Sour cream is one of the dairy products that’s mostly used as a condiment. We use it for toppings, dips, salad dressings, and even for baking. And like with other condiments, we usually don’t finish the whole thing in one go. On the contrary, most recipes call for only a small amount of it, and the containers in which this dairy product comes are much bigger. So after you make those baked potatoes topped with sour cream or that sour cream based salad dressing, there will be leftovers. That certainly makes you think about the shelf life of opened sour cream.
Or perhaps you left the container sitting in the far corner of the fridge, covered by a bunch of other items, and you just forgot about it. I know I do that often with various products. Now that you pick it up, you notice that it has already passed the date on the label. Should you just toss it out, or maybe it makes sense to open it up and check if it’s still good? And how long, if at all, does sour cream last after the date on the label?
Those two situations are common for anyone who doesn’t use sour cream all the time. And let’s be honest, hardly anyone uses it so often that leftovers or out-of-date containers are never a problem. And when those issues arise, it’s useful to know how to go about them. Did you notice that I used “when” instead of “if”? That’s because sooner or later you will have to deal with those situations, and it’s always better to be prepared. And the best way to prepare is to learn about signs of spoilage, shelf life, and even a bit about storage of the dairy products. Interested? Read on.
Can Sour Cream Go Bad? How To Tell If Sour Cream Is 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.
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. And next time before you put the container in storage, try to make the surface of the product smooth to reduce the separation ([DA]).
When it comes to sour cream going bad, some signs are apparent, while others not so much. When it comes to the obvious ones, if you see any signs of mold or any dark specks on the surface, toss it out. If the consistency changes noticeably, that is there isn’t only a small amount of water on top, but the whole thing basically separated, get rid of it too. For the less obvious ones, give it a good sniff to check if the smell has turned sourer than it initially was. If it did, it’s a sign the product has started spoiling, and it’s probably better to discard it. 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. In short, use your best judgment to tell whether the dairy product is still safe to eat.
Of course, if you already store the sour cream for much longer than recommended, you should toss it out even if it seems perfectly fine. And spaeking of those recommended periods, let’s talk about the shelf life of sour cream.
How Long Does Sour Cream Last?
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 acidic, so chances are it will retain quality for a week, sometimes even up to two weeks after that date. But, of course, it’s a dairy product, and if it were mishandled in storage before it got to the supermarket’s refrigerated section, it would go bad earlier, even before the date on the label. If it’s more than two weeks after that date, just get rid of it.
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 the sour cream is already 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, it’s best to use it within 3 days or less. Obviously, observe the product 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.
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 it 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.
Once you open the container, it’s important to 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. If the container is resealable, no need for any transferring.
Like with other condiments, always use clean spoons to scoop sour cream. I know that when you’re whipping up a salad, it’s more convenient 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.
When it comes storage, there’s probably one more question that you have and I didn’t answer yet. And that question is whether or not freezing sour cream makes sense. Let’s talk about that.
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 also, 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 close to none. Feel free to try out freezing sour cream and using it in some of your dishes and see how it works. If it does, then great, if not, then you can try other recipes, or simply not freeze the product at all. At least you will know for sure.
Having said that, let’s talk about 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, just take as many cubes as you need out of the bag and use it. When it comes to thawing, it’s best to do it overnight in the fridge. Alternatively, if you need the sour cream for a soup, you can just throw in the frozen cubes directly into the pot.
In a Nutshell
- always refrigerate
- unopened lasts for up to a week, maybe two past the date on the label; once opened keep well for up to two weeks
- freeze in a muffin or ice cube tray, only for cooked dishes
- sour cream being a little watery on top is okay to eat, but if there’s a lot of water, it smells sourer than usuall, or there are any other signs of spoilage, throw it out
- [DA] Daisy Brand: FAQ