Cream cheese is a workhorse ingredient, providing texture and flavor to all sorts of dishes. From acting as the base for smooth and dreamy cheesecake desserts to thickening up sauces and dips, it's versatile and good to always have on hand in the fridge. Many recipes will ask for the cream cheese to be softened, which involves letting your package come to room temperature on the counter. But just how long can that package of cream cheese sit out before it's unsafe to eat?
Cream cheese is a dairy product, and dairy products will go bad quickly when left out at ambient temperature. Blocks or tubs of cream cheese, as well as dishes that include uncooked cream cheese (such as dips or spreads), can be left out for about two hours safely. If you're, say, at a picnic and the air temperature is particularly warm, that estimate is even lower — always err on the side of caution when food contamination is a risk.
The Dangers Of Room Temperature Cream Cheese
Dairy products are particularly at risk for foodborne bacteria when left out at room temperature. These bacteria love dairy products because they serve as a good environment for growth; dangers such as E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella can infect room-temperature dairy -- including cream cheese -- if the product is left out too long. If you need to keep your cream cheese out longer than that, keep a tight lid on it and ensure it's being chilled properly on a bed of ice or in a cooler (or better yet, just keep it in a fridge if you can).
If you've accidentally left cream cheese out for longer than that, you'll need to dispose of it to be safe. The bacteria that can invade dairy at warmer temperatures can cause terrible side effects, including diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting, and fever, among others. That cream cheese frosting isn't worth it: chuck it if it's been out too long, or if you're not sure.
How To Safely Soften Cream Cheese
Even if you'll only be leaving that cream cheese out for a little while to soften, there are better (and faster) ways to prepare a cream cheese block for cooking or baking than setting it on the countertop. One speedy way is to keep the cheese in its packaging (still sealed) and submerge it in a bowl of warm water. All told it will only take five to 10 minutes for the cream cheese to soften.
You can also use your hands to massage a sealed cream cheese block; the warmth from your palms will warm up the cheese, slowly softening it. This method may take a little longer, though, and can get tiring.
Finally, you can put cream cheese in the microwave to soften, but be careful you don't overheat it. Put unwrapped cream cheese on a microwave-safe plate (or in a bowl), then zap it for short 10-15 second periods until it's as soft as you need it to be.
Read the original article on Daily Meal.