Last Updated: September 21, 2022

How Long Can Cheese Sit Out and Be Safe to Consume?

How Long Can Cheese Sit Out

If you’re preparing a cheese board for your party, it’s normal for you to wonder how long can cheese be left out on your buffet table at room temperature and still be safe to eat.

You can also think if it is safe to leave the cheese on the counter overnight at room temperature.

So, How Long Can Cheese Sit Out?

Well, it really depends on the cheese you’re leaving out. 

Cheese TypeSoft CheeseHard Cheeses
How Long Can Sit Out? 2 hours8 Hours
Action to Take if Sits out for LongerDiscard right away if they’ve been sitting out for 2 hoursKeep Reading to know

According to the U.S Department of Health’s guidelines, perishable food shouldn’t be kept out of the fridge for more than 2 hours. And you must follow this guideline for your soft cheese like brie, cream or cottage cheese, and mozzarella. But if you leave them out for more than two hours, make sure to toss them out.

And if you wonder how long mac cheese can sit out, then the answer is the same here. It shouldn’t be out for more than 2 hours. 

On the other hand, the harder the cheese, the longer it can sit out. But Cheddar, Gouda, Swiss, Parmesan, and all other hard cheeses shouldn’t be sitting out more than  8 hours.

Otherwise-

  • Cheese fat will start to separate from the cheese, 
  • The cheese surface will look greasy, and
  • Its texture will be changed

As a result, the quality of cheese declines a great deal.

Tip : If hard cheeses are out for less than 8 hours, rewrap and refrigerate them. Beyond that, you should throw them.

Note: These hours are set based on assuming the room temperature will be around 70 degrees F.

Does Cheese Go Bad If Left Out for Too Long?

This is going to be a little bit of a detailed explanation. But make sure to read it to know better.

Cheese has been made for thousands of years, way before the refrigerator was around, so, refrigeration was never a crucial factor in making or storing cheese.

Actually, Cheese safety is ensured by the most important stage of cheese making, which is the aging process.  In this stage, new cheeses are kept at temperatures between 50 to 59°F for weeks, months, and even years. Despite no refrigeration, the aging process doesn’t diminish the quality of cheese, rather it produces high-quality cheese. 

Now, the question is what do you mean by “go bad.”  Do you mean food spoilage, where the quality of food declines due to bacterial changes? Or you mean food poisoning caused by bacteria reproducing on the surface of the food, which can make you sick. 

Okay, let me answer both questions.

Can Cheese Cause Food Poisoning If It Sits Out For Long?

The answer is that food poisoning from consuming cheese that was kept at room temperature for a long time is less likely. 

Fact : All cheese sold in the U.S. is made with pasteurized milk where all potentially harmful bacteria are already eliminated from the milk. 

So, even if you leave it out at room temperature for days, your cheese won’t be attacked by the illness-causing bacteria.

Is Spoilage on Cheese Possible?

Honestly, spoilage isn’t much of an issue for cheese.

Food spoilage means changes in flavor, color, aroma, texture, and so on that are caused by bacteria. Food spoilage makes the food unappetizing but doesn’t make you sick. 

Fact 2 : As the cheese making-process squeezes out most of the water, cheese doesn’t support the bacteria easily and is safe from food spoilage. 

However, the most frequent form of spoilage on cheese is mold. It’s a type of fungus, not bacteria. And mold can grow even in the fridge. 

So, it’s normal if you see mold growing in your cheese that has been sitting out for longer. But don’t worry. You won’t have to throw your cheese just because of that. Simply cut off the moldy parts and the rest of the cheese is perfectly good to eat.

So, none of them is an actual concern. The biggest setback of letting the cheese sit out at room temperature for a long time is the decline of quality due to losing moisture and the separation of the fat from the cheese.

Side Effects of Eating Moldy Cheese

It is less likely to get seriously ill from eating moldy cheese. Especially from eating soft cheeses mistakenly that you kept out for more than 2 hours.

Yes, mature cheese mold can make you ill as it has a toxic substance called mycotoxins. But it can make you seriously ill only if you consume a lot of them and neglect medical advice. And, I am sure it’s less likely to find so many expired or neglected cheeses.

But you will be at risk if your cheese was already moldy when you bought it without noticing. Because molds can contain E.coli, Salmonella, and Listeria. And if you end up with a severe case of any of these, then it can be fatal. But let me tell you again, for this to happen, you will really have to eat a lot of moldy cheese.

However, if you have stomach pain, diarrhea, or any other discomfort it’s better to consult with a doctor.

Does Cheese Need to be Refrigerated?

Some cheese specialists suggest that cheese shouldn’t be refrigerated. Rather, you should keep them in a cool place, away from direct sunlight, and consume them within a day or two. 

Because refrigerators extract moisture from the air,  if you store cheese in the fridge, it will dry out and lose quality faster than if it is wrapped in parchment paper and kept in a cool, dark cellar.

But there are exceptions. Unripened and fresh cheeses like cottage cheese, cream cheese, and ricotta need to be stored in the fridge. 

You may also like to know, “Can you freeze cream cheese?”

Wrap Up

The point is that anything that you can’t eat within a day should be refrigerated. This goes for cheese too, especially for soft, ripened cheeses like Camembert, and Brie, and as well as for semi-firm cheeses like cheddar, Monterey Jack, and Swiss.

But it doesn’t mean that you can leave out hard cheeses like Parmesan, Pecorino, Romano, and Gouda overnight or all day at room temperature. 

So, plan your cheese platter considering everything you have learned today to avoid food wastage.

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