By now, you’ve probably heard about TikTok’s latest food trend ― the butter board.
The concept is fairly simple. It’s a board artfully coated with soft butter. Often the dairy product is smeared and swirled around in patterns and topped with elements like honey, lemon zest, flaky salt, edible flowers, herbs and more.
Think charcuterie board, but instead of meats and cheeses, it’s elevated butter. Friends might gather around the communal dish, scrape the butter off the board and onto pieces of bread with a knife, or dip their bread directly into it.
The butter board was popularized by TikTok user and food blogger Justine Doiron aka @justine_snacks. On Sept. 15, she posted a 28-second video of herself making a butter board inspired by a recipe from Joshua McFadden’s 2017 cookbook, “Six Seasons: A New Way With Vegetables.” To date, the clip has racked up more than 8.5 million views on TikTok and another 11.2 million on Instagram.
Even if you’re on board with the butter board, not all food safety experts are. HuffPost spoke to Darin Detwiler, an associate professor at Northeastern’s College of Professional Studies and the author of “Food Safety: Past, Present and Predictions.”
Below, he shares some food safety concerns surrounding the butter board and advice for minimizing the risks involved.
Is the butter board safe?
It’s perhaps unsurprising that Detwiler might have a few concerns about a dish that involves groups of people huddled over a small board as they eat and touch a dairy product.
He warned would-be butter board eaters to be mindful of “cross-contamination with many hands contaminating the butter board” and “dairy products left out of refrigeration too long ― keep cold foods cold.”
Pay attention to people’s food allergies, as butter boards involve dairy and other potential allergens like tree nuts and certain fruits or vegetables. The popularity of wooden boards as the base for many butter boards on social media also gave Detwiler pause.
“Consider the inability to sanitize a wooden board, with its micro-cracks and knife gauges that harbor pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella,” he explained. “Foodborne pathogens can make everybody sick, but the most vulnerable populations ― the very young, elderly, immune-compromised, and pregnant ― are the ones most likely to end up with reported, confirmed cases, hospitalized, and even dying as a result of such an illness.”
Detwiler noted that E. coli, salmonella and listeria are typical pathogens in food and, in rare cases, can lead to severe and potentially life-threatening complications like hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Always seek medical attention if you suspect you have contracted one of these infections.
“Could people become sick from a butter board, it is 100% possible, as people have become sick from contaminated surfaces and person-to-person contact,” he added.
How can you minimize safety risks?
The risk of getting sick from a butter board still seems relatively low, according to other experts.
“This is not something that would make my top 20 list or top 50 of risky things,” food safety specialist Benjamin Chapman told The New York Times.
Although Detwiler is a little more concerned but believes a safe butter board experience is possible.
“Keep everything clean, cold, and conservative ― not too much at one time,” Detwiler said. “Also, keep in mind if people have any food allergens and keep those foods away from other foods.”
If you want to use a cutting board, choose it wisely. The United States Department of Agriculture advises using one cutting board for raw meat, poultry and seafood and a separate board for fresh produce and bread, so you might want to similarly avoid cross-contamination by using a separate platter for your butter board fantasies.
“Use a plastic board or a serving platter as opposed to a wooden board,” Detwiler recommended. “With any board, sanitize using a teaspoon of bleach to a gallon of water.”
Be mindful of timing as well. American butter tends to require refrigeration, and the USDA cautions against leaving out foods that require refrigeration for more than two hours ― and no more than one hour if the room temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Salted butter is also more protected from bacteria than unsalted butter, so more suitable for room temperature conditions.
It’s also worth noting that people in many other countries keep their butter on the counter. Even the USDA concedes butter is safe at room temperature but notes, “if butter is left out at room temperature for several days, the flavor can turn rancid, so it’s best to leave out whatever you can use within a day or two.”
Still, if you’re working with a refrigerated product and want to play it safe, limit how long people can enjoy your butter creation.
“Do not leave butter boards out for more than two hours,” Detwiler advised. He also offered a more sanitary alternative to the big sweeping masterpieces on TikTok.
“Many dirty hands can spread not only foodborne pathogens but other pathogens and viruses as well,” Detwiler noted. “Use several smaller boards, as opposed to one large board, to minimize the number of hands in the food.”
So is the butter board trend here to stay? It’s hard to say, but with the murmurings of an impending butter shortage, perhaps we won’t even have the option.