How long can cream cheese frosted cake sit out?

Quick Answer

Cream cheese frosted cake should not sit out at room temperature for more than 2 hours. After 2 hours, the cake should be refrigerated to prevent bacterial growth and foodborne illness. The cream cheese frosting is particularly prone to spoiling if left out too long.

How Long Can Frosted Cake Sit Out Before Refrigeration?

The general rule for frosted cakes is they should not sit out at room temperature for more than 2 hours before being refrigerated. This applies to cakes frosted with buttercream, cream cheese frosting, ganache, or any other creamy frosting.

After sitting out for 2 hours, the cake temperature will enter the “Danger Zone” between 40-140°F. This is the temperature range where bacteria can rapidly multiply. Even though buttercream and cream cheese frostings contain some preservatives and acidity to help inhibit microbial growth, it’s still best to refrigerate the cake within 2 hours.

Factors Affecting How Long a Frosted Cake Can Sit Out

There are a few factors that can affect how long a frosted cake can safely sit out at room temperature:

  • Type of frosting – Buttercream will resist spoilage longer than cream cheese or whipped cream frostings.
  • Room temperature – Warmer room temps accelerate spoilage.
  • How long it takes to serve the cake – Cutting into the cake introduces new bacteria.
  • Sanitary handling and serving – Using clean utensils helps prevent contamination.

Taking these factors into account, the 2 hour room temperature limit is recommended for most frosted cakes. Sticking to this rule prevents the multiplication of dangerous bacteria to unsafe levels.

How Long Can Cream Cheese Frosted Cake Sit Out?

Cream cheese frosted cakes are highly perishable and should not sit out for more than 2 hours before refrigeration. The perishability is due to the dairy ingredients in cream cheese:

  • Cream cheese is a dairy product made from milk and cream. Like all dairy products, it can spoil quickly at room temperature.
  • Cream cheese has a higher moisture content than buttercream, making it more prone to spoilage.
  • The pH of cream cheese is near neutral, which allows bacteria to grow more rapidly compared to high-acid frostings.

For food safety, cream cheese frosted cakes should always be refrigerated within 2 hours of being frosted or served. Leaving the cake out too long gives bacteria a chance to grow to dangerous levels that can cause food poisoning.

How to Store a Cream Cheese Frosted Cake

To safely store a cream cheese frosted cake:

  • Refrigerate the cake within 2 hours after frosting or cutting. Keep the temperature at 40°F or below.
  • Cover the cake tightly with plastic wrap or store in an airtight container. This prevents the cake from absorbing fridge odors.
  • Cake layers can be frozen for longer storage. Wrap layers individually in plastic then foil. Thaw overnight in the fridge before frosting.
  • Frosted cakes will last 3-4 days refrigerated. Unfrosted cake layers can be frozen for 2-3 months.

Proper refrigeration at 40°F or below prevents the growth of dangerous bacteria. Covering the cake also helps retain moisture in the frosting.

How Long Can Refrigerated Cream Cheese Frosted Cake Sit Out?

Once refrigerated, cream cheese frosted cakes can safely sit out at room temperature again for another 1-2 hours. Similar to the initial room temperature limit, you don’t want the cake sitting out too long after refrigeration.

Here are guidelines for refrigerated cakes:

  • 1-2 hours at room temperature is safe.
  • After 2 hours, put the cake back in the fridge.
  • Only take out the amount needed and refrigerate the rest.
  • Use clean utensils to cut and serve the cake.

The cooler temperature of the fridge helps slow bacterial growth. But leaving the cake out too long after refrigeration allows the bacteria to become active again. Following the 1-2 hour room temperature rule prevents this.

How to Tell If Cream Cheese Frosted Cake Has Spoiled

Look for these signs that indicate your cream cheese frosted cake has spoiled and should be thrown out:

  • Mold growth on the frosting or cake layers
  • Watery or separated frosting
  • Cream cheese frosting turns yellow or orange
  • Sour or bitter odor coming from the cake
  • Dry, cracked, or sunken cake layers


The development of mold, usually seen as fuzzy or slimy greenish patches, is a clear sign of spoilage. Mold can grow when the cake has sat out too long at room temperature. Discard moldy cakes rather than trying to cut off the mold.

