Will Leaving Butter on the Counter Make You Sick?

Most of us agree that butter is awesome, but where do you keep yours?

Most of us agree that butter is awesome, but where do you keep yours? We weigh in on refrigerated versus unrefrigerated butter

During a discussion with friends recently, the conversation turned toward returning to the in-laws for the holidays and the differences in family attitudes toward what is acceptable and unacceptable in terms of butter storage. Exciting stuff, I know.

My friends were of the opinion that butter should be kept in the refrigerator, raising disbelieving eyebrows at the food safety practices of one of their mothers-in-law. Being a butter fiend who goes through the better part of a pound a week, I had to disagree. I can’t waste time spreading rock hard butter or waiting for butter to soften enough to cream with the sugar.

For most people, there are two issues here. The one foremost in most mindsfood safetyis actually the lesser issue. The second reason given for refrigerating butter, increasing shelf life, is a far more valid argument, but unless you want to fire up the microwave every time you want soft butter, you should leave a little out of the fridge.

Food safety: Leaving butter unrefrigerated

According to dietician and food nutrition educator Mary Saucier Choate, there is very little risk of butter becoming contaminated because of its low water and high salt content.

Long before it reaches the point of growing mold, butter will go rancid and develop an off-putting taste and smell. Even at this stage it won’t make you sick (though in extreme cases the smell might).

Increasing the shelf life of butter

The main reason for refrigerating butter is to increase its shelf life (there are also some misguiding health and safety regulations, much to the chagrin of gourmets and gourmands who like spreadable butter in restaurants).

Butter also survives well in the freezer if you want to buy in bulk or keep butter for longer periods; but beware, butter easily takes on flavours and aromas of other foodstuffs so be sure to keep it wrapped.

Butter’s life span

Fridge 1–3 months (unopened, 2–3 weeks if open)
Freezer 6–9 months
Room temp. (65–75 °F) 3–4 days
Crock 2–4 weeks

*N.B. unsalted has a shorter shelf life

Note in the above table the vast difference in shelf life between the opened and unopened butter. This is because it is the air, more so than the temperature, which causes butter to spoil. This is why butter crocks are so popular and efficacious.

The best containers for keeping butter unrefrigerated

There are many options for butter containers if you choose to keep your butter out of the fridge.

A French butter bell is one of the more stylish options out there and has been around for centuries. I found one at the Gourmet Warehouse, but most kitchen stores (e.g., Gourmet Warehouse, Cookworks, Williams-Sonoma) will have a good selection.