Does Butter Have To Be Refrigerated?

  • Article
  • 2 min read April 23, 2018

There’s nothing better than buttering warm bread or fresh corn on the cob from a smooth, soft stick of butter. But is it safe to leave your butter out on the counter all the time, so it’s always room temperature and ready to melt in your mouth?

It’s a hot debate, almost as contentious as whether pineapple is acceptable on pizza. Some adamantly defend refrigerated butter, while others are fiercely loyal to leaving it out.

What do the experts say?

Good news for both parties: It’s OK to leave butter out sometimes, but there are conditions to follow to play it safe. Read on to learn how to keep butter from spoiling.

First, it helps to understand that butter is made from pasteurized cream and is a concentrated source of milk fat with some water and nonfat milk solids. Traditional American butter comes in both salted and unsalted varieties. Salted butter is often used to make roasted meats and sauces, while unsalted butter is typically used in baking.

Salted Butter

Salted butter is less prone to going bad on the counter than unsalted butter. If you’re a serious supporter of leaving butter out, go with the salted kind. It’s important to note, however, that the amount of salt in different brands of butter can vary. The more salt there is, the safer it may be to leave the butter out on the counter. Regardless of salt quantity, play it safe by limiting time on the counter to no more than a couple of days.

Unsalted Butter

This rule is simple. If you prefer unsalted butter, refrigerate it. Same goes for whipped butter.

If it creeps above 70 degrees Fahrenheit in your kitchen, all butter should go into the fridge to avoid going bad — even into the freezer if you want to store it for a few months. The bottom line is, if you love soft butter, buy the salted kind and take the liberty of leaving it out for a day or two. But, if you’re extra conscious about food safety, when in doubt, don’t leave it out. 

If you love buttering warm bread or cooking with butter throughout and would like to make your own, check out our article on How to Make Homemade Butter and don't miss our tips on Softening Butter at U.S. Dairy.