Watery Frosting

A watery, thin, or curdled consistency of the frosting indicates spoilage. This can occur from sitting out at warm temperatures for extended periods. Toss the cake if you see this frosting texture.


The cream cheese frosting turning yellow or orange is a warning sign as this indicates oxidation or chemical changes from bacteria growing. Do not eat the cake if the frosting color is off.

Foul Odors

Noticeable sour or bitter smells coming from the cake mean spoilage bacteria are actively growing. Trust your nose and throw away the cake if you detect an unpleasant odor.

Dry or Sunken Cake Layers

If the cake layers themselves are dried out, cracked, or caved in, do not eat the cake. This shows loss of moisture and bacterial overgrowth. Always discard spoiled baked goods.

Foodborne Illness Risk from Spoiled Cream Cheese Frosting

Eating spoiled cream cheese frosting can lead to foodborne illness. Bacteria that can grow in cream cheese include:

  • Salmonella – Causes salmonellosis
  • Staphylococcus aureus – Causes severe gastrointestinal symptoms
  • Listeria monocytogenes – Causes listeriosis
  • Escherichia coli – Causes diarrhea, urinary tract infections, and kidney failure

Symptoms of foodborne illness include nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea, fever, and chills. Seek medical treatment if you have these symptoms after eating spoiled cream cheese frosted cake.

Some groups at higher risk for severe food poisoning include pregnant women, children, older adults, and those with weak immune systems. Always adhere to food safety practices when handling cakes with dairy frostings.

Best Practices for Cream Cheese Frosted Cake Safety

Here are some best practices for handling and storing cream cheese frosted cakes:

  • Always wash hands and sanitize work surfaces before frosting cakes
  • Refrigerate the frosted cake within 2 hours of frosting or cutting
  • Store cakes in airtight containers in the fridge at 40°F or below
  • Let refrigerated cakes sit out no more than 1-2 hours before serving
  • Toss cakes that are moldy or have an off odor – do not taste test!
  • Discard leftover cake that has been sitting out or after events
  • When in doubt, throw it out! Don’t take risks with dairy-based frostings

Following proper food safety practices reduces the risk of foodborne illnesses from cream cheese frosted cakes and other dairy-based bakery products. Be aware of refrigeration times and signs of spoilage.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you freeze cream cheese frosted cake?

It is not recommended to freeze a cake after it has been frosted with cream cheese frosting. The frosting will deteriorate in texture and flavor. Cake layers can be frozen unfrosted for 2-3 months. Defrost overnight in the fridge and then frost just before serving.

Can fondant covered cake sit out?

Fondant provides an airtight covering that helps prevent spoilage. Fondant-covered cakes can safely sit out at room temperature for up to 24 hours. After that, refrigerate the cake or re-cover with fresh fondant.

How long can whipped cream frosted cake sit out?

Whipped cream is highly perishable and cakes frosted with whipped cream should not sit out for more than 2 hours at room temperature. Refrigerate whipped cream frosted cakes immediately after frosting or cutting.

What temperature is safe for cake?

Cakes should be stored at temperatures of 40°F or lower. Temperatures between 40°F and 140°F allow rapid bacterial growth and should be avoided. Display chilled cakes on ice to maintain a safe temperature when serving.

Can you get food poisoning from old cake?

Yes, eating cake that has spoiled can lead to food poisoning. Old cakes can harbor dangerous bacteria like Salmonella, E. coli, and Staphylococcus. Always inspect cakes for mold growth, foul odors, and other signs of spoilage before consuming.


Cream cheese frosted cakes have a limited time they can sit out safely at room temperature. Follow the 2 hour room temperature rule – cakes should be refrigerated within 2 hours of frosting or cutting. Refrigerated cakes can sit out again for 1-2 hours. Discard cakes that show signs of spoilage like watery frosting, odd colors, foul smells, or mold. Proper food safety practices reduce the risk of foodborne illness when handling cream cheese frosted cakes and other dairy-based bakery products. Be aware of refrigeration times and use caution with perishable dairy frostings like cream cheese.

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