Cream cheese is a versatile type of soft cheese that’s a useful ingredient for cheesecakes, sauces, and soups. If you find a package of cream cheese in your fridge you may be unsure whether it has still good. Keep reading to find out the shelf life of cream cheese, whether it's opened or not.
How long does cream cheese last?
For best quality, opened cream cheese should be used within 10 days if it is refrigerated. Unopened cream cheese will usually last one month past its “best by” date. As with all dairy products, the expiration date is a guideline and the best way to tell your cheese can be eaten is a quick visual check for mold.
|Refrigerated unopened||1 month past "best by" date|
|Refrigerated opened||10 days|
|Out of the fridge||2 hours|
|Thawed (previously frozen)||5 days|
|Cream cheese frosting||3-5 days|
Safety tip: Try to keep cream cheese out of the “danger zone” by refrigerating until using in cooking. This is a temperature range between 40°F and 140°F which is ideal for bacterial growth such as E.coli. Source: PDF from USDA.
How to check if cream cheese has gone bad
Spoiled cream cheese is easy to spot as it will have mold starting to grow on its surface. Any water droplets or spots of green or yellowish color also mean it is time to toss it out.
If the cream cheese has dried out or there is a slimy coating on the top, then these are also signs of quality loss.
Foul odors are another reason to discard the pack of cream cheese. Usually, by the time it starts to smell off, there will be other visual cues like mold.
An opened pack that has been left out of the fridge for over 2 hours should be discarded.
How to store cream cheese
There are good and bad ways to store cream cheese. Here are a few storage methods to get the most out of your food.
1. Refrigerated, unopened
This is the ideal method of storage. The shelf life of cream cheese will be longer if stored at the back of the fridge where temperature fluctuations are reduced.
Most people suggest that cream cheese will remain fit for consumption for a month past it's best by date. That is usually our experience too. But keep in mind the official response from Philadelphia's support team:
To assure the best quality and flavor, we recommend that you use this produce on or before the date stamped. We cannot guarantee optimum freshness and quality when consuming a product after the date on the package.
2. Refrigerated, opened
Once opened, store in the fridge for around 10 days. Cream cheeses are best-stored foil wrapped or in plastic wrap. Store the product at the back of the fridge to reduce temperature variance.
3. Out of the fridge
Make sure your cheese is out of direct sunlight and in a cool location. When entertaining, transfer it back to the fridge as quickly as possible.
If you’ve made a cream cheese bagel, on the run, then try to get it into a fridge once you get to work (or wherever you’re going). For those staying outdoors, taking a freezer pad may be an option.
At the grocery store, pick up the cream cheese and any other dairy items last before going to the checkout. This minimizes out-of-fridge time.
Quick Tip: Need to create an antipasto platter with a selection of cheeses? Check out our in-depth review of cheese slicers so that you can slice cheese perfectly every time!
Cream cheeses always have storage advice on the label that advises against freezing. Frozen cream cheese will become crumbly and lose some of its spreadability once thawed. That’s because it’s high in moisture content and will form ice crystals when frozen. When thawing, the curds and water separate resulting in the unwanted texture.
If you must freeze cream cheese, wrap it in plastic wrap, ensuring there are no gaps, then wrap in foil. Place at the back of the freezer where the temperature is more constant.
Quick tip: To avoid wastage, you’re best to work out how much is needed for the recipe and buy roughly that amount. If you only need a small amount for a sauce, try to buy the single-use mini tubs, even if the large option is cheaper by weight.
What Factors Affect Cream Cheese Shelf Life?
Many factors can extend or reduce the life of cream cheese. The shelf life of your cream cheese is affected by how it is processed, what ingredients are in it, what type of cream cheese it is, and how efficiently you keep it in storage.
Unlike homemade cream cheese, store-bought products have preservatives that will greatly enhance the lifespan of cheese.
6 uses for leftover cream cheese
Using leftover cream cheese in other recipes is a great way to make sure it doesn’t have time to go bad. It’s the ideal ingredient for cheesecakes and appetizers, but there are loads of other recipes you can fall back on to use leftover cream cheese.
- salmon and cream cheese paté
- enjoy on bread with cucumber and salmon
- pomegranate and cream cheese muffins
- cheesy fondue pot
- blueberry cheesecake ice cream
- Pork and cheese meatballs
How to Store Cream Cheese Frosting
Whether you have cream cheese frosting on its own or slathered onto cake or cupcakes, you’ll need to store it in an airtight container. It should be refrigerated to maximize freshness.
Expect 3-5 days life out of icing. If that isn’t long enough then don’t freeze as it will usually separate with an unpleasant liquid spoiling the look of the cake.
If the frosting is in a container and hasn’t been spread onto a cake, give it a quick whisk before using to soften it up.
Fast facts about cream cheese
- Neufchatel is a type of soft French cheese that has lower calories.
- Flavored cream cheese, like onion and chives, has the same shelf life as the original variant.
- Once the pack is opened, reduced-fat cream cheese will last for around 10 days, the same as the full-fat variety.
- Most cream cheese brands that use hot-pack processing will last 3-6 months from manufacturing.
To get the best out of your cream cheese be sure you store it correctly. It’s best to refrigerate it to observe food safety standards and to maintain the cheese’s structure. Storing the cream cheese at the back of the fridge and ensuring it is well packaged will help maximize shelf life.
Smart shopping is the key to reducing food waste. Try to buy only enough for the recipe you’re making and avoid buying bulk quantities that are cheaper. Unless you use it frequently, half will end up getting tossed out.