Does Sour Cream Go Bad? How Long Does It Last?

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What would nachos and baked potatoes be without sour cream? If you have a tub sitting in your fridge, you may assume that it has a generous shelf life, due to the fact that it has already “soured.”

But does sour cream actually go bad and how long does it last?

Unfortunately for all the sour cream fans, it does spoil, and much more rapidly than we would like. Bacteria and mold thrive in an environment packed with milk proteins and sugars, especially at room temperature. Unopened, your sour cream may last up to three weeks beyond the sell-by date if stored in optimal conditions, but once opened, you should consume it within seven to ten days.

Sour Cream Shelf Life & Expiration Dates

Sour cream is cream from cows that has been fermented, similar to yogurt, and mixed with lactic acid bacteria to cause artificial souring. Although it has some sour flavors, it has not actually gone bad.

bowl of sour cream

Your sour cream will either come with a printed sell by, best by or use by date. While it can outlast the first two dates, the USDA strongly advise that you don’t consume sour cream after its use by date.

There is no difference between the shelf life of reduced fat or regular sour cream.

  • Unopened – Stored in the fridge, sour cream can last up to three weeks past the sell by date, but make sure you check it thoroughly before consumption.
  • Opened – Once opened, sour cream can last around seven to ten days if stored correctly.

These recommendations apply only to sour cream that has been consistently stored in the fridge. If left at room temperature, you only have a matter of hours before bacteria rapidly multiplies.

Why Is There An Expiration Date On Sour Cream?

Sour cream is the perfect environment for bacteria and mold to grow. Even when refrigerated, these will develop over time.

Once sour cream does go bad, it can be dangerous to consume – hence the expiration date.

It’s important to remember that any printed dates on your sour cream are not a guarantee – it can go bad before this date if stored incorrectly, and may last a bit longer after the dates (with the exception of a use by date.)

Even if you are taking appropriate measures to store your sour cream properly, there may have been periods of time during shipping or shop storage that it wasn’t stored correctly, impacting the shelf life of the product.

How Long Can Sour Cream Sit Out?

Sour cream will rapidly turn bad if left out – the hotter the temperature, the faster the decline.

There is a cut off of two hours for leaving sour cream sitting out at room temperature, less if the ambient temperature is warmer. After this time, you are better off discarding it.

To help extend the life of purchased sour cream, pick up a tub near the end of your journey around the supermarket, and consider carrying a cooler in your car to keep temperatures level on warm days.

How To Tell If Sour Cream Is Bad

While sour cream has a longer shelf life than most milk products, over time it will separate, develop an unpleasant flavor, and ultimately break down. All through this aging process, it will be susceptible to molds that will happily take root in the soft, wet surface.

Don’t rely on the printed dates alone and assume your product will be good up until then. Be sure to check it before consumption, and look at the following aspects.

  1. Color – sour cream should remain white. Bacterial growth can show up in color changes, including yellow blue or pink, but if you see any color change, throw it out.
  2. Mold – check the inside of the lid and the surface of the sour cream for mold. Don’t assume that you can scrape any mold off the top and use the rest, it may have spread throughout the whole tub without being visible.
  3. Texture – some separation of liquids from solids is okay, you can mix the sour cream and it will still be good to eat. If you detect any lumps, your sour cream has gone bad and should be trashed.
  4. Smell – although sour cream has a slightly sour aroma to begin with, it will be very clear when it’s going or gone bad. The smell will be foul, rancid and unpleasant, indicating the sour cream is unsafe to eat.
  5. Taste – if you are still unsure, taste a very small amount. If it has a sharp, bitter flavor, dispose of it.

What Happens If You Eat Bad Sour Cream?

As we have mentioned, sour cream is a very welcoming environment for many different bacteria, as well as mold. These nasties can grow even in the refrigerator.

Consuming bad sour cream puts you at risk of food poisoning, which can be mild or severe, depending on a wide range of factors.

If you’re unlucky enough to develop food poisoning, you may experience stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, and fever. It may present within a few hours of consuming bad sour cream or a few days.

Written By Tara Williams

Tara is a food writer that has been editing and authoring articles for KitchenSanity since its founding. Her writing offers personal experience from experimentation with food and recipe creation. If you’re looking for simple tips, she will make your journey in the kitchen straightforward with a dash of fun.