Can Cream Cheese Go Bad?

Whole Wheat Bagel, Cream Cheese and Orange Juice

Cream cheese is a staple breakfast item in many households, as well as a pretty common baking ingredient. Of course, if you don’t use it every day, you may find a package of cream cheese in the back of your refrigerator, and have no idea when you bought it, or if it’s even still good to eat! Can cream cheese go bad? How could you tell if cream cheese has spoiled? Read on to find out!

Can Cream Cheese Go Bad?

Like all dairy products, cream cheese can eventually go bad. Typically, softer cheeses will spoil faster than their harder counterparts because of the moisture content. On average, unopened cream cheese will last for about a month past the expiration date, so long as it remains refrigerated.

Once cream cheese is opened, it will last for another two to four weeks in the refrigerator before beginning to spoil. Of course, the shelf life is highly dependent on processing methods. Some containers of cream cheese are heat processed to remain fresh for up to six months in the refrigerator, and some packaged cream cheeses will even remain shelf stable for months at a time before opening! Before assuming your cream cheese has spoiled, it’s worth checking the packaging to see if it has been processed for a longer shelf life.

Unless cream cheese has been specially processed to be room temperature stable, it should always be refrigerated to prevent harmful bacteria growth.

Whole Wheat Bagel, Cream Cheese and Orange Juice

Image used under Creative Commons from Justin Smith

How To Tell If Cream Cheese Has Gone Bad

A quick visual assessment should usually tell you if cream cheese has spoiled. If there is mold growing on the cream cheese, this is a sign that it has gone bad, and should not be consumed. While it’s typically okay to simply remove the spots of mold from harder cheeses, this is not the case with softer cheeses like cream cheese. Cheese molds can develop toxins which can easily permeate a soft cheese, and are not safe to eat.

Another sign of spoilage is that older cream cheese will dry out, becoming hard, waxy and yellowish in appearance. While it’s not necessarily harmful to consume cheese that has dried out like this, it’s certainly not pleasant. You can cut off the dried out part, and as long as the rest of the cheese looks and smells fine, it should be good to use!

Cracks and separation can also indicate whether cream cheese has spoiled. Fresh cream cheese is smooth and uniform in appearance. As it ages, cream cheese will dry out, form cracks on the surface, and begin to separate. If you notice pools of liquid in your cream cheese, and a dried out surface, the cheese has definitely begun to spoil and should not be consumed.

Smell is another good indicator of spoilage. Cream cheese will already smell a bit tangy, but if you notice a moldy, or sour smell, you should consider discarding the cream cheese.

Can You Freeze Cream Cheese?

Cream cheese can be frozen with some success. Because the texture will become crumbly, previously frozen cream cheese should be saved for dishes where it will be cooked. Once thawed, the cheese will likely no longer spread on a bagel, and may be slightly unpleasant tasting until heated thoroughly.

To freeze cream cheese, make sure it’s tightly wrapped so that no air may come in contact with the cheese. This is necessary to ensure that the cream cheese neither dries out, nor takes on any flavors which may have collected in the refrigerator.

Because the freezer will dry out cream cheese over time, it’s recommended that cream cheese be frozen for no more than two months. Cream cheese can be thawed overnight in the refrigerator, and then used for cooking or baking.

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