In my experience, cream cheese is a delicious ingredient I often find myself using in most of my recipes.
But – can we leave it sitting out even if it’s unopened? And if so, what precautions should we watch out for?
For optimal safety, cream cheese should not be left out at room temperature for more than two hours, as recommended by the USDA’s food safety guidelines. Dairy products like cream cheese can rapidly become unsafe due to bacterial growth, such as Salmonella and Listeria, when kept out of refrigeration for extended periods. If cream cheese remains unrefrigerated for over two hours, especially in temperatures above 40°F, it’s advised to discard it to prevent foodborne illnesses. To preserve cream cheese’s quality and safety, always store it in the refrigerator at or below 40°F and tightly seal it after each use. If you’re uncertain about the time cream cheese has been left out, it is safer to err on the side of caution and dispose of it.
Below, I will discuss the risk of cream cheese sitting out, how long it will last, and ways to store it properly.
Leaving Cream Cheese Out At Room Temperature
As a parent, I’m sure you know that cream cheese is a popular ingredient to cook dips or bake desserts!
I got sidelined by my kids and wound up leaving the cream cheese out for a few hours.
By the time I had found it, it was no longer cold – sadly I had to toss it in the trash.
Cream cheese has ingredients consisting of fresh and fat-full milk. As we all know, milk expires rather quickly and only lasts a few days once you open it.
Cream cheese has expiration dates on it, just like milk does, to prevent consumers from eating spoiled products.
Opened vs. Unopened Cream Cheese – At Room Temperature
You may be wondering – is there a difference between unopened and opened cream cheese?
Surprisingly enough, cream cheese that has been opened can still last up to two weeks, so long as it remains refrigerated.
In contrast, unopened cream cheese can last one month past the expiration date if kept in the refrigerator!
If it’s your first time using cream cheese, it’s important to learn how long it can sit out, steps to take to prolong its lifespan and more.
Unopened cream cheese can last up to one month past its expiration date and still be safely consumed if it has been properly refrigerated.
If you don’t plan to use your cream cheese within the expiration window, you can always choose to freeze your cream cheese.
Due to the fat in the dairy, cream cheese does well in the freezer and can be kept for two months in its original, unopened packaging with no ill effect.
Cream cheese shouldn’t be left at room temperature for longer than two hours. Since it contains fresh dairy, it can quickly spoil.
This rule goes for unopened or opened packages of cream cheese. It doesn’t change the time frame it can be left out.
Because of this time frame, it’s important to keep in mind after grocery shopping and not leaving it in your car for an extended time.
Food Risk Of Cream Cheese After Being Left Out
A huge concern when it comes to the food safety of cream cheese is the presence of E.Coli contamination and bacterial growth.
It can grow in a very short amount of time without you even realizing it – and it doesn’t have a smell or taste.
Food poisoning is dangerous and can make you very ill, and it is definitely a risk of cream cheese if you leave it out too long and it’s spoiled.
Is It Safe To Eat Cream Cheese Left Out Overnight?
Foodsafety.gov says you should throw out cream cheese that has been left at temperatures above 40 degrees for over four hours.
Once this happens, bacteria start to grow quickly after just two hours of room temperature exposure.
It might have crossed your mind before to let the cream cheese sit out overnight to soften, but this is something you should avoid.
Bacteria like E. Coli can grow on soft cheeses after just two hours of sitting at room temperature.
How To Soften Cream Cheese Without Exposing It To Bacteria
There are many easy options for softening cream cheese. Luckily, it softens quickly. One of the best options is letting it sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes.
This should be the perfect amount of time for it to soften enough to use for your recipe.
(Remember to set a timer if you are working on other things, so you don’t forget to return to it.)
I know we’ve all been there, where you decide to make a dessert on a whim, and it calls for softened cream cheese or softened butter, and you’re in a hurry.
Another option to softening your cream cheese quickly is by using the microwave- as I’m sure this has crossed your mind before.
This can be sort of tricky at first because if you get distracted, you may end up with a bowl full of melted cream cheese instead of a softened block.
All you have to do to soften in the microwave is unwrap the block of cream cheese and place it on a microwave-safe plate.
