The answer might surprise you.

If butter is your bliss, learning how to properly store it for taste, freshness, and safety may surprise you. Keep these things in mind when deciding where to stash those golden bars. Consider the type of butter (salted or unsalted), the climate (kitchen temperature), and the type of container (dish or crock).

Blocks of butter and butter knife on parchment paper
Credit: Getty/Joy Skipper

It Depends on the Butter

Most commercially produced butter is pasteurized, which is a process that combats bacteria for safety. And because butter is comprised mostly of fat (80 percent or more) it helps keep bacteria at bay. First, check to see what kind of butter you have. Most experts agree that salted butter is fine to leave out at room temperature anywhere from a few days to two weeks, taking into account factors such as the climate and container.

The USDA's FoodKeeper app offers this guidance for storing salted butter: "May be left at room temperature for one to two days; one to two months when stored in refrigerator; six to nine months if stored frozen." After that, the taste can turn rancid or sour, says the USDA. The salt in the butter also does its part to help keep it fresh. If your room rises above 70°F, however, it's time to store the butter in the refrigerator.

How to Store Butter on the Counter

When leaving salted butter out, be sure to store it in the right kind of container in order to preserve both it and your counters. (Save the melted pools of goodness for the mixing bowl.) Use a butter dish or better still, a butter crock to keep light and air out—the more air-tight, the longer the taste is preserved. Most butter crocks have a chamber that holds cold water which sits on top of the surface of the butter keeping it cool and fresh.

Unsalted butter or whipped butter, however, should be stored in the back of the refrigerator to prevent them from going bad—although it's fine to take the butter out to soften an hour before using if needed. Homemade, raw milk, or any butter that is not pasteurized should also always be refrigerated. The FDA considers those TCS (time/temperature control for safety) foods which means they must be refrigerated for safety.

Comments (2)

Martha Stewart Member
December 8, 2020
Butter ( not margarine) can be washed if it starts to turn a little sour. Use cold running water and a small wooden spoon or spatula. Look for a video to show you how. It's easy and saves money.
Martha Stewart Member
December 8, 2020
As a single person, having butter in a glass jar on the counter ready for adding to a dish or spreading works well. The temperature in the kitchen is cool enough that melting isn't a problem.