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Does Cream Cheese Need to Be Refrigerated? | USDA Guidelines

I was asked the other day whether cream cheese needs to be refrigerated. I mean, does it really need to be kept cold? Cream cheese is one of the dairy products that can be found taking up space in my refrigerator at all times. I spread it on bagels and English muffins, use it in frostings and cheesecakes, and it is a key ingredient in some of my favorite recipes.

Cream cheese needs to be refrigerated because it is a dairy product. According to the USDA, cream cheese should not be left unrefrigerated for more than 2 hours at a time. It is left unrefrigerated longer than 2 hours. It should be discarded.

USDA Source

Now let’s explore the subject in greater detail.

How Long Does Cream Cheese Lasts Once Opened

How long cream cheese lasts depends primarily on how it is stored, before and after the package is opened.

It is actually the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that inspects and regulates cheeses and states that soft cheeses such as cottage cheese and Brie will last in the refrigerator for up to one week and that cream cheese will last refrigerated for two weeks but should not be frozen.

Thus, here are recommendations for how long cream cheese lasts after opening with refrigeration and without:

  • Refrigerated: 2 weeks
  • Unrefrigerated: 2 hours

Do You Have to Refrigerate Baked Products Made With Cream Cheese?

Whether or not baked products containing cream cheese require refrigeration depends on the amount of cream cheese it contains. For example, because the main ingredient in cheesecake is cream cheese, the cheesecake should be refrigerated. But, a cake frosted with cream cheese frosting would not require refrigeration because only a small amount of cream cheese is used in the frosting.

Related Does Parmesan Cheese Need to Be Refrigerated?

How to Tell If Cream Cheese Has Gone Bad

Cream cheese is one of those foods that are easy to determine whether they have gone bad. Here are the primary signs that the package of cream cheese in your refrigerator should be discarded:

  • If your cream cheese has discolored in any way by turning a yellow or greenish color, your best bet is to immediately discard it.
  • If your cream cheese contains mold, it is unsafe to eat and should be discarded.
  • If the cream cheese becomes slimy or too soft, then it is likely that it contains mold or bacteria and should be thrown away.
  • If the cream cheese develops an odd or sour smell, that is a sure sign that it has gone bad.
  • If the cream cheese has been in your refrigerator for longer than a month and it looks alright, a taste test will immediately let you know whether it is still good to use. If it has gone bad, it will taste sourer than it should.

Things That Help Cream Cheese Last Longer

There are a variety of things you can do to increase the shelf life of cream cheese.

  • Refrigerate as quickly after purchasing as possible.
  • When purchasing, take the cream cheese out of the cooler after you have done your other shopping. Having a package ride around in your grocery cart while you are reading labels and squeezing fruit would reduce its shelf life.
  • Keep packaging closed to avoid airborne contamination.
  • Store it in foil or an airtight container, like this one found on Amazon, in the refrigerator.
  • Use a clean knife or another utensil when serving cream cheese to avoid cross-contamination with other food.
  • Do not allow cream cheese to be left out of the refrigerator for more than 2 hours at a time.

What to do if You Have too Much Cream Cheese

  • Be sure to keep your favorite bagels, English muffins, or bread on hand to spread with a thick layer of cream cheese.
  • Make a cheesecake by your favorite recipe.
  • Make a big layer cake and frost it with cream cheese frosting.

Keep in mind that cream cheese does not freeze well and only purchase what you need.

History and Interesting Facts about Cream Cheese

  • Cream cheese is believed to have been made in England as early as 1583 and discovered by the French in 1651, although the first written recipe appeared in England in 1754.
  • America got its first taste of cream cheese in the 1820s when it was produced in Philadelphia and New York City. A New York dairyman named William A. Lawrence first mass-produced cream cheese in 1873 and developed the first brand in 1877, which he named Neufchatel & Cream.
  • At the present time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires at least 33% milkfat to be considered cream cheese, although England requires 45 – 60%.
  • Cream cheese is considered suitable for a vegetarian diet because it is produced by using citric or other acids to coagulate the milk.

Final Thoughts

We understand that hard cheeses such as parmesan and cheddar do not require refrigeration although most people do store them in the refrigerator to extend their shelf life, but soft cheeses like cottage cheese, cream cheese, and brie spoil quickly and must be refrigerated to keep them fresh longer. They don’t, however, freeze well.

Because cream cheese is made from whole milk and is high in fat, once it has been left unrefrigerated mold and bacteria begin to grow very rapidly and will quickly render the cream cheese unsafe to eat. It should be treated like milk, cream, and other dairy products which require constant refrigeration. When serving cream cheese, observe the 2-hour rule and avoid leaving it out of the refrigerator for more than two hours just to be safe and to avoid the chance of food poisoning.