Does Cream Cheese Go Bad? – All You Need To Know

Written by: Mike Marshall
cream cheese bowl

If your family members always eat your favorite cream cheese, you might feel compelled to stock up on it. 

But before you do that, you should know the answer to a simple question – does cream cheese go bad?

In this article, you’ll not only find the detailed answer but also all the information regarding your favorite spread. 

From signs of spoilage to proper storage, this article has got you covered. 

So let’s jump straight in.

How Long Does Cream Cheese Last?

Like most dairy products, cream cheese doesn’t have a very long shelf life. You’ll see a best before date on the back of every packaging. That date doesn’t actually show when it’s time to throw the cream cheese away. Instead, it tells you how long the product will keep its optimal quality. 

The actual shelf life is somewhat longer than that. Most store-bought cream cheese contains preservatives, be it natural or artificial. In any case, they inhibit bacterial and mold growth, thus increasing the shelf life.

Let’s start with unopened packaging. Cream cheese packed in plastic containers usually lasts for three to four weeks after the best before date on the packaging. This is, of course, assuming you’re keeping it in the fridge. 

Cream cheese with less than 1.5% fat will last a bit shorter. Generally, their shelf life is two to three weeks past the date on the label. 

In some cases, the shelf life can be a bit longer. For instance, if the cream cheese was heat processed, it can last for a few more months in the fridge. The exact amount of time it can stay good depends on the exact process. But it will be usually indicated on the packaging.

Once you open the packaging, the shelf life gets much shorter. In most cases, you can expect your cream cheese to be good for one to two weeks when stored in the fridge. This is true whether cream cheese is stored in plastic containers or foil-wrapped.

When it comes to dairy products, freezing doesn’t extend their shelf life for too long. In terms of cream cheese, you can expect it to last up to two more months, given it’s adequately packed. However, freezing cream cheese is not advisable unless it’s for cooking. Why is that? We’ll get into more details in the last section.

One thing to keep in mind though – the shelf life of cream cheese can be drastically shorter if not stored properly. So for instance, if you keep it at room temperature for more than two hours, it will only be good for trash. 

Furthermore, shelf life also depends a lot on hygiene. By this, I mean you should use a clean butter knife every time you want to scoop it. Forget about double-dipping, as you can easily contaminate it. 

How To Tell If Cream Cheese Is Bad?

cream cheese in a bowl

With such a short shelf life, it’s possible cream cheese will go bad before you go through the whole packaging. Luckily, you can notice the first signs of spoilage pretty easily. 

The first sign is discoloration. Cream cheese is usually either white or cream in color. If you notice its color-changing to yellow, pink, blue, or green, your cream cheese is no longer good. 

The color change indicates some kind of mold has formed. And because of its creamy texture, it easily spreads throughout the entire cheese. So while you can usually cut off the molded part on hard cheeses, that’s not the case here. If any color change appears, throw the product away.

Truth be told, not all mold appearing on cheese is harmful. But the risk of getting sick is definitely not worth it. 

Fresh cream cheese has a smooth texture. Over time, it will become dry, grainy, and crack on the surface. If that’s the case, the cream cheese is no longer edible. 

The same applies if your cream cheese becomes too watery. A few drops of liquid forming on the top is okay, but if the consistency has drastically changed, it’s time to discard it.

Aside from visual signs, it’s worth noting that change in odor often indicates cream cheese has gone bad. Fresh cream cheese has a light, pleasant dairy smell. But once it spoils, the odor will become strong and pungent. 

Be very careful when consuming cream cheese. You should always throw it away with the first signs of spoilage. As you know, cream cheese has a  high moisture content. Because of that, it can easily become contaminated with harmful microorganisms.

These pathogens can get you sick. By that, I don’t mean an upset stomach or heartburn. Certain bacteria and molds can actually cause acute diseases that can be quite dangerous. 

How To Store Cream Cheese?

As we already established, cream cheese goes bad at room temperature within two hours. What this means is you should always put it in your shopping cart just before checking out. Then as you get home, put it in the fridge right away.

An ideal fridge temperature for storing cream cheese is 40º Fahrenheit or lower. But in order to stay fresh for as much as possible, you need to use proper packaging as well.

The plastic containers most cream cheeses come in are decent enough for storing. But if you’ve bought a foil-wrapped block, you should transfer the cheese to an airtight container as soon as you open the packaging. That way, you’re keeping it safe from oxygen and premature spoilage.

Finally, let’s talk about storing cream cheese in the freezer. You might have heard that freezing some dairy products causes them to separate. Cream cheese has a high level of moisture, and once stored at freezing temperature, that moisture can turn into ice crystals. 

Once you take it out and thaw, those ice crystals will melt and create water. But cream cheese also contains fat. Water and fat are liquids that do not mix, so you’ll see some obvious content separation.

But while it appears crumbly, that doesn’t mean your cream cheese has gone bad. The texture might not allow you to spread it on bread, but thawed cream cheese is still good for cooking. 

As for the packaging, you need to make sure no air can get inside. This means you can’t just put a foil-wrapped block in the freezer and hope for the best. Instead, you should either transfer it to an airtight container or wrap it well with a few layers of plastic cling film. 

Storing it that way prevents cream cheese from drying out too fast. Furthermore, that way it can’t retain odor from other foods in your freezer. 

Still, you should know that the freezer will eventually dry out your cream cheese, no matter how well it was packed. That means you can’t expect it to extend the shelf life for too long.

Final Conclusion

Like most dairy products, cream cheese needs to be stored in the fridge. There, it can stay fresh for up to a month unopened. 

Once you open the packaging, the shelf life becomes only one to two weeks. To make the best of it, transfer cream cheese to an airtight container.

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I’m not a pro chef by any means, but years of tinkering inside the kitchen have taught me a thing or two about preparing delicious, healthy food. So whether you’re interested in how to properly store food, figuring out side dishes for your main course, or even learning how to use a knife properly – I've got you covered.