Butter is a beautiful substance, whether it's spread simply on toast or worked into a flakey pie crust. Your butter is likely in your fridge right now, staying cool for its next use, but did you know that you don't actually have to store it that way? Yes, butter can be left out at room temperature so it's ready for spreading — but not for long.
"Butter and margarine are safe at room temperature," the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) writes. "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."
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The USDA adds that margarine, on the other hand, might separate into liquids and solids when it's not refrigerated. However, it will still be safe to consume.
Though butter is a dairy product, StateFoodSafety reveals that since butter is 80% fat, it is not likely to grow bacteria. That's because bacteria cannot penetrate fat. Even if bacteria do get to the 20% water part of the butter, the fat still prevents it from spreading. Plus, prior to the butter being made, pasteurization lowers the bacteria count in the cream to safe levels.
In other words, you should only leave pasteurized, commercial butter out at room temperature. Do not do this with homemade butter.
There is another factor to consider. When butter is left out, it can become contaminated, which is why you should ensure that the butter is covered and used within a few days. If it's left out too long, the butter will become rancid — you'll know right away when you smell it.
For keeping room temperature butter as safe (and spreadable) as possible, here are three of our favorite butter dishes:
If you're looking for a pop of color in your kitchen, this butter dish could be it.
For a more homespun feel, try this hand-thrown ceramic butter dish by Amber Interiors.
Keep it simple and chic with this soft white ceramic piece. Blomus Modern Stainless Steel Butter Dish, $46
For a more utilitarian vibe, this simple stainless steel box will do the trick.
For those moments when you want to check on your butter without uncovering it.