Knowing how long you can keep your last purchase before making a new one
Cream cheese is an incredibly versatile condiment, able to be put onto bagels, sweets, and all sorts of other great dishes to add a bit of flair and flavor to them. But being a dairy product, cream cheese does have a limited shelf life compared to a lot of alternatives, and you may be wondering just how long you can keep a tub of cream cheese in the refrigerator before it becomes unsafe to eat. We’d like to help you figure that out by sharing the many factors that affect the shelf life of cream cheese, and how you can either avoid or change them.
With this information, you’ll be able to maximize how long your cream cheese lasts, and reduce the chances of accidentally consuming spoiled food that could lead to serious health concerns for both you and anyone living with you, not to mention save more money and effort by extending the lifetime of one of your favorite foods, cutting back on how often you have to purchase more.
What Kind of Factors Affect Cream Cheese Shelf Life?
This question doesn’t have any straightforward answer, because there are many, many factors that can extend or reduce the life of cream cheese, and you’ll need to be aware of all of them if you want to avoid getting anyone in your household sick. We’d like to help you learn those factors, and make it just a little less complicated. Like most foods, 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.
#1 Homemade Cream Cheese Versus Store-Bought Cream Cheese
Some people like to make their own cream cheese so they know exactly what ingredients go into it, and while it is great to be able to specialize something you love in your own personal way, there is an undeniable and very real difference in the longevity of the cream cheese you make at home and the cream cheese that you buy at the store. There are many things you need to keep in mind about these differences to properly judge and understand how long the two different options will last even in the same storage environment.
Your homemade cream cheese will generally only last as long as the most rapidly expiring ingredient. If you make your own cream cheese, you have the leeway to put just about anything you want into it, but while this might make it taste good, it can also greatly affect how long your homemade cream cheese will last. Any food will only last as long as the ingredient that expires first, so if you put an ingredient into your homemade cream cheese that expires in a few days, the life of the cream cheese as a whole will only be a few days. The lifespan of store-bought cream cheese is usually already estimated for you by a date on the packaging.
Added preservatives do have a significant effect on the duration of cream cheese shelf life. Added preservatives have a bad reputation as unnatural additions to food that aren’t organic, but it can’t be argued that they perform the task they were designed for very well. The majority of store-bought cream cheeses will have some sort of preservative to keep them smooth, and that preservative will always make store bought cream cheese last longer than homemade cream cheese (unless you actually add some sort of preservative in your personal recipe, that is).
Different types of cream cheese have different lifespans based on their primary ingredients. There are many different variants of cream cheese, including flavored and reduced fat, and a few in-betweens: each of these different types of cream cheese has some different ingredients in them, so you can’t be sure if they will all last for the same amount of time. That said, almost every type of store-bought cream cheese will last (unopened) about four weeks in the refrigerator, so it is not like any of these different types of cream cheese have significantly shorter lifespans.
#2 How to Store Your Cream Cheese to Increase Its Shelf Life
Pretty much every type of food will last significantly longer if you store them properly, but this is especially true of dairy products, which will go bad at a rapidly accelerated rate if you don’t have them in the right kind of storage environment. If you want to extend the life of your cream cheese as much as possible you need to make sure you know the right way to store it.
Always keep cream cheese in airtight containers after they have been opened. Moisture is the enemy of most foods because it helps mold grow in places you really don’t want it to, and mold is something that will force you to throw out an entire bucket of cream cheese if you find any. The best way to stop that from happening is preventing air moisture from getting to your cream cheese by way of airtight containers; of course, most store-bought cream cheese comes in such containers already, but if you make your own this is an important thing to remember (also important to remember for foil wrapped cream cheese after it has been opened).
Always keep your cream cheese in storage below forty degrees Fahrenheit. Cream cheese does not take heat very well at all, and for this reason, it needs to be kept in refrigeration pretty much at all times, outside of when you take it out to put on a bagel. Cream cheese should not be out of refrigeration for more than an hour, so you may want to consider putting it in your basket at the grocery store only when you are ready to check out, especially if you live a significant distance away.
