Before You Leave Butter On The Counter, Read This

USDA assures consumers that butter is safe at room temperature for up to two days.

By Tori Hook | Published


Growing up, most of us scooped pats of butter from our parents’ or grandparents’ butter dishes onto toast, biscuits, tortillas, pancakes, and everything in between. The spread in the dish sat at room temperature on the countertop for hours, even days on end. In the modern age, though, we have more information available to us about food safety and, with education, have greatly reduced the reported number of foodborne illnesses.

The rules around meats and cheeses are widely known, but what about butter? Many baking recipes call for softened product, or some that’s been left to warm to room temperature. According to CNN, Knowing how long butter can sit out for—and why—is important to ensure that you never fall victim to a foodborne illness.

Though butter does have a longer shelf-life than milk, both in the refrigerator and on the counter, it’s important to remember that it’s still a dairy product. The spreadable product is made when milk or cream is churned, separating the solids from the liquid. All commercially-sold butter in the U.S. will be pasteurized, which means it’s been treated to remove potentially dangerous microorganisms.

Though butter may seem innocuous compared to many of the other carriers of illness in the kitchen, it has been connected to lots of bacteria, which can be introduced at home or even by someone who handles it at a restaurant. Even though spread is a dairy product, the USDA assures consumers that it is safe at room temperature for up to two days. However, the outside of the butter may start to turn rancid after that; even though it remains technically safe to eat, the flavor will have suffered.

Butter bells, also known as butter crocks, are a tool you can use to safely store the spread on the counter for close to a week, effectively doubling or tripling the shelf life of your softened spread. Butter crocks aren’t ideal for baking but are great for keeping the product softened as a spread. At first glance, butter crocks might seem like an optical illusion; the spread rests upside down in a bell with a jar holding water at the bottom of it.

The water at the bottom of the butter crock cuts off oxygen from reaching the spread, preventing it from turning rancid while keeping it soft and spreadable. Some things to keep in mind when you’re using the bell is that it only works with real butter, so don’t try to use margarine or other oil-based spreads. You’ll also want to follow the instructions for using your bell closely; everything from packing the product into the bell to filling the jar with the right amount of water can have an effect of the butter crock’s efficacy.

You’re unlikely to get a foodborne illness from the sitting on your grandma’s counter, but it’s always best to follow food safety practices whenever possible. If your kitchen is over 70 degrees Fahrenheit, your spread should be stored in the fridge. For smooth, soft, spreadable butter, don’t leave it on the counter for more than a few days without a butter bell; when in doubt, put it in the fridge!