A rich, white cheese made with cream and cow's milk, cream cheese is not ripened or aged, which makes it more perishable. Unlike hard cheeses, cream cheese and other soft cheeses including ricotta, mascarpone and Neufchatel require refrigeration at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in order to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Goods made with cream cheese as an ingredient and then baked in the oven, such as cheesecake, also require refrigeration.
Refrigerating Baked Goods
Cheesecake is not alone in the list of baked goods that require refrigeration. Store cakes and other baked delicacies made with a cream cheese filling or frosting in the refrigerator. Chill custard and pumpkin pies made with perishable dairy ingredients such as eggs and milk. In the refrigerator, a baked cheesecake keeps fresh for three to seven days; in the freezer cheesecake keeps for up to six months. If the cheesecake or other baked item containing cream cheese is left out at room temperature for more than two hours in the danger zone -- between 40 and 140 F -- harmful bacteria may have invaded, making the treat unsafe to eat.
Identifying Spoiled Goods
The tricky thing about foodborne illness is that your dessert might still look perfectly delicious, even after it has been contaminated. After two hours at room temperature, and one hour during hot days over 90 F, bacteria begin to multiply at double their rate in as little as 20 minutes. These bacteria are invisible to the human eye and do not affect the taste of the dessert. Pregnant women, the elderly and young children are considered most likely to get sick or experience discomfort after eating contaminated food such as unrefrigerated baked goods made with cream cheese.
Refrigerating Cream Cheese
To keep your cream cheese fresh before using it as an ingredient in baked goods, store it in the refrigerator. Unopened, some brands of cream cheese can keep for up to six months; once opened, cream cheese can stay fresh if kept sealed or wrapped for up to two weeks. Buy perishable dairy items such as cream cheese at the end of your shopping trip and get them to a cold place as soon as possible. Insulated bags and coolers packed with ice can safely transport perishable food items and baked goods for long car trips.
Grocery Store Goods
Some grocery stores and bakeries sell baked goods made with cream cheese, eggs and dairy, yet these cakes and pies are left out at room temperature. Michigan State University Extension Services says that commercial baked goods are made with preservatives to keep them shelf-stable without refrigeration.