Does Sour Cream Go Bad?

So you added sour cream to baked potatoes or a salad dressing, and you’re left with a half-open container. One week later you start to wonder: does sour cream go bad? And how long can you store an opened sour cream?

Or maybe you bought one too many containers on a sale, and that container is already past the date on the label. Now you’re unsure if you still can use it, or if you should toss it out. You also thought about freezing this dairy product but wasn’t sure if it freezes well and if it will work for your dishes.

If some of these questions sound familiar, it seems that you could learn a bit more about sour cream. If you’re interested, in this article we go through storage, shelf life, and going bad of this dairy product.

Opened sour cream
(credit:Daniel Panev )

How To Store Sour Cream

Like other dairy products such as yogurt or half and half, sour cream needs to be refrigerated. And while the door shelves are a popular place to keep sour cream, it’s definitely not the top choice. The temperature there fluctuates the most, so it’s better to put this dairy product somewhere on the bottom shelves. Also, I’ve seen online questions about how long sour cream can last out of the fridge, and there isn’t a good answer to such a question. In short, you should put it in the fridge as soon after purchasing as possible.

Once you open the container, make sure it’s always sealed tightly. If it isn’t easily sealable, consider pouring the sour cream in a mason jar or an airtight container. That’s especially useful if you expect to keep it in the fridge for at least a few days. A tight seal also prevents drying out and keeps any strong odors at bay.

Since in most cases we don’t use the whole container of sour cream right away, it’s essential to practice proper food hygiene. That means you should always use clean utensils when scooping sour cream and never double-dip. If you ever need another teaspoon or two for a recipe, just grab a clean one or wash the used one. Using “dirty” utensils will likely transfer bacteria to the sour cream, and that will quite often cause it to spoil early.

Can You Freeze Sour Cream?

Well, most manufacturers advise against freezing sour cream. Like buttermilk and many other dairy products, sour cream separates once thawed. While you can regain some of the consistency by whipping it gently, the result won’t be nearly as good as fresh sour cream. That means that freezing sour cream works only for cooked an baked dishes. If, say, you’re making a soup, the changed texture of sour cream won’t affect it that much because you will stir the dairy product in either way. Similar thing for using thawed sour cream in baking.

When it comes to how to freeze sour cream, I recommend using an ice cube tray. This way you can easily thaw as much or as little as you need. Plus the frozen cubes end up in a freezer bag, which takes much less space in the freezer than an airtight container. Of course, if you can’t be bothered with using a tray, you can use a freezer-safe jar or container. Just remember to leave an inch of headspace, as the sour cream slightly expands when frozen.

How Long Does Sour Cream Last

Like other milk-based products, sour cream comes with a sell-by date. That’s how long the store has to sell the package. So it’s quite obvious that the product will be fresh for at least a few days longer. In case of sour cream, it’s usually about 7 to 10 days past that date. Of course, like almost all dairy products, it’s possible that it will go bad earlier, even before the date on the label. That usually happens if the product was mishandled before it got to the shelf.

When it comes to an open sour cream, it can retain freshness for up to two weeks. That’s, of course, if you store it properly. Since sour cream is already sour, it usually retains its quality for longer than other dairy products. I’ve read in many places online that people regularly store it for a month and it’s still perfectly fine. Feel free to do that, but please remember it’s a bit risky and it’s better to discard sour cream opened for that long. Also, as usual, the longer it sits in the fridge, the worse its quality.

Fridge
Sour cream (unopened) Sell-by + 1 – 2 weeks
Sour cream (opened) 2 weeks

Please note that the periods above are estimates and for best quality only.

How To Tell If Sour Cream Is Bad

Like with other dairy products, we use our senses to figure out if sour cream is still okay to use. First, check its appearance. If there’s some separation on top, it’s perfectly natural, and you can stir it in with a spoon. Any other changes usually mean the product is bad. Those include signs of mold, discolorations, and significant change of texture. Checking the smell is the next thing to do. Since this product is already sour, sour smell isn’t a sign of it being spoiled. But it the odor starts to get somewhat sharp sour or off in any other way, discard the cream. Last but not least, it’s time to do the taste test. If it’s good enough, feel free to use it, otherwise, throw it out.

As usual, if sour cream seems to be perfectly fine, but it sits in the fridge for much longer than the provided estimates, it’s better to throw it out.