Butter is less perishable than other dairy foods. Even at room temperature, it doesn't go bad right away. What is the shelf life of butter?
Some people store butter outside of the fridge for a few days. Is that safe? How long does butter last in the fridge, and how long in the freezer?
Butter doesn't spoil nearly as fast as milk at room temperature and may be ok to leave outside the fridge for a day or two. It lasts for months in the fridge, a year in the freezer, and a few years if you preserve it properly.
Refrigeration is not enough to preserve butter for a long time. The taste and texture of the butter will get worse if you leave it in the fridge for too long. The freezer is a better place to store it.
I have made butter last for a year simply by putting it in the freezer. You can freeze it for at least most of a year and have it taste good after you remove it. I have also used preserved (canned) butter after more than two years, and it still tasted great.
Storing Butter in the Freezer
Freezing your butter as soon as you get it is the easiest way to store butter for a long time. If you keep butter in your freezer for a year, freezer burn may make it inedible. However, the wax paper that the butter comes wrapped in can protect it from freezer burn.
Using Frozen Butter
If you are using melted butter for cooking, you can use frozen butter right away. The butter will melt very fast (30 seconds) if you put it in the microwave. Watch your butter the whole time, as you can overcook and burn it easily.
If you need to soften but not melt the frozen butter, you can also do this in a microwave. Microwave the butter for 10 seconds, then flip the butter over and microwave the other side for another 10 seconds. It will soften but not melt if you heat both sides evenly this way.
If you have a bit more time, you can move your butter from the freezer to the fridge for a few days. It will warm up and be as soft as if it were never frozen.
When Should You Get Rid of Butter?
If your butter smells only a little bit bad, get rid of it. Don't take any chances - there might be harmful bacteria that could make you sick in it already.
How to Get Butter Cheaply
Around Christmas or any other major holiday, butter is usually cheaper. You can save money on butter the whole year round if you buy it before a holiday and freeze it.
Butter Doesn't Go Bad as Fast as Other Dairy
Since milk contains sugars and lactose, it goes bad fast at room temperature. Butter is mainly fat, and fat doesn't go bad as fast or in the same way.
Some people report being able to keep butter outside of the fridge for up to a week without using it. A lot of the time, this is fine - butter doesn't spoil easily, especially not salted butter. However, I do not recommend this - you might not be so lucky and get sick.
Many people keep a small amount of butter outside of the fridge, in a small bowl with a plate over it. This can sometimes be fine, depending on how it is left out, but the fridge is safer. A day or two is a better idea than a week.
Can Butter Become Rancid?
Yes, butter can become rancid through oxidation. Rancidity is not the same as rotting. Rancidity happens when unsaturated fats interact with oxygen molecules and change.
After the unsaturated fats oxidize, it ruins the taste and smell of the food. There is another form of rancidity that is caused by bacteria.
While eating rancid butter is not as dangerous as eating rotten butter, it is still unsafe. Rancid butter can give you stomach illnesses. Throw butter away at the first sign that it may have gone bad.
How Long Does Butter Last Without Refrigeration?
One stick of butter may last much longer than another. It depends on a few different things - temperature, light, and whether the butter is salted.
If the butter is both salted and pasteurized, it is reasonably safe to leave it out on the counter at room temperature. Certainly, it is not like leaving meat or milk out. It won't spoil nearly as quickly.
It is not easy for bacteria to grow in fat. Pasteurization kills most of the bacteria, and salt prevents bacterial growth. This does not mean that the butter cannot spoil, but the odds of the butter spoiling are low.
What is Pasteurization?
Pasteurization is a way of killing bacteria to make food products safer. The food is heated but not boiled, killing bacteria so that the product lasts longer before spoiling. Pasteurization is important for dairy products.
While pasteurization is effective, it does not prevent bacterial growth. Bacterial spores may remain after pasteurization and grow into new bacteria. Outside bacteria can also contaminate the food.
Many foods and drinks that are pasteurized are:
- Fruit juice
Is All Butter Pasteurized?
In the United States, all milk must be pasteurized in most states. Is this also true for butter, or are the authorities more lenient?
Unpasteurized butter is not much easier to find in the United States than unpasteurized milk. Dairy products must be pasteurized to be sold to customers in many states. Even where they can be sold legally, they cannot be shipped across state lines.
While raw milk and raw butter may have some health benefits, pasteurization does make it reasonably safe to leave your butter out at room temperature. If you accidentally leave milk (even if pasteurized) out for a while, you might get rid of it to be on the safe side. However, you do not have to do this with butter - it is more resistant to bacteria than other dairy products.
Can You Make Butter Last for Years?
Yes, you can make butter last for three or more years by canning it. Putting butter in the freezer is a simple but not an ideal way to preserve it.
In an emergency where you would be thankful for your stored food, you might not have any power. Nothing that you have to keep frozen is really part of your emergency food supply.
How Does Canning Butter Work?
Canning butter involves removing all of the water from the butter and then putting the butter in sterilized, airtight jars for storage. This way, you can keep the butter good for years without even needing to freeze or refrigerate it.
Boil the butter slowly on low heat. A lighter-colored layer will rise to the top, which you should repeatedly skim off. Put your canning jars in boiling water for 20 minutes to make sure they are sterile.
After you have skimmed the white layer from the top of your butter away for 20 minutes, quickly put the butter in your jars. You do not have to make a small amount at a time; making a large amount will work.
Preserved Butter Has Some Advantages
Preserved or clarified butter is also known as Ghee and is popular in India. It has many advantages over regular butter. It tastes better to many people, does not have to be refrigerated, and is soft and spreadable.
About THE AUTHOR
I have over a decade of experience in food and beverage management, including a ServSafe food safety qualification. As part of this qualification, I have been professionally trained in safe food storage.Read More About Mark Walker