Does Sour Cream Go Bad?

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

Or maybe you’ve bought one too many containers on a sale, and the last one is already past the date on the label. Now you’re unsure if you can still use it, or if you should toss it out.

Maybe you even considered freezing this dairy product, but wasn’t sure if it freezes well and if it will work for your dishes.

If either of these sounds familiar, you’re in the right place. In this article, we go through storage, shelf life, freezing, and going bad of this dairy product.

Sour cream in hand
Sour cream in hand

How To Store Sour Cream

Like other dairy products such as heavy cream 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.

Tip

The temperature in the fridge door fluctuates the most, so it’s better to put sour cream somewhere on the bottom shelves and in the back.

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.

Sour cream ready for storage
Sour cream ready for storage

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.

Tip

Aluminum foil and a rubber band can work as a makeshift seal.

Sour cream makeshift seal
Makeshift seal with aluminum foil and a rubber band

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 spoon or wash the used one.

Warning

Using “dirty” utensils will likely transfer bacteria to the sour cream, and that will quite often cause it to spoil early.

Creamy soup with sour cream
Creamy soup whitened with sour cream

Can You Freeze Sour Cream?

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 and baked dishes.

Tip

Only use frozen and defrosted sour cream in recipes that require cooking or baking.

Thawed sour cream - separation
Thawed sour cream – not the prettiest sight

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, consider 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.

Frozen sour cream
Frozen sour cream, enough to whiten a creamy soup

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 couple of days longer.

In the 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.

Tip

If your sour cream spoils before its date, it was probably mishandled before it got to the supermarket’s fridge. It’s usually not your fault – don’t worry about it.

Sour cream in a container
Sour cream in a container

When it comes to 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.

Let’s sum all of that up.

Sour cream usually lasts for one to two weeks past its date. Once you open the container, it retains freshness for up to two weeks.

 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.

Adding thawed sour cream to soup
Adding thawed sour cream to soup

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.

The signs of spoiled sour cream include:

  • Mold, discoloration, or significant change of texture. If there’s lots or water in the container, or anything that’s not supposed to be there, it’s bad.
  • Sharp sour or funny smell. Sour smell is normal for sour cream, but if it gets sharp and biting, or off in any other way, it’s time to discard the product.
  • Off taste. If everything else seems okay, but the taste is off (e.g., too sour), don’t use that sour milk.
Tip

Some separation on top is perfectly natural, and you can stir it in with a spoon.

See how this looks like:

Separation on top of sour cream
Separation on top of sour cream (liquid in the upper right corner)

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.