Do you really need to refrigerate butter? (2024)

Butter storage. Who knew it was such a slippery subject?

The topic continues to pop up on social media, with many people often debating over whether butter has to be refrigerated or if you can leave butter out.

My husband always puts my counter butter back in the refrigerator and honestly I might divorce him over it.

— Kristen (@krstnms) October 8, 2018

@Abs_Han then HOW DO U SPREAD IT

— lauren (@LaurenTbh) August 18, 2015

It's no wonder: If you have a stick of butter in your kitchen — and most of us do — you've obviously made a choice about where to store it. Sure, leaving it on the counter is convenient for buttering bread without tearing it to shards ... but is it safe? We turned to food experts for the verdict.

Does butter need to be refrigerated?

Food safety experts told TODAY Food that yes, you can leave butter out on the counter — as long as you follow a few guidelines (see below). Of course, they had some caveats, too.

First: Storing butter in the fridge is obviously going to be the most foolproof way of keeping the food safe and free of potential contaminants.

"Let's equate it to going out in a thunderstorm. If you take a walk a around the block, are you going to get struck? Probably not. But to make absolutely sure, stay in doors until storm passes. It's the same thing with food safety," Joe Kivett, co-author of "The Food Safety Book: What You Don't Know Can Kill You," told TODAY.

Butter's super-high fatty acid content is what makes it less susceptible to bacteria, as opposed to foods with high-water content, Kivett explained.

He and co-author Mark Tamplin, as well as another set of food-safety experts — Don Schaffner, food microbiology professor at Rutgers University and Ben Chapman, professor at North Carolina State University, who are co-hosts of the "Food Safety Talk" podcast — all assured us that leaving butter on the counter (as many Europeans do) is safe, as long as you follow the rules below.

How do you store butter on the counter safely and how long can butter sit out?

1. Use pasteurized butter. Unless it says "raw," most butter is pasteurized, meaning it's free of pathogens (bacteria that can cause foodborne illness).

2. Make sure it's salted. Salt keeps that evil bacteria at bay.

3. Store in an air-tight container. Keeping the butter container covered prevents food, liquids, cleaning products or other foreign items from contaminating the butter, Kivett and Tamplin said.

4. Keep it out for a week or two, max. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, butter may develop a rancid taste after a week or two; the cooler your kitchen, the longer it will last, Kivett and Tamplin added. One way to keep waste away? Remove from the fridge only the amount of butter you will use in one week.

5. Don't cross-contaminate. Because it's pasteurized, butter can only be contaminated by outside sources like someone’s hands (while opening the package) or a dirty utensil, Kivett and Tamplin noted. They recommend cutting/scooping the portion of butter you plan to use, and placing it on a small plate to minimize the risk of contaminating the butter in the storage dish.

Food poisoning outbreaks due to butter are exceedingly rare nowadays (due to all that pasteurization). There is one example of a case in Finland in the 1990s linked to Listeria monocytogenes in butter, but this was based on butter made from contaminated raw materials, and the people who were affected were already sick and in the hospital, Schaffner added.

Can butter go bad?

Safety issues aside, taste also goes downhill eventually when butter is left on the counter. Due to the high-fat content, butter is prone to oxidation and rancidity, which is why it will become "unpalatable," after that week or two mark, Schaffner explained.

Do you really need to refrigerate butter? (1)

Using an air tight container and cooler temperatures are also key to keeping up the fresh taste, plus you wouldn't want the butter to melt all over a hot counter anyway.

Lisa Tremain, spokesperson for Butter Bell, a company that makes insulated ceramic containers for butter based on 19th-century French "beurrier" crocs, said, "When we first launched our product line, back in 1996, we had many customers telling us how they had relatives (usually grandmothers) that would leave a stick of butter on a plate in the cupboard with a cheesecloth covering the butter. Unfortunately, that method doesn't preserve the butter for very long — especially if you are not using the butter too often."

"Leaving butter out on the counter instead of refrigeration," she added, "is nothing new."

This story was originally published April 14, 2017.

Do you really need to refrigerate butter? (2024)


Do you really need to refrigerate butter? ›

For long-term storage, it is still safest to store butter wrapped or covered in the refrigerator. But for spreadable butter bliss, a small amount can be stored, fully covered, at room temperature — with a few caveats.

Does butter really need to be refrigerated? ›

For more information about butter, you may call the FDA toll-free at 888-723-3366 or go to FDA's website. Butter and margarine are safe at room temperature. However, if butter is left out at room temperature for several days, the flavor can turn rancid so it's best to leave out whatever you can use within a day or two.