I usually start with 5-10 seconds and check it. Then I’ll turn it ¼ of the way and repeat on all four sides.
Typically after 20-25 seconds, my cream cheese comes out perfect and with just the right amount of softness.
When softening cream cheese you want to ensure you do it properly without exposing it to bacteria.
When microwaving it, make sure it hasn’t been left out longer than two hours. If it has been in the refrigerator be sure to check the expiration date as well.
Always be sure that it has previously been stored in an air-tight containers, this allows bacteria to not be able to easily enter.
How Long Can Philadelphia Cream Cheese Be Unrefrigerated?
We all know mistakes happen, and we can forget to put things away sometimes, leaving them out possibly longer than they should be.
But the real question is, how long can Philadelphia cream cheese be left out of the refrigerator before it has to be thrown out?
According to Food Safety experts, two hours is the maximum amount of time it should be out of the refrigerator before using it or discarding it.
Although, if it remains refrigerated, it is suitable for up to two weeks.
Philadelphia cream cheese is a famous brand for this product, but it is held to the USDA’s exact expectations for food safety and should be stored properly.
How To Tell If Cream Cheese Has Gone Bad
Cream cheese is one food that is pretty easy to determine whether it has gone bad. We will discuss some signs that the package of cream cheese in your refrigerator should be thrown out. Some of these signs are:
- Your cream cheese has become discolored in any way. It could turn green or even yellow. It would be best if you immediately discarded it.
- If you notice that your cream cheese has mold on it anywhere, it is, of course, unsafe to eat.
- It is likely spoiled if it becomes slimy to the touch or too soft while remaining in the fridge.
- If your cream cheese develops an odd smell, that’s a definite sign to throw it away.
- If it’s been in your refrigerator longer than a month, but it looks okay in appearance, do a small taste to help determine if it is still okay to consume.
It might have even crossed your mind that if only a small portion of your cream cheese is discolored, is the other half still okay to eat?
The answer is no. If mold or discoloration is present on any part of the cream cheese discard it.
Even though there is never enough time in the day to get everything done, if you plan on using cream cheese, make sure to be mindful of the guidelines of leaving it unrefrigerated and how long it lasts before it needs to be discarded.
How Long Can Unopened Cream Cheese Stay Out Of the Fridge?
It is never safe to leave the cream cheese out for longer than two hours at a time, even if it is sealed and unopened.
Bacteria become present quickly and will grow rapidly at higher temperatures when left out.
E. Coli starts to grow at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Food safety experts explain this is why the two-hour timeline is essential.
Food poisoning is something you want to avoid when possible, so following these tips on food safety can help keep you and your family safe.
How To Make Your Cream Cheese Last Longer?
Now that we’ve talked about how long cream cheese can sit out, it’s important to know how to expand the lifespan of your cream cheese to make it last longer and get you more bang for your buck!
It is important to always remember, though, you must throw out any cream cheese that has spoiled.
When storing your cream cheese, always use an airtight container. Cream cheese is very susceptible to bacteria growth, so using an airtight container can prevent this.
You can also store your cream cheese in the freezer to preserve it, which will make it last longer. Be sure never to keep it near other meat as it can contaminate it.
Lastly, always use clean utensils when dealing with cream cheese to avoid spreading bacteria and other pathogens from getting into contact with the cheese.
Leaving your unopened cream cheese sitting out of the refrigerator for longer than two hours is unsafe.
While there are other alternatives, such as sitting it out the appropriate amount of time and using a timer, this will avoid spoiling your cream cheese.
If you need it to cook something in a hurry, remember you can always microwave it. Slowly and steadily, while overseeing it, you can soften the cream cheese for use.
You should always ensure how to store your cream cheese properly, so it gets used the longest time possible.
Following these precautions and tips will allow you to use your cream cheese safely and efficiently for all of your cooking needs.
My name is Keren Tayler. I am a stay-at-home mama to three lovely girls, Sarah + Rachel + Hannah. Prior to becoming a mom, I had a successful career in the accounting field, steps away from becoming a CPA. I decided to give up on my career in order to raise my own kids (as opposed to letting a nanny do it, no judgment here :)) I learned a lot and I love sharing it with other moms. Along the way, I also became a Certified Food Handler.