Always remember that unopened packages last much longer than opened ones regardless of storage. Once you open a cream cheese package, regardless of its packaging, ingredients, storage, or type, its shelf life will be drastically reduced to about ten days; in fact, once cream cheese has been opened it is recommended that you consume it within ten days at the very maximum. However, if you leave the package unopened, nearly every type of store-bought cream cheese will last three to four weeks in the refrigerator, so leave your packages unopened until you plan to use them a significant amount in the next week or so if you want to get the most out of it.
Cream cheese can be frozen if you want to get the absolute longest shelf life out of them, but with a drawback. It is perfectly viable to put your cream cheese in the freezer if you want to extend its shelf life as long as you possibly can. An unopened package of cream cheese will last nearly two months past its best by date in the freezer and even opened packages will still last much longer than the typical ten days. However, it is worth noting that cream cheese doesn’t take being frozen and thawed very well; it is safe to eat after doing that, but the product itself will become quite crumbly.
#3 How to Tell if Your Cream Cheese Is Rotten, Bad, or Spoiled
Even if you store your cream cheese in the proper recommended fashion, it will ultimately go bad at some point, and you need to know the best ways to tell when your food is bad or is starting to go bad. Thankfully cream cheese is a product that makes it pretty obvious when it is no longer a good idea to eat.
Don’t confuse the best by date with the expiration date. Many food products sold in grocery stores have a date on them that is labeled the ‘best by’ date, and most customers assume this is the date by which the product is no longer safe to consume. However, this is actually not true: the best by date is just an indicator of when the seller thinks the product will no longer be its best quality, and you can generally still eat nearly any food, including cream cheese, a few days after that best by date passes. Of course, being a dairy product, you shouldn’t give cream cheese too much leeway after that date, and if you opened it prior to that date anyway, the ten-day rule mentioned previously still applies.
If you find mold anywhere in the cream cheese, you must discard the entire container. Mold is extremely dangerous if ingested and can cause a wide variety of very hazardous problems in the human body, so when you find mold somewhere, you have to play it extra safe and guarantee that you’ve gotten rid of all of it. If you find even a little bit of mold in a tub of cream cheese, you should throw away the whole container it came from; even if you can’t see any more mold in the cream cheese, you can’t just scoop away the bad part and assume the rest of the cream cheese is safe; if there’s a little mold, the bacteria is likely already spread throughout all of the cream cheese.
Ten days is a soft limit if you want to always play it safe when it comes to opened cream cheese of any kind. As mentioned previously, it is generally recommended that you consume your cream cheese, regardless of what kind it is, approximately ten days after the container has been opened. However, this is not to say that cream cheese is automatically bad after eleven days; in fact, it may still be safe to eat, but at that point, it is almost definitely beginning to deteriorate, and you’ll be taking a mostly unnecessary risk. If you want to play it safe when it comes to your cream cheese, just discard any you have left ten days after it has been opened.
Always trust your senses and your instincts. Thankfully cream cheese makes it very clear when it is bad because your many senses will pick up on a lot of obvious differences between the good and the bad. Fresh cream cheese is generally a light color and is very smooth, and the smell is quite mild (and probably smells like cream, unless it is flavored). Spoiled cream cheese, on the other hand, not only smells and tastes sour, but the texture will change to crumbly and stiff under a layer of liquid. If you see, smell, or taste any of these traits in your cream cheese, it is definitely time to throw it out to make absolutely sure you don’t get sick.
Why Is It Important to Know Any of This?
Eating spoiled food is a major cause of dangerous and even deadly foodborne illnesses in the world. Knowing the average lifespan of all the foods you purchase, especially dairy products like cream cheese, helps ensure that you aren’t eating any food that is no longer safe to consume and will cause health concerns. Furthermore, knowing what signs to look for in regards to food spoilage helps keep both you and your family safe from the hazards of serious risks like mold and the bacteria that causes it.
On top of that, knowing how to store your cream cheese for the longest possible shelf life provides a variety of benefits. That too keeps you and your family safe by reducing the risk of spoilage, but it also helps you save money by cutting back on how often you buy more containers of cream cheese, and it even helps the environment by reducing how much food gets wasted every year. In the end, knowledge about the longevity and potential spoilage concerns of your favorite foods is just a good thing to have.