The Great Butter Debate: Fridge or Counter?

Joelle Mertzel is on a mission to change the way we think about butter and she’s taking her case all the way to the federal government to spread the word.

In response to the Food and Drug Administration’s butter storage rules, which state that butter should be put in the fridge within two days, the owner of Northridge-based Kitchen Concepts Unlimited conducted her own shelf life study.

Mertzel and her team worked with an FDA/USDA-accredited food safety lab in Los Angeles. They randomly collected four samples of consumer butter from various grocery stores and tested for the main spoilage indicators (yeast, bacteria, mold and rancidity). The results showed that based on the shelf-life performed at Michelson Laboratories, Inc. the butter samples were of good microbial quality when stored at ambient temperature for 21 days. For up to 21 days, butter is free from spoilage and safe to consume. They tested Land O’Lakes, Challenge, Ralphs Organic Butter and President Butter.

Following the results, Kitchen Concepts sent a citizen petition to the FDA requesting the agency to adjust their recommendation on butter storage to 21 days from one to two days. Further research by Mertzel showed that 46% of Americans had no idea butter can be kept outside the fridge. That’s millions of Americans who have poor butter habits she hopes to educate. 

Joelle Mertzel is on a mission (Courtesy Kitchen Concepts Unlimited)

“It’s so frustrating that there is so much misinformation about what should be a seemingly simple subject,” Mertzel, who started the women-owned business out of her Northridge garage, tells L.A. Weekly. 

“The FDA, which is typically the authority, is literally delivering inaccurate information (1-2 days) with no basis and it’s unfair to the consumer,” she says. “So I have taken the initiative to spread the word that butter does not require refrigeration and can be kept on the counter for three weeks. We just petitioned the FDA and I also conducted shelf life studies where I had a food safety lab test unrefrigerated butter which proved that butter can be kept on the counter for three weeks, which is plenty of time to work through a stick of butter. In fact, your butter will typically last longer than your bread.”

“At the end of the day, it’s a joy to have soft butter always ready to go in the kitchen,” says Mertzel, whose love for butter helped launch Butterie, a flip-top butter dish. “It tastes better. It’s easier to use. And you even use less, because you are not chunking it on your bread. But half of America doesn’t know this and I want to help them learn.” 

So we asked an expert who spends most of her days up to her elbows in butter, Little Dom’s pastry chef Ann Kirk, if she’s team fridge or counter.

Can I vote for both?” she asked L.A. Weekly via email. “Practically speaking, softening butter for cakes and cookies doesn’t take all that long and you get a better baked good with slightly soft butter rather than butter that’s super soft from sitting out all day. However, I’m a big fan of having soft room temp butter on hand for slathering on toast or fresh baguette. I grew up in a butter-on-the-counter house and we never had a problem with it going bad. It definitely lasts longer than a few days at room temperature, probably a week or so. I highly recommend having a little on hand!”

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