends on a variety of factors. What's the "use before" date? How was it prepared? How was it stored? Typically, unopened smooth and crunchy peanut butter lasts for a year, whereas natural peanut butter only lasts about three or four months (three to six if left in the refrigerator). Time to toss out that three-year-old jar!

On the other hand, opened smooth or crunchy peanut butter only lasts three to four months, while natural peanut butter should always be stored in the fridge after opening. A popular brand, Skippy, follows these same guidelines, as it can be stored in the fridge or at room temperature. It will remain its best by following the "best by" date printed on the container.

How to tell if peanut butter has gone bad

If you start to see oil rise to the top of the jar, there's no need to toss it. It hasn't gone bad! Simply stir it, and the oil will mix back into the peanut butter. Surprisingly, this happening is actually a good thing. It's a reminder of how fresh your peanut butter is, as peanut butter sold in the United States must contain 90 percent peanuts. While these nuts undergo the process of being made into peanut butter, it releases natural oils, meaning that's all you’re seeing—the natural oils pooling at the top over time. If you see any white stuff, don't panic. It likely means the oil has spilled. Some consumers have found that turning their jar upside down helps avoid this.

Look out for these signs

If you notice these signs, it might be time to toss your jar.

  1. Smell: Since peanut butter is practically a lifestyle, you should be able to tell right away if things are off by giving it a strong whiff. If the smell has turned rancid, it's time to say goodbye.

  2. Taste: If you're brave enough to try it, look for a loss of flavor. Don't eat too much, though. Figure out quickly if it has gone bad and then race to the nearest garbage can.

  3. Sight: Mold is a clear indication that the peanut butter has gone bad. Additionally, a change in texture is another sign. Has it changed from soft and creamy to hard and dry? (Keep in mind that refrigerated peanut butter is harder to spread.) Has the color changed? Become darker? If so, toss it.

So, if you find yourself with an old jar of peanut butter, keep all of this in mind to ensure you keep it in its prime. Given how good peanut butter is, you may never keep a jar long enough for it to go bad, but it's still better to be safe than sorry and offer this wisdom to other peanut butter fiends of the world. Anything else would be totally nutty.