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Curious about butter in restaurants - leftover that is.

I've considered this before but last night really made me wonder.

We were having dinner at a nice little bistro last night and passing by the kitchen I happened to notice a tub of what was very obviously all the little pads of leftover butter that they put out with the bread basket.

As is common, the bread basket is served with a plate of butter curls and this restaurant gathers the leftovers to, I assume cook with.

I've wondered about this before, esp when you receive a ramkin filled with butter and sometimes is hardly touched.

I can appreciate that it would be quite wasteful and expensive to throw it out but it also does not sit well with me.

Is this a common thing in restaurants??

I suppose worse things have been known to occur behind the scenes but is this an acceptable practice to you?

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  1. As far as I know they can't reuse it for customers unless it's those little individually wrapped patties in foil.

    1. Not sure it's the same everywhere, but re-use like that has to be a health code violation.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Midlife

        Yes, I am wondering about this myself.

        1. re: Midlife

          If the butter is melted down into ghee (drawn butter) it would be nigh well onto impossible for any germs or such to survive the melt-down temperatures, but whether or not that is legal under all health laws is another matter.

          I too hate waste and I shamefully admit that when I go to places that serve the foil wrapped portions of butter, I smuggle them out with me when I leave, HOPING no one notices. '-)

          PS: I learned NOT to do that in the summertime here in Dallas the hard way. Damned stuff melts!

          1. re: Caroline1

            heeheehee -- ask me about the friend who decided to smuggle Irish butter back from Ireland in her bra. In a sandwich baggie (she's not that stupid) -- but yeah.

            That sweater went into the garbage.

            1. re: sunshine842

              if it went into the trash there must have been some mess, how did she explain the leakage? a recent mother lactating?

        2. the restaurant where my older daughter works weekends agthers the butter in a tub, and then it is dumped in the backyard dumpster reserved for fats and oils.

          The owners don't want it going into the buscarts because it has clogged up the wastelines in the dishroom too many times.

          1. Where I used to work, anything that went on the table went to the dish pit after and was discarded.

            1. I don't know what the rules are today (or were then), but a restaurant I worked at 50 years ago used butter that came back from being served, it it appeared to have been untouched. The butter was served in pats, but not wrapped, on separate plates. Those that came back intact were put in a small stainless steel pan and set near the heat lamp that was kept on the prime rib. The resulting clarified butter was put on the rock lobster.

              It's good from a recycling standpoint, but perhaps not from a sanitation standpoint. I'm not sure if bacteria can survive in melted butter. On balance I'm for it, but would not send butter out again to be served as fresh.

              The wrapped pats are not much more sanitary than bare pats, I think, because the wrappers could have been touched or sneezed on.

              13 Replies
              1. re: GH1618

                but you're not going to lick or eat the wrappers....

                  1. re: sunshine842

                    If the kitchen were to recycle wrapped pats of butter, they would have to be unwrapped. The handling of the wrapper could transfer bacteria to food.

                    1. re: GH1618


                      I'm pretty sure unopened (unsquashed, etc) pats of butter go right back into the bin...just like unused packets of ketchup, obviously unused napkins, and finger wipes.

                      There's no way the residual value of the butter would be worth paying someone to stand there and open them all.

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        Yes, I expect they do get re-served if they appear undamaged.

                        1. re: GH1618

                          We serve the foil-wrapped pats for customer use at our place. The moment they leave the kitchen they are considered gone by us. No matter how perfect they look on the table, once they leave the kitchen, they go into the trash if unused. No exceptions. Breaks my heart at the waste but I won't have it any other way.

                          Tony Bourdain tells tales of places he's been where they not only re-use uneaten bread but strain cigarette butts and ashes out of the butter to re-use for cooking. Ick.

                          1. re: acgold7

                            wait, who's putting their cigarette out in the butter?

                            1. re: plaidbowtie

                              it is Tony Bordain telling the tale probally Frank Sanatria and Sammy Davis

                            2. re: acgold7

                              In 2002 I was working in a place which was sold to a family who would happily take paper plates out of the garbage cans to reuse. They took pride (?) in saving a few cents wherever they could, and cut corners on electricity by not keeping the walk-in cooler cold enough. When meat began to stink, they would rinse it with bleach & water and use it anyway. I was speechless; at first I actually thought they were kidding me. All the longtime customers were lost immediately, and I shudder to think how many people may have been sickened.

                              I didn't stay. The place was shuttered shortly afterward and frankly I'm surprised it took that long for the Health Department to close them down.

                              Admittedly these folks had just moved here from a country where surgeons earn forty dollars a week.and water is too precious to use for bathing or handwashing, They had absolutely no idea how to run a modern restaurant. But they might have done just fine in the 1800s.

                              1. re: eclecticsynergy

                                wow eclectic - if only "Kitchen Nightmares" or "Restaurant Impossible" had heard of this place, the producers must be plotzing. bad.

                              2. re: acgold7

                                Anthony Bourdain is full of crap. He just make that BS up to sell his books.

                                1. re: PotatoHouse


                                  I have known many, many people that describe much worse "sanitary crimes" in restaurants. Not new information.

                                  As far as cigarette butts, my local grocery store used to have the meat shop guys putting their smokes out in the ground beef (sold in the case). I asked one of them why he did that. He said "you just grill it anyway, what's a little more ash?"

                                  People are just stupid sometimes.

