Dairy safety

Do you know what dairy products need refrigeration?

I recently received a call from a concerned resident asking if it was safe to leave out a dish she was preparing for as long as the recipe instructed. It had chopped nuts, butter, flour and sugar and was to “rest” for four hours at room temperature before baking. She was worried about the butter being left out, seeing that it was a dairy product.

Butter and margarine are completely safe to stay out, as there is little for any bacteria to grow on. Bacteria need carbohydrates or protein to grow, and butter is neither. Michigan State University Extension reminds that although butter is a dairy product, it is made of fat, which is not a “food” bacteria like to eat.

After this woman’s call, I wondered about the safety of other dairy foods being kept at room temperature, whether on purpose or by accident, and checked out FoodSafety.gov for more information. The information I found is also good for those of us who may experience a power outage.

What is safe to keep and what should we toss? Things to discard are:

  • Muenster and others
  • Shredded cheeses, including mozzarella and Colby-jack
  • Low-fat cheeses
  • Milk, buttermilk, opened evaporated milk, soy milk, opened baby formula
  • Sour cream and yogurt
  • Egg nog
  • Eggs, including hard-cooked and egg dishes
  • Custards and puddings
  • Quiche

These products should be disposed of, if kept above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for over two hours. If you do have a power outage, it helps to keep the refrigerator door closed so the temperature does not exceed 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Of course, every refrigerator should have a thermometer in both the freezer and refrigerator compartments.

What will be safe to keep at room temperature? FoodSafety.gov says these are OK to keep:

  • Hard cheeses, including cheddar, Colby, Swiss, parmesan, Romano and provolone
  • Processed cheese, like individually wrapped slices and “Velveeta” types
  • Grated parmesan, Romano or a combination, in a can or jar
  • Butter or margarine

Think about where these products are displayed at the grocery store. Many processed cheese slice packages and grated cheeses in jars are in non-refrigerated areas. That can be a cue as to what doesn’t need refrigeration.

Whether it’s a because of a power outage or just because you have a question about food safety, feel free to contact your local MSU Extension office or visit http://msue.anr.msu.edu/county. But always remember if you have a question about a food’s safety, “When in doubt, throw it out.”

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