How long can I leave this out for?

Get quick answers to your food safety questions about dairy and other types of food.

I recently had a call from a concerned customer asking if it was safe to leave out a dish she was preparing for as long as the recipe directed her to. The ingredients included nuts, butter, flour and sugar and was to “rest” for four hours at room temperature before baking. She was worried about leaving the butter at room temperature for that amount of time, since it was a dairy product.

Butter and margarine are completely safe to stay out at room temperature. Bacteria need carbohydrates or protein to grow, and butter provides very little of either being almost entirely made of fat.

You can use a free smartphone app to find food safety information about dairy products

The FoodKeeper, a free app from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, stated that butter can be frozen for 6-9 months from the date of purchase and can be left at room temperature for 1-2 days.

The FoodKeeper app also has timeframes for how long dairy foods should be kept in the refrigerator:

  • Hard cheese: 3-4 weeks after opening
  • Soft cheese: 1-2 weeks from date of purchase
  • Cottage cheese – I weeks after opening
  • Dip: 2 weeks from date of purchase
  • Eggs:  3-5 weeks in refrigerator
  • Eggs, hard boiled: 1 week in refrigerator
  • Pudding: 2 days after opening
  • Sour cream: the use-by date
  • Yogurt: 1-2 weeks from date of purchase

The FoodKeeper not only has information about dairy products, but baked goods, deli foods, produce and anything else you might have in your home. It will even put reminders on your calendar prompting you to check (or throw out) food! This information is great during a power outage as well.

Michigan State University Extension recommends using the FoodKeeper app to help you keep your food safe. If you would like more information about food safety, contact your local MSU Extension office.

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