Yes, dear readers, you read that correctly, and we’re not joking, either. Not only is it true that butter doesn’t need to be refrigerated at all times, it’s actually safe to store it on your kitchen counter!
Now, we know that for some of you out there, this news isn’t really “news” in any sense. After all, food storage practices vary all over the world, and in many countries, dairy items like eggs aren’t refrigerated at all, even at the store. (It’s all about when they’re cleaned!) Heck, when I lived in the Netherlands, I even saw milk on unrefrigerated store shelves.
Still, here in the U.S., we’re used to anything dairy-related, dairy-adjacent or even imitation-dairy automatically getting stored in our fridges. And thanks to our food-safety practices of washing eggs before they hit store shelves, pasteurizing milk at lower temperatures, and keeping cheese fresher for longer by keeping it cold, most of the time, that habit is a good idea.
The exception to that rule? Butter. Here’s why.
Have your spreadable butter and eat it, too.
Of course, this whole discussion raises the question of why you’d want to even consider storing your butter on your counter. It’s not like the refrigerator is hurting it, and we’re already big proponents of freezing our butter (and other dairy products) to make it last longer. So why keep it warm in the first place, safe or not?
To save time and to save your bread, that’s why! Any lover of toast, rolls, or even just sliced bread can tell you a tragic story of trying to spread cold, just-out-of-the-fridge butter and having it rip that precious dough into pieces. And every baker knows the frustration of waiting for that stick to warm up so they can make a recipe that calls for “softened” butter. Though we’ve got some great hacks to speed up that process, wouldn’t it also be great if you didn’t need them in the first place?
Hence, unrefrigerated butter.
You can keep butter out on the counter for up to two weeks— but there’s a catch.
Yes, two whole weeks. That’s the extreme upper limit for how long you can keep butter on the counter, according to our friends at Food52, but it also comes with an imporant caveat: you need to keep it in an AIRTIGHT container. They explain:
In agreement with USDA and FDA guidelines, most butter companies say to keep butter refrigerated. But, butter is mostly fat (usually about 80% fat), which makes it less attractive to bacteria than products with high water content. And many types of butter are made with pasteurized milk, which makes them even less prone to bacterial growth, says Organic Authority.
Keeping butter in an airtight container like a crock makes it last at room temperature longer (about 2 weeks), but when room temperature rises above 70° F, all butter should be refrigerated.
Salted and unsalted butter are not the same, however: The salt in salted butter makes it less susceptible to bacterial growth, so it should be fine out on the counter. Even so, salted butter will last only about a week before going rancid, according to John Bruhn at University of California, Davis, so it’s best to keep out only what you’ll use within a few days. On the other hand, unsalted butter is best refrigerated.
How do you know if that butter’s gone rancid? The folks at Chowhound tell us that “if your butter tastes stale, bitter, or has a strong smell, it’s probably rancid,” and also points out that Europeans are able to keep their butter out because they tend to keep their homes cooler than Americans do.
So what’s the main takeaway here? Simple:
- If you want to keep your butter on the counter, put in a crock – or another airtight container – and place in a spot that generally doesn’t get over 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It’ll keep for up to 2 weeks!
- Missing one or more of the prime conditions? It’ll still be safe out for a few days!
So what do you think? Will you be keeping a bit of butter – or a whole stick – out on your counter from now on? Are there any other items people usually refrigerate that you refuse to? Do you love butter as much as we do?