This article was originally published on January 10, 2019, and has since been updated.
It’s normal for everyone to assume that when manufactured fatty foods aren’t refrigerated, they’ll sooner or later go bad. That’s the reason why a lot of people take to storing butter in the fridge, but the butter doesn’t always come out the same. So what’s the way around this issue? Can you leave butter out on the counter or fridge top? Yes, you can. It’s perfectly safe.
If you skim through the technicalities of the butter-making process, you’ll find out that it’s not bad keeping butter out of the fridge at room temperature. Pasteurization is a process of heating food items to a specific, non-damaging temperature.
This is done to improve food safety and prolong their shelf lives. Butter is manufactured with pasteurized milk, so in-bred germs are nothing to worry about.
Dietary fat is often a hotly debated topic, and butter is no exception. The saturated fats in it were once thought to be deadly, but current evidence doesn’t support that. Butter is made up of not less than 80% milk fats, and this makes it next to impossible for bacteria to penetrate it.
Butter is a by-product of churning milk. This churning process separates the fat globules from the buttermilk, which is why butter is not a good breeding ground for germs. Bacteria need moisture to survive, and there’s no distinct moisture in butter.
Also, a lot of people use salted butter at home. The salt helps make it less habitable for most bacteria. If you have high blood pressure or are following a low sodium diet, unsalted butter is a safe option as well.
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Why you shouldn’t freeze your butter
Cold is not an entirely ideal condition for butter. A lot of people will argue that hot is worse than cold. I agree, but let’s try to find a middle ground.
Refrigerating or freezing your butter takes away the flavor. The butter takes on a bland taste when you pull it out of the fridge, and this is a typical downside of refrigerating many foods.
It’s also an upsetting task trying to smear cold butter onto a slice of bread. You have to leave it out for a while to thaw before spreading, and butter always forms an unpleasant oily coat when it softens.
If you try to smear it cold, your bread will pay the price because it will rip all over. Really, how can one yellow, mushy thing cause so much trouble?
In summary, keeping butter in the fridge isn’t a crime, nor is it wrong. It’s probably better to do this when you need to store your butter for a long time; otherwise, it will go bad at some point on the counter. It’s just tastier and more buttery when you keep it out of the fridge.
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How long will the butter last on the counter?
Unlike honey, butter doesn’t last forever. Eventually, it will spoil, most likely going moldy. Water molecules from the air get into the butter when you open it.
It’s always best to use a butter dish to store your butter so that you can protect it from light, air, and anything else floating around. If left out long enough, the butter will eventually go rancid. You will know when this happens because there will be a noticeable smell and change in flavor.
Butter is generally safe to consume even for up to two weeks outside of the fridge. The room temperature should not be above 21-25 degrees. After this period, it slowly starts going bad. Heat speeds up the decomposition process, so be sure to place your butter away from direct sunlight or heat from other sources.
It’s advisable to buy butter in small packages so they’ll give out quickly if you plan to store them on the counter. It’s safe to keep your butter out of the fridge because that’s how you get to eat it at its tastiest.
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- Grace Mannon. 2018, June 4. Is it safe to leave butter on the counter? Taste of Home
- Adam Clark Estes. 2015, August 18. Stop refrigerating your butter. Retrieved from www.gizmodo.com
- Kevin Otieno. 2017, November 20. The ultimate cheat sheet on butter-making process. Dairy Technologist