Is It Safe to Leave Butter on the Counter?

Your grandma insists on leaving her butter on the counter because that's the way her grandma did it. But is it actually safe? Find out, below.

Is anything more frustrating than trying to smear cold butter on a slice of fresh bread and tearing it to pieces? Turns out, it is safe to leave butter at room temperature for just such a purpose. Follow certain guidelines and you (and your homemade bread) will be good to go.

Why It’s Safe

Butter is most often made with pasteurized milk, which means that it’s free of food-borne bacteria. In addition, butter’s makeup is naturally unattractive to bacteria: All of that glorious fat (80 percent of its composition!) means butter doesn’t have much water where germs can thrive. While milk is being churned into butter, the water molecules are separated and surrounded by fat, which is almost impenetrable to bacteria. So in this case, fat is our friend!

Plus, salted butter has even more points in its favor when it comes to hanging out at room temperature. Salt and bacteria do not get along. (Here’s what else you should know about salted vs. unsalted butter.)

How Long Does It Last?

If you’d like to store salted, pasteurized butter on the counter, go for it. Make sure to put it in a butter dish or crock to protect it from dust and other contaminants. Butter will stay edible for up to two weeks, assuming your house is kept at around 70º.

Yes, the butter will spoil eventually. Those water molecules will mingle with the fat molecules and cause them to decompose. Since light speeds up the process, keep the butter dish out of direct sunlight to give butter the longest possible freshness. Your best bet is to keep out only as much butter as you anticipate using in a week’s time. After that, you run the risk of ending up with rancid butter, especially if your kitchen is warm.

(Counters feeling a little crowded? Here are 12 tips to free up some space for that butter dish.)

Good News for Cold-Butter Lovers

If you’re bound and determined to keep butter refrigerated, we have several excellent ways to bring it to room temperature for that slice of fresh-baked bread, a batch of cookies and the like. Decide what works best for you, and don’t forget that butter can make just about everything better! Want to make butter at home? You can learn how to make butter with just two ingredients!

Grace Mannon
Grace is a full-time mom with a Master's degree in Food Science. She loves to experiment in the kitchen and writes about her hits (and misses) on her blog, A Southern Grace.