Butter: In the Fridge or Safe to Leave Out?
A few years ago, while visiting friends in Vermont, I was the source of helpful annoyance. It seems my host was left constantly searching for the butter dish, as she was prone to leaving it out on the counter and I was prone to putting it on the butter shelf in the fridge. While this didn’t cause anything more than some unnecessary confusion (no blood was spilled over chilled butter) it did set off a friendly debate over whether a stick of butter (securely covered in a butter dish) should find its home on the easily accessible counter, or in the chilly fridge with all of the other dairy and perishables.
What the issue boils down to for many is, not preference, as much as safety. Sure, nice room temperature butter is far easier to spread on warm toast than a frigid gold brick of butter might be, but if that warm golden sheen of fat sabotages your guts – well then you may want to rethink what goes where. However there remains a bit of controversy over what is the best and safest way of storing butter.
The USDA guidelines state that butter should be stored in its original protective wrapping or a “container until ready for use,” and to remove from the refrigerator 10 to 15 minutes before use. The USDA even goes one step further and suggests freezing butter not intended for use within two or three days. So if you choose to follow the USDA guidelines, you are looking at a life of cold, unspreadable butter. However, butter is made with pasteurized milk, which limit the chances of serious bacterial growth or spoilage (as long as it is sufficiently covered, like in a clean glass butter dish). In addition, there is fairly low water content in butter, and often there is added salt as well, which also inhibits bacteria.
Nevertheless, if you don’t want to take chances with dairy, you might just want to simplify matters and store butter covered in the refrigerator between meals. It will significantly increase the shelf-live and virtually assure safety. But the odds are, either way, you will be fine – it is the saturated fat and dietary cholesterol you really need to be concerned about.