                                  1. re: sedimental

                                    the old US grocery chain National allowed smoking in the stores since the CEO smoked. as a heavy smoker myself I found it deeply weird to see cigarette butts all over the floors (but never in the food - they usually had good quality food)

                    2. Not common in any restaurant I ever worked in....trashed.

                      1. Can't swear to it, but what you may have seen was butter curls that were made the day before that were not served to customers so they were being used in the kitchen and fresh curls were made for that day.

                        1. if the butter is not in a sealed package it must be tossed if it was served.

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: treb

                            Are the salt and pepper shakers wiped between customers? The used cream pitchers dumped, cleaned and refilled? Maple syrup pitchers? How about ketchup and mustards?

                            1. re: Leslie

                              Most restaurants are pretty dirty places in this respect.

                              1. re: Leslie

                                Salt and pepper are not perishable. Also, it's not too easy for customers to contaminate the salt and pepper inside of their containers.

                                1. re: raytamsgv

                                  I think she meant the exterior of the S&P shakers.

                                  1. re: LotusRapper

                                    But people don't eat off the exterior of the shakers. Unless you eat food with your hands, you won't contaminate the food.

                                    1. re: raytamsgv

                                      I do eat sandwiches with my hands. I've had the occasion to squeeze ketchup and a shake of salt from a contaminated shaker onto some fries in a restaurant and then use my fingers to eat them. I will pick up a roll with my hands. I actually am not icky about these things, but am pointing out that it's not just butter curls and if you're really concerned about germs, eat home. I do skip samples in food shops unless they're heavily supervised by an employee.

                                      1. re: raytamsgv

                                        Condiments on a restaurant table can easily spread viruses. The only reason few people get sick that way is because most people can deal with most viruses in the environment most of the time, and people tend to stay out of restaurants when they are really sick. But norovirus, for example, can be present for a few days after the infected person has seemingly recovered. If a restaurant employee or customer brings this virus into a restaurant a lot of people can become sick through the normal practices followed in almost any restaurant. This does happen from time to time, in which case it is necessary to close the restaurant and disinfect everything.

                              2. Ugh, now I'm getting the heebeejeebees about butter in restaurants. Maybe I'll just stick with olive oil & balsamic ......

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: LotusRapper

                                  I know.....me too!!!

                                  I considered asking the restaurant outright but did not feel comfortable doing this. And besides, would they even tell me, if in fact, they are re-using.

                                2. Seems like a shame not to use the unused butter in cooking. The heat would certainly kill any bacteria.
                                  There is probably a health code that addresses this.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Motosport

                                    Butter melts at below 100 °F. This is not high enough to kill pathogens, so if the butter is clarified, then just added to a cooked dish, as in the example I gave, it could be contaminated.

                                  2. Been in restaurants my entire career, never seen butter recycled.

                                    1. Also, to add, butter is often collected in the scullery because it is not meant to be washed down the drain. It is supposed to be disposed of in the oil bin.
                                      Anyone ever had a grease trap explode in their restaurant? Not a pretty event.
                                      Often caused by fat solids, such as butter.

                                      1. I have been in the restaurant business for over 20 years, and I have seen butter recycled, bread rolls reissued if not all eaten, anything "all you can eat" that is not finished, reserved. It is a dirty nasty business for the most part. Now when dining out I choose my restaurants carefully, because I know what can go on in some.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: foodieop

                                          To quote from a Usenet sigfile, in a reference to certain Chinese restaurants: "All rice re-served"

                                        2. I lived in England for a few years in the 80's (military wife). My mother & aunt came to visit and we took them out for lunch at a local pub/eatery. When our lunch came, the waitress asked if we were done with the bread basket. We were, so she picked it up and put on a table of people who had just come in. My mother was in shock!

                                          1. What a shame that they throw out perfectly usable food like that! As long as kitchen staff washes their hands according to regulations, I would have no qualms about eating the unused butter as is, and am confident that cooking with it is totally safe. Ridiculous germaphobia like this is a not insignificant factor in the first world's garbage disposal and recycling failures.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: greygarious

                                              Warning! If you ever want to eat in a restaurant again do not watch this video.
                                              You could go into pretty much any restaurant on the planet with this 'light' and you'd come staggering out holding your stomach.
                                              Now compare the seemingly spotless restaurant kitchens like we see on some cooking/restaurant 'reality' shows with what you just know is the condition of some, shall we say, 'less than focused on basic hygiene' restaurant kitchens we eat food from.
                                              Imagine what the 'light' would show.
                                              Sure, we as humans have evolved to fight off 'bad bugs'. But man did not 'evolve' to go into an unfamiliar place to eat food among strangers prepared by strangers who may have brought bacteria/ pathogens from the other side of the globe.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfCbed...

                                              Same as humans did not evolve eyes/brains which are capable of processing millions of bits of information a second while attempting to control a machine moving at a hundred miles an hour. Humans only moved as fast as they could run or a horse could run under them for centuries. Now in a hundred years we are expecting our brains to adapt to ............anyway. This is for a different forum.

                                            2. While I would imagine that fancy restaurants don't use these types of methods, I would be very surprised if most family restaurants, especially chains, don't do this and much worse.

                                              1. when i worked in the restaurant business, the butter was collected and used for cooking.

                                                That was the good part. the bad we couldn't show here. it is MUCH worse than you can imagine, let alone have "not sit well with" you...