Can Putting Softened Butter Back Into The Refrigerator Make You Sick?

The "do it" or "don't do it" of storing softened butter at room temperature is a timeless kitchen debate. Some people wouldn't dream of leaving butter out on the counter for more than an hour or two, concerned that it will make you sick. Others are genuinely shocked at the idea that there is anything to worry about and think back to childhoods when their parents or grandparents let the butter sit on the counter for weeks on end. It's one of those small kitchen habits where we just do what we were told, never really stopping to think if there is an actual reason behind the action.

The one undeniable upside to leaving butter on the counter is that at room temperature, using and eating it is a superior experience. There is the obvious advantage that butter is much more spreadable to room temperature, which means no smashing a hard slab onto your toast or muffin and mushing down in the process. Real Simple also states that butter tastes better at room temperature. Chilled food of any kind tends to be blander than its warm counterpart, and butter on the counter will let the salty, fatty flavor shine compared to some from the fridge, especially if you use a high-quality butter brand. But those concerns about getting sick are not unjustified. Butter is dairy, after all. So if you leave your butter out for too long, is it safe to keep storing it in the refrigerator afterward?

Softened butter should be safe to put back in the fridge

It turns out the two sides of the butter in the fridge debate both have a leg to stand on. The answer to whether softened butter is safe is that it depends. According to King Arthur Baking, if you left your butter out on the counter by accident for a short period of time, think hours or a day, then it is totally safe to put back in the fridge and enjoy it as usual. If it has gone longer than that, more than two days, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), your butter may end up rancid. If that's the case, the butter is done for, and you should throw it out because no amount of refrigeration will bring it back.

Even that two-day time period won't be exact, however. The Kitchn notes that salted butter will last longer on the counter than unsalted. Keeping it away from air and light by using a butter dish or other container can also extend the amount of time it can safely spend out, although two days is still the best guiding principle if you're unsure. If your butter goes rancid, you should be able to tell pretty easily, as it will have a noticeably bad smell. Follow those simple precautions, and your softened butter should stay safe, and then it will be clear to put back in the fridge whenever you want.