Cream cheese, which often is added as a filling or topping to desserts, hors d'oeuvres and pastries to add flavor and texture, is made from dairy products and can spoil if left out of the refrigerator for more than a few hours. Even commercial baked goods, containing cream cheese icing or fillings, need to be kept cold to avoid spoilage.
The main ingredients in cream cheese are nonfat milk, milk fat, cheese cultures and whey protein. These are dairy products and, therefore, need to be kept cold. Dairy products, as a rule, should not be left out of the refrigeration for more than a couple hours, noted the Virginia Cooperative Extension.
Not only does the cream cheese in filling and frosting need to be refrigerated, so do the eggs and whipped cream that often are included as recipe ingredients. If left on a countertop, the ingredients in cream cheese filling will sour and eventually grow mold.
Soft Cheese vs. Hard Cheese
Though hard cheese can hold up at room temperature and often tastes better after sweating a bit, soft cheeses, such as brie and cream cheese, spoil quickly and need to be immediately placed in the refrigerator or thrown away if they have been sitting out unrefrigerated. A few hours on a tabletop is the limit for soft cheeses; otherwise, there is increased risk for food poisoning, which can cause abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and weakness, noted the U.S. National Library of Medicine website.
Fresh Cream Cheese
When refrigerated, unopened bricks of cream cheese last a little longer than cream cheese fillings -- Virginia Cooperative Extension recommends limiting refrigeration of block cream cheese to about two weeks. For cream cheese filling, however, a few days in the refrigerator is the limit, due to the added perishable ingredients such as eggs, milk and whipped cream. Freezing cream cheese filling is not recommended, as it separates and can become grainy in texture.
Elizabeth Ireland began writing professionally in 1997 as a reporter and columnist with the "Lancaster (Pa.) Sunday News." She now serves as the marketing and communications manager for Elizabethtown College, where she earned an associate degree in corporate communication. Ireland also covers rock climbing, cycling, the outdoors, home remodeling, relationships, cooking, higher education, fitness and the environment.