Can Sour Cream Go Bad? How To Tell For Sure

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A dapple of sour cream feels like a satisfying treat. It’s a component in dips and dressing and as a topper for bake or fried delectable foods like stuffed potatoes.

Cool fact: In 2020 alone, 240 million Americans consumed sour cream, coming in just behind mustard (286 million) and ketchup (308 million). (*) Popularity aside, because it’s a dairy product, you might wonder how long is sour cream still good to eat? Does sour cream go bad?

One supermarket’s dairy section search tells you sour cream containers are big, being far too much for a single serving. No one wants to waste money.

Judging how long sour cream lasts is tricky, no matter how much you eat it. Sour cream is, well, sour!

Having an idea of how to store leftover sour cream, when it’s gone bad, and when you should toss it keeps you healthy and saves a bit in your budget.

Let’s dive in.

What is Sour Cream?

Astonishingly enough, sour cream probably came about by happy accident. Regular cream was left too long in the heat, and voila! (*)

Sour cream blends heavy cream with lactic acid in culture. The resulting fermentation creates bacteria giving sour cream a distinct flavor and smell.

On average, it has 15- 20% fat. By comparison, we know Crème Fraiche has about 30 percent fat, making it thicker and richer than sour cream.

Fast Facts:

  • Taste: Tart, biting, tangy
  • Texture: Rich, creamy
  • Smell: Sour

What Causes Sour Cream to Spoil?

Remember the bacteria we were telling you about? Well, it’s one of the culprits behind why sour cream goes bad after approximately 2 weeks when stored properly.

We recommend picking up sour cream and other dairy products last on your shopping rounds, keeping them as cold as possible. Then, once home, the tub should be among the first things going into the fridge to prevent mold.

How To Tell If Sour Cream Is Bad?

How long does sour cream last before you find the cream sour?

Because sour cream is a dairy product, we know it won’t be shy about giving you indications it’s spoiled. But, beyond the typical shelf life, you can tell if sour cream is rancid by a search for these signs:

  • Color: Sour cream should be white. If you notice it’s yellow or otherwise discolored, bacteria or fungi are growing.
  • Mold: Mold stands out from the white backdrop of sour cream. Many times it appears as dots of green, orange, or black.
  • Taste: The flavor goes from bright tartness to bitter.
  • Smell: Sour cream has a normal sour smell. However, there is a stink, or mustiness, in a spoiled product. Your nose knows.
  • Watery: A little bit of whey on the surface of your sour cream is normal, but when there’s a lot, it’s a sign of separation and potential rancidness.

Any or all of these signs mean it’s time to throw it out.

How to Prevent Spoilage

The answer to how long sour cream remains usable depends on prevention.

1. Checking Container Seals

If your container is leaking or isn’t readily sealable, store your sour cream in a clean, glass container with an airtight seal for the greatest shelf life. (*)

2. Food Hygiene

Food Hygiene boils down to using safe handling practices for your food that deter bacteria.

We offer these tips to get you started:

  • Wash your hands before handling. It deters cross-contamination from other ingredients you may have recently touched.
  • When serving sour cream, use clean utensils.
  • Before storage, wipe down any tidbits around the edge to deter bacteria and mold.
  • Never double-dip. Put extra clean utensils near your serving area so people can just grab a clean spoon.
  • In terms of storage, make sure the tub remains unopened as much as possible.
  • After two weeks past expiration, always check your unopened or opened product.

Sour Cream Sell by, Best by, and Expiration Dates

Shopping for food is like coloring by numbers. If you search labels, there’s a best by date, a sell-by date, expiration dates, pack date, guaranteed fresh date, and use-by dates. (*)

Let’s untangle this knot.

The sell-by date (or use by date; expiration date) is regulated by the USDA. It tells the store how long the item should remain on display for the highest quality.

The “best if used by” date doesn’t apply if you’ve left the product setting out at room temperature for a while.

No expiration date in the world guarantees your sour cream will be safe to eat past it.

IMPORTANT: The time periods in each date are estimates, at best. When in doubt, throw it out!

what Happens If You Eat Bad Sour Cream? 

There are over 200 types of food poisoning. The upside here is that it usually doesn’t cause much harm if you eat spoiled sour cream. (*)

Common symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fever (less common)
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain

Please bear in mind everyone’s body reacts differently. If you’re concerned, contact your medical professional.

Best Ways to Store Sour Cream for an Extended Shelf Life

When it comes to extending the shelf life of your sour cream, cold a friend mold doesn’t like.

How long does y sour cream last? Our tip: Keep it stored near the back of your refrigerator.

This placement accomplishes two things:

  • Keeping warm air away from it every time you open the door
  • Creating a more consistent temperature. The product is happiest at 40 degrees F. and below. (*)

Food Safety at Room Temperature vs. the Fridge

Wondering how long it takes before your sour cream is bad?

The simple truth is, ask ten people, and you’ll get 10 different answers about how long it takes before sour cream has gone bad at room temperature.

Here’s the thing.

This condiment is temperature-sensitive. The faster you can get it back into the fridge, the better.

Two weeks is a guideline beyond the use-by-date before it will go bad after being opened in your fridge.

Can You Freeze Sour Cream?

The short answer is no, with exceptions. Like other dairy products, you will notice freezing causes separation once you thaw it. (*)

But get this!

You can use previously frozen sour cream after it thawed in cooked and baked dishes.

If you are purposefully freezing leftover sour cream for other uses before it can go bad, begin with a covered ice cube tray. Fill the spaces up, leaving a little room at the top, and put the cover on tight.

Once frozen, pop out the cubes and transfer them for storage to a freezer-safe container. Once it’s thawed, use it how you wish.

FAQs

Conclusion

  • You should treat your sour cream as highly perishable.
  • Prepare it carefully.
  • Pay attention to when you first buy it, when you open it, and when you put it in the refrigerator.
  • Each time you open the container, take a moment to check the signs of spoilage before adding to any other food.
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Learn more: The Shelf life of Canned Foods

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