December 16, 2022

Emergency Storage: Opening up a 10 year old can of Red Feather Butter

Back when I first started to worry about having a bit of emergency food on hand in storage, I bought a couple cans of Red Feather canned butter.  It went into the 'long' term storage pantry. Since we don't use this butter for every day I didn't (and don't) rotate it out. 

There are a few items that are difficult to store long term because the cans they are in degrade.  This includes items such as butter, tomatoes and pineapple.  I was thinking about the butter and how it was at the 10 year limit I had heard others mention in discussing its lifespan.  I put it on my task list to go into the long term storage foods and find the cans of butter to check them.

What I found was YES the cans had started to degrade.  You can see the edges were discolored although I couldn't see, nor feel anything actually leaking.  They were completely dry, not greasy and had no discernible smell or scent. 

The outside of a can of 10 year old Red Feather Butter

When you buy this brand canned butter, note there is never a 'best buy' date on the can.  Typically they are simply marked with something like DW02 which I've not been able to find out what it means and it's stamped on cans from all different years, so it's most likely where it was canned (?) but it's not a date. 

10 year old Red Feather Butter

In this picture (above) you can see the only spot I was really concerned about would be the larger, more bubbled (?) rusty spot on the right hand side. The other rusty spots didn't concern me. 

(NOTE the cans have been stored in a temperature controlled, dark environment away from excessive temperature changes, high heat, nor any sunlight this entire time.)

Looking at the outside of the can, I was pretty sure it was going to be bad inside... but I was going to open it up and have a look anyway.

Surprise!  It wasn't bad!  Here is a photo under the lid when I first opened it.

The inside lid of a 10 year old can of Red Feather Butter

Here is a picture I snapped upon first opening the can
An opened can of 10 year old Red Feather canned butter - a taste test
I scooped out the butter onto a plate.  Where the butter (and my rubber scraper) rubbed against the can it smeared with a bit of the dark rusty spots but the butter itself was still pure.  (See below).  I used a paper towel and wiped off the discoloration and decided to do the taste test.

Having home-canned my own butter I already knew that when you heat the jars or cans of butter to render them safe for canning and get a good seal, the butter is 'cooked' and in turn, the flavor changes a little, and gets stronger.  Sometimes home canned butter will turn a darker yellow depending on the heat and length of cooking time. 

This butter was a golden yellow, and stronger smelling than grocery store butter, but not like it had started to go rancid. The outside of the can was questionable, the butter inside was still clean, creamy and smooth.

My Final Thoughts:   The state of the can made me leery of course, and in 'good times' and 'times of plenty' I'd probably have been tempted to toss the degraded cans out without opening.  Butter is very expensive right now though, and I opened them to taste test, so I did.  It is stronger smelling and tasting than brand new, refrigerated butter from the store; while noticeable on things like toast, bread and rolls, when used in cooked foods or to season vegetables, it was fine. 

I'm not sure how long it would take before the oils took on a truly rancid flavor; perhaps within this year or next they would to the point of being 'yuck'?  There is no mistaking the smell and taste of oils and fats that have gone rancid so you would know immediately if your butter had turned.

I feel as the 10 year mark was probably longer than I would suggest storing them before rotating out though.  Personally I think I'm putting a self-imposed limit of 5 years on our Red Feather Butter from here on out. 

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