Is Cream Cheese Safe to Eat if Left Out Overnight?


There are moments when we get massively busy and lose track of time. Sometimes, people go to the grocery store and put everything away, only to find a while later they forgot something on the counter. Maybe that long-lost item left out of the fridge is cream cheese, and now it must be decided you should handle this potentially spoiled dairy.

Cream cheese is not safe to be left out overnight because it is an animal product. Animal products, such as meats and cheeses, should not typically be left out for more than four hours before consumption or use. This is due to potential bacteria growth as the internal temperature increases.

Sliced bread with cream cheese and butter for breakfast
Sliced bread with cream cheese and butter for breakfast

With this basic understanding of cream cheese and the fact it is not safe to use after being left out overnight, it is equally important to understand how cream cheese should be cared for, how long cream cheese can be left out, spoilage signs, potential cream cheese substitutes, and what cream cheese is good in.

How Cream Cheese Should Be Taken Care of

Cream cheese is a cheese that was formulated after a French cheese called the Neufchâtel. Neufchâtel is a soft, unpasteurized cheese that is made in two styles. The French version of this cheese has a rind and a nutty flavor, while the American version of the cheese has a lower milk fat content and more moisture than its French predecessor. (SourceOpens in a new tab.)

With the origin of cream cheese in mind, it helps people understand how to properly take care of it. Since it is a softer cheese with more moisture, an owner will need to be cautious with storage and usage. When cream cheese is not open, it is best to follow the best buy date on the container or foil. Once the cream cheese is open, it will be best if consumed within ten days of opening.

A big way that many store cream cheese is folding the foil back over the exposed end. However, this is not a healthy way to store cream cheese. It is better to put it in an airtight container or bag.

Another way cream cheese can be stored is in the freezer. Cream cheese can be frozen in the original container if it is unopened. If it is opened, it can still be frozen in the original container, but there might be additional safety benefits from freezing it in a new container. It is important to keep in mind that the cheese can expand when frozen, so the container used should be a proper size to account for expansion. Freezing can also change the consistency. (SourceOpens in a new tab.)

I have put cream cheese in the freezer before and once I mixed it into the food in my crockpot, I didn’t notice a difference in the texture, so any change in texture or consistency that come from storing cream cheese in the freezer will likely be unnoticeable.

How Long Can Cream Cheese Be Left Out?

Bowl of cream cheese with green onions and herbs

Since we know that cream cheese cannot be left out overnight, the next question is how long can cream cheese be left out safely. There is a range of time answers, most stating that it is best to refrain from leaving cream cheese out for more than two hours with the maximum time allotment being four hours.

I called a dietician to be able to get an expert opinion on this subject. Susan B Clark, MD, told me that she would not recommend leaving cream cheese out for more than four hours. (SourceOpens in a new tab.)

She highlighted the fact that cream cheese is an animal product, just like beef, chicken, and other forms of cheese. The rule of thumb she gave for protein and animal products is that they can only be left out of the fridge for four hours before they go bad.

The main reason why you shouldn’t leave the cream cheese out for more than four hours at most is that the temperature of the cheese increases. Between 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit, bacteria can grow at a rapid pace and lead to food poisoning. If a recipe calls for softened cream cheese, the cheese can be left out for two hours and still be used safely. (SourceOpens in a new tab.)

With these facts in mind, it would be best to reduce the amount of time that cream cheese is left out.

What about Foods with Cream Cheese in them?

Foods with cream cheese need to be treated similarly to cream cheese. Even when cooked, food has the ability to spoil and get bacteria growth within a few hours of being cooked or made.

The two options that are available for foods with cream cheese in them are to keep them hot and above 140 degrees or to chill the cream cheese to below 40 degrees. The maximum amount of time that foods that contain cream cheese can be left out remains two hours. (SourceOpens in a new tab.)

How to Keep Appetizers with Cream Cheese Safe at Room Temperature

There are many recipes, such as dips and soups, that contain cream cheese. Oftentimes, a person would make these types of foods while they are hosting a party or a gathering of people. It is important to try and keep even the smallest snacks safe to eat for guests.

The best way to be able to preserve dips that contain cream cheese at a party is to split your dip into smaller bowls, switch out bowls, and put the dips on ice. When a person splits dips into several bowls, it makes it possible to always have dip out.

The maximum amount of time to leave an item that contains cream cheese outside of a cold or hot source is two hours, so splitting the dip into smaller containers reduces the amount that can be spoiled. It also makes it possible to switch bowls every two hours. Another safety precaution is to put the dips on ice. If they have this source of cold, the cream cheese is able to remain at a safe temperature. (SourceOpens in a new tab.)

Similar rules need to be followed for warm foods that contain cream cheese. Cream cheese needs to be kept over 140 degrees or under 40 degrees in order to reduce bacteria growth. If a dish that contains cream cheese is typically served warm, that dish needs to be kept warm or served in smaller portions for a maximum of two hours. Some ways that this can be accomplished is by using a portable burner or oven to store the food in and keeping the food in smaller portions and rotating them out every two hours. (SourceOpens in a new tab.)

Piece of cherry cheesecake on a white plate
Piece of cherry cheesecake on a white plate

How Can I Tell if Cream Cheese Is Spoiled?

Cream cheese has some subtle and distinct signs that it has gone bad: smell, color, consistency, and taste.

