Everything tastes better with garlic butter. But as good as it is, garlic butter doesn’t last forever. So here’s what you need to know.
So you made garlic butter, a simple to prepare and yet deliciously rich mixture of butter, garlic, and parsley—and a mandatory ingredient for French escargots or chicken Kiev.
Now that it’s ready, you couldn’t help but think to yourself: “Hmm… exactly how do I store this garlic butter of mine? And, whatever the answer, how long will it keep?”
For the answers to your questions and the ones you didn’t know you had to ask, read on below.
Can Garlic Butter Go Bad?
Contrary to what many home cooks think, garlic butter can go bad. When garlic butter goes bad, it should be discarded, as eating it can cause a serious and potentially fatal foodborne illness called botulism.
Sources differ on the exact shelf life of garlic butter (and garlic in oil), but all agree that it tastes best and is safest when eaten immediately, or no more than a day or two after preparation.
Do I Need to Refrigerate Garlic Butter?
Yes, you absolutely must refrigerate or freeze garlic butter for reasons of food safety. (If this is the first time you read or hear this, don’t worry; we’ll get to why in a minute.)
Keep garlic butter in an airtight container in the fridge and use it up within a few days, or seal it in freezer bags, put it in the freezer, and use it within a few months, but never leave it on the dining room table or kitchen countertop overnight.
The key thing to know here is that refrigerating foods slows down bacterial growth, but doesn’t pause it completely like freezing does. So garlic butter can also spoil in the refrigerator, just slower than if it is not refrigerated.
Can Garlic Butter Be Left Out?
Garlic butter shouldn’t be kept at room temperature for more than 2 hours. Otherwise, it can become unsafe to eat and cause botulism. In summer, when the outside temperature is 90°F (32°C) or higher, this time is reduced to just 1 hour.
If you stumbled upon this article too late and that’s what needed up happening, err on the side of caution and throw the garlic butter away.
Unlike the bacteria that cause food to spoil, those that cause food poisoning are imperceptible; they don’t change the texture, smell, or taste of our food. In other words, even if the garlic butter looks, smells, and tastes fine, it can still cause food poisoning.
Why Garlic Butter Won’t Keep Long
Compared to other ingredients in the kitchen, garlic and butter have a relatively long shelf life.
Depending on the variety, garlic will store in the pantry from 2 months (softneck garlic) to 6 months (hardneck garlic). Butter keeps for 1-2 days on the counter and up to 4 months in the fridge, with salted butter keeping longer than unsalted butter.
But mix the two together to make garlic butter, and you get a product that doesn’t stay safe to eat for as long as the ingredients that make it up.
A disease-causing bacterium called Clostridium botulinum, and its ability to reproduce in low-oxygen environments such as animal fats and vegetable oils.
The spores of Clostridium botulinum are all around us. They can’t grow when they’re exposed to oxygen, so their presence isn’t usually a problem. But introduce them to fat or cooking oil—which you can easily do by mixing garlic and butter—and things become quite different.
Clostridium botulinum bacteria thrive in the moist, low-acid, low-oxygen environment provided by garlic butter (butter consists of about 80% milk fat and 20% water). The warm temperatures in our homes are a catalyst that helps these bacteria multiply even faster, producing toxins that can cause food poisoning.
Ingesting the toxins of this bacterium can cause botulism, a serious and potentially fatal foodborne illness. The toxins attack the nerves of the body, causing difficulty breathing, muscle paralysis, and death.
So garlic butter is completely safe if used up immediately (or shortly) after preparation. But it’s also a ticking time bomb if stored for too long, whether at room temperature or in the fridge.
Garlic butter is a highly perishable food item, and it should be stored as such. Refrigerate it for up to a few days or freeze it for up to a couple of months, but don’t leave it out for more than 1-2 hours at room temperature.
When in doubt, throw it out. Botulism is a rare but serious illness, and outbreaks of it have been linked to garlic preserved in oil before. Yes, food waste is a shame, but not when the alternative is risking your health.