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Can Sour Cream Go Bad?

You have an opened container of sour cream in the fridge, and it’s there for at least a couple of days already. That’s when you start to think about how long sour cream lasts, and what are the signs of spoilage.

Sour cream comes in large containers, but most recipes call for only a small amount of it. That means leftovers. And you have to store them one way or another, so they’re ready for your next baked potatoes or salad dressing.

Let’s be honest, hardly anyone uses sour cream so often that leftovers or out-of-date containers are never a problem. So it’s useful to know how to go about them.

In this article, I cover those topics and more. If you’re interested, read on.

Prep for zucchini soup
Prep for zucchini soup: zucchini, potatoes, and sour cream

Can Sour Cream Go Bad?

All dairy products go off, and so does sour cream. But, of course, some of them last longer and keep better than others. And sour cream is one of those that don’t go bad in a matter of a few days of opening the container.

Obviously, it’s nowhere near butter in terms of long-lasting, but it’s not that bad. It’s longer than heavy cream anyway.

Before we go through signs of spoilage, let’s briefly touch upon sour cream getting watery on top. That is natural, and it’s harmless ([DA]). Just stir it in or drain the water.

Here’s how it might look like:

Opened sour cream: visible separation
Opened sour cream: visible separation on top

Next time before you put the container in storage, try to make the surface of the product smooth to reduce separation ([DA]).

How To Tell If Sour Cream Is Bad?

There are four signs of spoiled sour cream: mold, altered texture, off smell, and bad taste.

Toss your sour cream out if there’s mold or any dark specs on the surface, the consistency has changed significantly, the smell is harsh, or it tastes too sour.

Let’s expand a bit on each of those, as some of them are obvious, and others not so much.

If you notice any signs of mold or any dark specks on the surface or the neck of the container, it’s obviously bad. Same thing if the consistency changes noticeably. And by noticeably, I mean the whole thing separated.

For the less obvious ones, give it a good sniff to check if the smell has turned sourer than it initially was or maybe even biting. If it did, it’s probably better to discard the product.

If everything up to this point seems fine, give it a taste and based on it decide if it’s good enough to use or not.

If you already store your sour cream for much longer than recommended, you should toss it out even if it seems perfectly fine.

And speaking of recommended storage periods, let’s talk about the shelf life of sour cream.

Sour cream container
Sour cream container

How Long Does Sour Cream Last?

A fresh container of sour cream lasts for a week (up to two) past the date on the label. After opening it, the leftovers should retain quality for between a few days (if the product is old) and up to two weeks (for fresh sour cream).

That’s the summary. Let’s talk about it in more detail.

Each container comes with a date on the label. And in most cases, it’s a “use-by” or “best-before” date. So one of the often-asked questions is how long does sour cream last after that date. In short, it’s difficult to say.

The product is already sour, so chances are it will retain quality for a week, sometimes even up to two weeks after that date.

But it’s a dairy product, so if it was mishandled in storage before it got to your fridge, it might go bad earlier, even before the date on the label.

If unopened sour cream is more than two weeks past its date, just get rid of it.

Zucchini soup with sour cream
Zucchini soup whitened with sour cream

When it comes to an opened container, the sour cream can retain quality for up to two weeks ([DA]). Those two weeks are, of course, only for properly stored and new containers.

If yours is nearing the date on the label, don’t expect it to keep well for more than a week. And if it’s passed that date, use it within 3 days.

Check the sour cream carefully for signs of spoilage before each use, especially if it’s been a few days since you’ve last used it.

Knowing that, it’s time to talk about how to keep sour cream from going bad. Or, in other words, how you should store it.

Zucchini soup before blending
Zucchini soup before blending, sour cream ready to be added

How To Store Sour Cream?

You store sour cream the same way you store other dairy products like yogurt or buttermilk.

First off, keep it always refrigerated, and if it’s an option, keep it in the far corner instead of the door, where the temperature fluctuates the most.

If you put sour cream in that far corner, make a plan on how and when to use it, so it won’t get forgotten and tossed out after a few weeks.

Adding sour cream to blended soup
Adding sour cream to blended soup

Once you open the container, keep it always sealed tightly.

If it only comes with a foil seal, consider transferring it to an airtight container, especially if you expect to store it in the fridge for more than a few days.

Like with other condiments, always use clean spoons to scoop sour cream. I know that when you’re whipping up a salad, it’s easier to use the spoon you already have instead of reaching for a new one, but it’s important not to be lazy here.

“Double-dipping” is never a good idea, and that’s especially true for condiments that go bad easily, such as sour cream.

If you accidentally left sour cream out overnight, no matter if the container is unopened or not, just toss it out. The product might still be okay, but you never know, and it’s better to err on the side of caution in such a situation.

Zucchini creamy soup
Zucchini creamy soup

Can You Freeze Sour Cream?

Producers say that you shouldn’t freeze sour cream ([DA]).

Freezing affects the texture and might even change the flavor to some extent. That’s definitely true, and if that’s a possibility, it’s better to freeze the prepared dish with sour cream instead of freezing this condiment alone.

But many people make freezing sour cream work, and you can too.

The trick here, and it works for many other dairy products as well, is to use the frozen and thawed sour cream in a cooked or baked dish.

If you add the sour cream to a soup or need it for a cake you’re making, the slightly altered consistency isn’t that big of a deal. It will be mixed with other ingredients anyway, and the difference in the taste of the prepared dish will be negligible.

Try freezing sour cream and using it in a dish or two and see how it goes. If it does, great; if not, try other recipes or simply don’t freeze the product at all.

How to Freeze Sour Cream

Since you most likely need only a small amount of the product at a time, it’s probably best to freeze it in an ice cube tray or a muffin tin.

To do that, just pour the sour cream into the container of your choice and chuck it into the freezer.

Once the cubes are frozen, transfer them to a freezer bag and back into the freezer.

Whenever you need some sour cream, take as many cubes as you need out of the bag and use it.

If you need the sour cream for a soup, you can throw in the frozen cubes directly into the pot.

When it comes to thawing, it’s best to do it overnight in the fridge.

Summary

  • Always refrigerate sour cream
  • An unopened container lasts for up to a week, maybe two, past the date on the label.
  • Once opened, it can retain quality even for up to two weeks.
  • Freeze leftovers in a muffin or ice cube tray, and use them only for cooked dishes.
  • If your sour cream is a little watery on top, it’s okay to eat. But if there’s a lot of water, it smells sourer than usual, or there are any other signs of spoilage, throw it out.

References