Does Cream Cheese Frosting Need to Be Refrigerated?

You have leftover cake with cream cheese frosting. Can it be stored at room temperature, or does it have to be refrigerated? And what about other styles of frosting?

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Though we prefer to leave cake on the counter, where it stays tender and moist, if it’s made with cream cheese frosting (or almost any other kind of frosting), chances are it will need to be refrigerated.

How Long Can Cream Cheese Frosting Sit Out?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises refrigerating any food made with cream cheese after 2 hours (that includes time spent making the food). The same typically goes for frostings made with other perishable foods such as whipped cream, egg whites, or egg yolks.

There are two exceptions to this rule. A simple uncooked buttercream frosting (sometimes referred to as an American buttercream) made with just butter, sugar, and flavorings, or other frostings with little to no added liquid, can sit out for a couple of days. That’s because bacteria needs water to proliferate, and butter is just 10 percent water. 

According to the Kansas State University Research and Extension, which publishes food safety guidelines for state fairs, another exception is a frosting that is more than 65 percent sugar by weight. Sugar binds with free water in food, making it unavailable for bacteria to use. With enough of it in the frosting, it acts as a preservative. 

How to Serve Cake That’s Been Chilled

If you do need to chill your cake with cream cheese or other frosting, allow it to warm up before serving so that it returns to a more tender state.

Remove only the slices you plan to serve from the refrigerator, rather than the whole cake, since individual slices will warm up more quickly. This will also minimize any food safety risks.

More about Cream Cheese:

Is all cream cheese the same? Find out the results of our cream cheese taste test.

Try these cakes with cream cheese frosting:

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