Friday, February 3, 2012

Bottled Butter. Is it on the Side of Safety?

I don't home can butter. I don't recommend it to anyone I actually care about. Since I care about everyone who reads my blog, I'm making sure I'm clear on this subject right now. 
Photo from

A few years ago my friend Angela at Food Storage and Survival wrote about canning butter on her website. That was the first time the issue of bottling butter and safety came to my attention. Thank you Angela!  I admittedly didn't have all the facts. At that time I'd been pressure canning my butter after the advice of a friend at church. Angela and I responded back and forth in comments on her blog. I  borrowed a microbiology book.  I spent hours studying the safety on my own. But...once I got educated on the safety (or lack thereof) when she posted Bottled Butter Part 2 ...I stopped. PERIOD. I admitted I was wrong. (Yes. It's okay to admit you're wrong.)  I admit I'm wrong a lot...but that's what makes me human. I don't expect myself or anyone else  to be perfect. I threw out the butter that I had home canned and I never looked back. Why?! Because it's not a proven safe method. It can KILL your family.  If it has the possibly, why risk it? Why do I bring this up now?  Years later?! Because I've been on pinterest lately and seen people posting it all over the place. In fact, I'll probably offend some hard core bottling people by saying this...but now I'm very opinionated against it. There. I said it. And you know I love you guys right?! Seriously?!

 I love you! I love you enough to say get educated! At least if you do decide to take your family's safety in your hands and home preserve you're doing it with safety on your side. I'm not a fan of the phrase, "I haven't killed anyone yet." For the record, if you plan on killing someone, at least don't do it with butter. It's just to pretty of a food to inflict death. 

It is also seriously not my intention to offend butter-bottling bloggers. Please know my heart. I love you. I reaaaaly do love you. I know most of the ones who are posting it are doing so without even knowing it's unsafe. Some know it's unsafe and just post a little link to the safety like it's a side note. Safety is not a side note. It's the main deal. If butter can't be proven to be canned safely in the USA by our own commercial production companies, why do it at home when the safety is even more in question?! The canned butter available now is coming from other countries. Butter is a low acid food. As such, you run the risk of botulism. Botulism has the potential to case death.

The FDA has warned against botulism from low acid foods like butter in it's home canned food "Bad Bug Book" Here  more specifically it says, "Any food that is conducive to outgrowth and toxin production, that when processed allows spore survival, and is not subsequently heated before consumption can be associated with botulism. Almost any type of food that is not very acidic (pH above 4.6) can support growth and toxin production by C. botulinum..'s the deal-i-o...Direct from the National Center for Home Food Preservation on canning butter:
 FAQ section of the National Center for Home Food Preservation:
  • "Although mostly fat, butter is a low-acid food, as are meat and most vegetables. Low-acid foods will support the outgrowth of botulism and toxin formation in a sealed jar at room temperature. Low-acid products have to be pressure-canned by tested processes to be safely kept in a sealed jar at room temperature. (Chef Tess note: Butter has NOT been proven safe to pressure can by a tested process  as of yet! You can't just guess on the time or pressure. It must be a proven safe time/pressure. Butter's high fat content has been proven to protect botulism spores, even at high temperatures.)
  • In most directions, the jars are preheated in an oven, which isn't recommended by jar manufacturers because dry heat can cause them to crack.
  • The butter is not really being "canned," which would involve a boiling water bath or pressure canner. It is simply being melted, poured in canning jars and covered with lids.
  • Due to some heat present from the melted butter and preheated jars, some degree of vacuum is pulled on the lids to develop a seal. But it rarely is as strong a vacuum as you get in jars sealed through heat processing.
  • "We have no kind of database in the home canning/food processing arena to know what the microbiological concerns would be in a butter stored at room temperature in a sealed jar," 
  • "In the absence of that, given that it is low-acid and that fats can protect spores from heat if they are in the product during a canning process , we cannot recommend storing butter produced by these methods under vacuum-sealed conditions at room temperature."

 I also found this Deseret News Article to be rather helpful. Teresa Hunsaker at the Utah State University Extension in Weber County is quoted there saying. "Yes, there is an update on the bottled butter: NO for home production," If the amazing food science folks in Cache Valley say no, then I'm with them. Yes, that was in 2010. So far, no change. Oh, and the sharp cookies on Everyday Food Storage agreed. Just know the facts. That's all I'm saying. At least if you do home can butter you go into it with your eyes wide open and know you're doing it at your own risk. Period. I'm not doing it again. Ever.

That's all I have to say about that. Oh. Except for the fact that I do recommend powdered butter for long term storage if you get it from reputable companies. It doesn't work the same as real butter in baking, but it's close in flavor.  

Always My Very Best,
Your Friend Chef Tess


Herbalpagan said...

Unfortunetly, I offend many people when I tell them this ver ything as well. I do not want to offend, but safety is much more important to me than "going with the flow" here. I do not can butter or bread or any dairy product. It's very hard when I hear people I respect say "I've been doing it for years and never had a problem".
Glad to see you speak out on this issue! With the high price of butter, it's a shame to see people putting hard work and money into doing this.

Lanette said...

THANK YOU! I see so many unsafe practices blogged about and pinned that it drives me bonkers. I think EVERY CANNER should take the free course offered by the NCHFP. It's been invaluable in helping me identify the 'good ideas' that aren't so good (canned banana puree, anyone? No thanks.)

Lamb said...

I have seen and tried the butter canned in France (won't mention the company nor provide a link)and while I didn't get sick, I gotta say----it wasn't that great.
Right now I buy fresh butter or make my own from the lovely goats milk I get from my small herd.
Never tried canning it myself.
Thank you for issuing the warning!

Lisa said...

what I would really truly like to know is this: If you're in a situation that calls for using things you've set aside "just in case"...can't you live without butter for a bit? and if its not for emergencies, but rather to save on purchasing in bulk and then preserving for cost efficiency, then the FREEZER is a GREAT place for butter! I just think the bottled butter looks gross to start with, so maybe I'm cynical. But there's no way I'm wasting my time, effort, or canning supplies on something so potentially dangerous. said...

Thanks for caring enough to make people aware of the potential of poisoning themselves or their family. I've been very happy with using my Thrive butter powder for baking as well as for making butter spreads with honey or fruit added. Also, if there's a deal at the grocery store, I vacuum seal my butter and freeze it, and it keeps for a fairly long time.

Chef Tess said...

I actually really love the favor of the THRIVE butter. Honeyville as well. They're both great! Neither one work exactly the same as real butter in baking but it's close. Pie crust I had to adjust quite a bit for the powdered butters from both companies.

Melissa said...

How about bottling ghee? I think it has a year shelf-life unsealed, but still...

Chef Tess said...

Home bottling it I don't recommend. With Ghee You really don't have a way of determining at home if you have removed 100% of the milk solids and on a micro bacteria scale it's hard to judge at home. If you can get the commercially done bottles it's your choice, but from what I've been able to see, the fat is the problem. It protects the botulism spores as well.

hecfino68 said...

Red Feather sells butter in a can. It is expensive, but is nice to have a few cans around to use on things that the powdered butter doesn't work for.

Wendy said...

hmmm.... I hope I wasn't that friend from church who told you to bottle butter. I have done it in the past and used to swear by it. Haven't done it in years though. Great post!

Jeanne S said...

I'll take science over a thousand people who swear their home-canned butter never hurt anyone. Botulism is a horrifying way to die. If you aren't within a very short distance of a modern hospital, you WILL die if you get it, because respiratory failure due to paralysis may require a person to be on a ventilator for weeks. It's not worth risking.