Is it okay to leave butter on the counter? ›

Yes, you can keep butter on the counter, according to the Department of Agriculture. Butter and margarine can both be stored at room temperature, but be mindful of a few things. The USDA recommends only leaving out an amount of butter that can be used within two days.

Do butter portions need to be refrigerated? ›

Let me get this part out of the way: According to the Food and Drug Administration, it's safe to leave butter and margarine out at room temperature.

Can I store butter without fridge? ›

Whether it's OK to leave butter out at room temperature or not is a hotly debated issue, but the truth is it's perfectly fine to keep butter out at room temperature for up to two weeks. The concern for room-temperature butter is that it will go rancid.

Can butter make you sick if not refrigerated? ›

Unlike soft cheeses, such as cream cheese, ricotta, or cottage cheese, butter can stay out of the fridge for hours, even days, without the risk of spoilage or food safety issues. "Butter is safe to eat after being out at room temperature," says Bri Bell, a registered dietitian, and food safety expert.

Should peanut butter be refrigerated? ›

According to The National Peanut Board, an unopened jar of peanut butter can last six to nine months at room temperature. Once opened, they say that it can last two to three months in the pantry before you should move it to the fridge, where it can maintain quality for another three to four months.

How long will unrefrigerated butter last? ›

Should You Leave Butter on the Counter? According to the USDA, butter is safe at room temperature. But if it's left out for several days at room temperature, it can turn rancid causing off flavors. The USDA does not recommend leaving it out more than one to two days.

Can you put softened butter back in the fridge? ›

Can you put softened butter back in the fridge? You sure can! But as with any dairy product, there are always precautions to take. The USDA recommends keeping butter at room temperature for no more than two days to prevent spoilage.

How long does butter need to sit out to be room temperature? ›

To soften butter, we recommend leaving it on the kitchen counter for 30 minutes to an hour. Keep in mind that the speed at which your butter will soften depends on the temperature of your kitchen. If it's wintertime, you might need to leave your butter on the counter overnight to fully soften.

Do Europeans refrigerate butter? ›

"Back in Europe, to this day, butter is made with raw milk, versus here in the states, where it is made with pasteurized milk, allowing it to be stored out in the pantry or countertops." As a chef, Uzarowski has a preference for storing butter mostly in the pantry or out on the counter.

Is it better to keep butter in the fridge or pantry? ›

It Stays Fresh Longer in the Fridge

Salted butter does not need to be stored in the fridge since the risk of bacterial growth is so low. Studies have shown that butter has a shelf life of many months, even when stored at room temperature ( 6 , 10 ). However, it will stay fresh longer if it is kept in the refrigerator.

Does individually packaged butter need to be refrigerated? ›

For long-term storage, it is still safest to store butter wrapped or covered in the refrigerator. But for spreadable butter bliss, a small amount can be stored, fully covered, at room temperature — with a few caveats.

What butter does not need to be refrigerated? ›

It's worth noting that clarified butter or ghee—which has been cooked and filtered to remove its protein and water content—can last even longer than conventional butter: up to six months at room temperature and a year (or possibly even more) in the fridge.

Why doesn't real butter need to be refrigerated? ›

And butter is mostly fat. It contains a small amount of water (16–17 percent), and a very small amount of protein, somewhere in the range of 3–4 percent. Not enough to promote significant bacteria growth. This is especially the case with salted butter, since salt inhibits the growth of bacteria.

How was butter kept before refrigeration? ›

Before refrigerators, the springhouse was a fixture around most homes, providing a place to keep milk, butter, and other perishables from spoiling. Running springwater kept temperatures cool enough to preserve foods even on hot summer days. The “house” was a wooden structure with a roof built directly over the spring.

How long does butter last at room temperature in the fridge? ›

It can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour for refrigerated butter to soften to room temperature. Speed things up by cutting the butter into 1-inch cubes: Take a stick of butter and halve it lengthwise. Flip the butter on its side and halve it lengthwise again.

Does butter really go bad in the fridge? ›

Refrigerated butter should last up to a month past the printed date if it's unopened. If the butter has been opened, it can last up to two weeks past that printed date. If you're storing the butter longer term, unopened butter stored in the freezer can last anywhere from nine months to a year past the date.

Does Texas Roadhouse butter need to be refrigerated? ›

Storing Texas Roadhouse Butter

To Store: Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 7 days. You can also store leftovers at room temperature (providing the ambient room temperature is not too warm) for up to 2 days. To Freeze: You can freeze the butter for up to 2 months.

What is the best way to store butter? ›

Once the carton has been opened, place it in a resealable plastic bag or airtight container and store in refrigerator," says Engen.


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