The easiest and safest way to make sure that cream cheese is safe to consume is to look at the expiration date. If it is past the expiration date, you can still use it for up to three to four weeks afterward! However, if that thought causes concern, following the expiration date is never a bad idea. (SourceOpens in a new tab.)

Before someone opens an older cream cheese package, there might already be signs that it is old and unsafe to consume. If the smell has a more foul or stronger smell, that shows that cream cheese is too old to eat.

The most visually obvious way to see if cream cheese has gone bad is if there is mold present or not. Mold on cream cheese can be red in color. Cream cheese can also start turning yellow and green when it gets bad. It can also just have begun to separate into liquid and solid. If any of these visual signs are present, it is best to throw it out as soon as possible.

Some other visual signs that can signify that cream cheese has gone bad are if the texture has changed. Often, if cream cheese has gone bad, it will either be slimy or start to crack and crumble. Any combination of these signs is majorly concerning. Cream cheese that matches this description should be thrown away.

Even if the cheese looks and smells normal, there is still a possibility that the cheese is starting to turn. If the cream cheese tastes different, sourer, or bad in any sense, it is not good to consume.

How Can I Tell If I Ate Spoiled Cream Cheese?

When you eat spoiled cream cheese, there are some symptoms and signs that can occur. The most common problem with eating spoiled cream cheese is that a person can easily get food poisoning. Food poisoning is painful and can knock someone out for a decent amount of time. Some of the symptoms of food poisoning are stomach pains and cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. There are some strains of food poisoning that can be more severe or take several days to show symptoms. (SourceOpens in a new tab.)

The best way to help someone who is sick from spoiled cream cheese is to help them stay hydrated. Between the fever and the stomach issues, people often lose a substantial amount of water and can become severely dehydrated unchecked. Basically, the best way to help someone with food poisoning is to help them manage the symptoms until they pass. It’s always nice to have someone to help take care of another when they feel under the weather.

Cream Cheese Substitutes

If cream cheese has gone bad and a person doesn’t have the time or money to replace it, there are some substitute options that should be investigated. Some of these potential substitutes are:

  • Cottage Cheese
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Ricotta
  • Marscapone
  • Hummus
  • Neufchâtel
  • Silken Tofu
  • Cashew Cheese
  • Sour Cream
Pieces of toast with cream cheese spread
Pieces of toast with cream cheese spread

Some of these substitutes are items that you would find easily in a fridge, like cottage cheese, greek yogurt, and sour cream. Cottage cheese makes a good substitute for cream cheese because it has a similar taste. You can blend it with cream, lemon juice, and other ingredients to be able to use it in savory dishes. (SOpens in a new tab.ourceOpens in a new tab.)

Greek yogurt and sour cream are similar due to the consistency and the tangy flavors that people value in cream cheese. Greek yogurt is more versatile as it works in both savory and sweet dishes, while sour cream should only be used in savory dishes like soups and dips.

Neufchâtel is a no-brainer when it comes to finding a substitution for cream cheese. Since cream cheese was originally a modification from Neufchâtel, it is easy to substitute. You just use the same amount of Neufchâtel as cream cheese in your recipes. It has a lower fat count, which makes it a healthier alternative. (SourceOpens in a new tab.)

Mascarpone is similar to both Neufchâtel and cream cheese. Mascarpone is the most similar in texture, but it is slightly sweeter. Hummus can be used as a substitute for cream cheese in more savory dishes. Silken tofu and cashew cheese are both vegan options that through some crafting can be a healthier and vegan alternative to cream cheese.

Good Cream Cheese Recipes

Now that there has been an adequate discussion of cream cheese and how to keep it safe for consumption, we can discuss some of the tasty options available to be made with cream cheese. There are so many varieties of foods that can be made, including cheesecake, dips, soups, spreads, and more!

Strawberry cream cheese roll with fresh strawberries
Strawberry cream cheese roll with fresh strawberries

Meal Ideas

There is a large amount of variety of meal options that use cream cheese. Some of these options can include pasta dishes, mashed potatoes, chicken dishes, and many more! One of my personal favorite meals I have made with cream cheese has three ingredients: cream cheese, pesto, and chicken. All you have to do is mix the cream cheese and pesto together, spread it over chicken in a casserole dish, and bake it! Dinner with cream cheese can be that simple. (SourceOpens in a new tab.)

Snack/Appetizer ideas

Cream cheese is not limited to just meal options! There are thousands of dips you can make, like spinach artichoke dip. There are also some fun snacks, like baked cream cheese wontons!

Dessert Ideas

Dessert ideas are abundant! Some of the commonly loved desserts that feature cream cheese are cream cheese frosting, cheesecake, and cream cheese cookies. My family would always make cream cheese cookies to share with family and neighbors around Christmas. These memories have become a treasured part of my childhood.

Cream cheese can be a part of a healthy and happy lifestyle. However, cream cheese should always be taken care of properly. With this article, a person can now feel confident that the cheese they are eating is safe to be eaten and will taste delicious in a variety of recipes and meals.

Anna Silver

Anna Silver is the principal creator of CookForFolks.com, a website dedicated to new go-to original recipes. Inspired by her grandmother’s love of cooking, Anna has a passion for treating the people in her life to delicious homemade food and loves to share her family recipes with the rest of the world.

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