How Long Is Sour Cream Good After The Expiration Date

How Long Is Sour Cream Good After The Expiration Date

Have a tub of sour cream that’s been sitting in the fridge for a while and wondering if it’s still safe to eat? Here’s how to tell.

Shelf Life

According to the USDA, sour cream (opened or unopened) is good for up to three weeks after the sell-by date, as long as it’s been stored in the refrigerator. This rule of thumb is backed up by the Food Marketing Institute in their consumer guide to food quality and safe handling, “The Food Keeper.” They give a seven to 21-day window for using sour cream, assuming it’s been refrigerated at 40 F.

Inspect your sour cream to make sure it hasn’t developed mold, an off-color, or an off smell. If nothing seems amiss, consider it safe to use. One sign that isn’t of concern is separation. While unsightly, it’s actually normal for the liquid to separate from the solid cream. You can drain it off or mix it back in, as long as you use a clean spoon.

What Causes Spoiling?

Sour cream is produced from milk that has been pasteurized to kill most harmful bacteria. It is then fermented by healthy bacteria that produce lactic acid, giving it the sour flavor. Commercially-produced sour cream must adhere to safety standards, while homemade sour cream may introduce a wild card of other bacteria types. Think of sour cream as a living product, as it still contains live elements that were not killed by sterile canning processes.

Bacteria and Molds

The protein and sugars in the milk provide a happy culture medium for the friendly sour-producing bacteria, as well as a host of unfriendly bacteria and molds that could cause illness. They may slowly multiply over weeks at refrigerated temperatures or even faster if you leave your sour cream out at room temperature for any length of time. You may also inadvertently introduce additional bacteria and mold when go to use your sour cream, either from exposure to the air or by using a spoon that isn’t clean.

Signs of Spoilage

Even if your sour cream isn’t yet at the “best by” or “use by” date, don’t eat it if you notice:

  • An Off Smell: Take a whiff of your sour cream. If it smells moldy, rancid, or stinky in any way beyond the usual sour smell, it probably has extra growth in it that will affect the flavor and safety.
  • Mold: If you see mold growing on the surface, the whole container needs to go. Don’t be tempted just to scoop the mold off the top and eat the rest. The mold may extend further than you’re able to see with the naked eye.
  • Yellow or Discolored Sour Cream: If the cream is no longer white, that’s a strong sign that it has significant growth of bacteria and fungi.

The shelf life of foods can be significantly shortened if they aren’t handled properly. Your sour cream may have been left out at room temperature at some point, whether by the manufacturer, vendor or someone who lives in your home. Or someone may have stuck a dirty utensil into the container. Trust your eyes and your nose when they tell you something isn’t right.

How Long Does Sour Cream Last?

Sour cream is safe in the refrigerator for about one to three weeks, but doesn’t freeze well, according to the United States Department of Agriculture website. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is in charge of regulating dairy products.

How To Store Sour Cream

Sour cream should be stored in the refrigerator at a temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Because the temperature on your refrigerator door fluctuates thanks to opening and closing, store sour cream on a shelf near the back. Once opened, make sure the lid of your sour cream is always secured before putting it back in the refrigerator.

Can You Freeze Sour Cream?

Technically, yes. Sour cream is safe to freeze and can be done easily at home. That said, freezing sour cream changes the texture and taste so proceed with caution.

How To Tell If Sour Cream Has Gone Bad

As the name suggests, sour cream has a naturally tangy taste. That said, the product can sour entirely when the lactic-acid producing bacteria is exposed to room temperatures. If this occurs, your sour cream may have an abnormally sour smell, or odor. Like other dairy products, sour cream can also grow mold and discolor. If this occurs, your sour cream has gone bad and needs to be discarded.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can homemade sour cream go bad?

Yes, but be cautious of homemade sour cream going bad. It should not be consumed if it develops an off smell, molds or becomes yellow or discolored.

2. How can I maximize the shelf-life of sour cream?

The most likely scenario for sour cream “going bad” is that you, the user, contaminate the container with bacteria and that bacteria interferes with the sour cream’s own fermentation. To maximize the shelf-life of your sour cream, use clean utensils, don’t double dip, keep the lid clean, and don’t eat any sour cream that shows signs of mold or color change.

3. How do I know when it’s time to throw away sour cream?

Use your senses. Don’t eat any sour cream that shows signs of mold or color change. If you whiff something putrid, then throw it out.

4. Can I freeze sour cream?

Technically, yes. Sour cream is safe to freeze, but freezing changes the texture and taste.

5. How long can sour cream be left out at room temperature?

Sour cream should not be left out at room temperature for more than one to two hours. If it has been exposed to higher temperatures, it should be discarded.

6. What is the ideal storage temperature for sour cream?

Sour cream should be stored at a temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the refrigerator.

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