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How Long Does Heavy Cream Last and How to Know if It’s Bad?

Today we’ll cover the shelf life, storage, and spoilage of heavy cream.

You use a third of a container of heavy cream in a recipe, and the rest ends up in the fridge. How long does heavy cream last after opening?

Or maybe yours is nearing the use-by date on the label, and you’re wondering what are the spoilage signs for heavy cream. How to tell if heavy cream is bad?

Sounds familiar?

If so, this article is for you. Read on.

There are some slight differences between heavy cream and heavy whipping cream, but they’re basically the same when it comes to shelf life, storage, and spoilage.

Heavy cream in a container
Heavy cream in a container

Table of Contents

How Long Does Heavy Cream Last?

Heavy cream has a shelf life of a couple of weeks and can last for up to a few days beyond the printed date. After opening, it should last for up to a week if you seal it tightly and refrigerate it.

As usual with dairy products, it might spoil sooner if your heavy cream was mishandled in the supermarket or grocery store before it got to the refrigerated section.

Now, if you ever tried to whip heavy whipping cream and only ended up with soft peaks, you know that using fresh cream helps when making whipped cream. So if yours is already nearing its date, having a fresh carton in the fridge in case things go south is a good idea.

(I share other tips on whipping heavy cream in the storage section.)

Next, let’s talk about what happens after opening the container or carton.

Whipped cream on whisks
Whipped cream on whisks

After Opening

Once you open your heavy cream, use it within about a week for best results. And if it’s already nearing or past the printed date, limit that period to 2 to 3 days.

The dairy product might last a couple of days longer, but the sooner you use it, the higher its quality and the chance it’ll whip properly. So if you want to be conservative, use it within 2 to 3 days of opening, no matter the date on the package.

Of course, each creamery has its guidelines when it comes to how long their heavy whipping cream lasts after opening. Some are super strict and ask you to use the leftovers within 48 hours, while others are much looser in their recommendations.

Because of that, make sure to read the label so that at least you know what the brand has to say on the topic. And if the recommendation isn’t something ridiculous like “use within 24 hours,” do your best to follow it.

If there’s no info on the topic, go with my general recommendation above.

After “Expiration Date”

Heavy cream typically lasts for only a couple of days past the date printed on the label. After that period, the texture might start to change, and the product may turn sour. Plus, you might have issues whipping it if that’s how you want to use it.

Of course, in some cases, heavy cream might keep for a week or even longer past the printed date, but that’s definitely not the norm.

The date on the package, whether it’s described as a “use-by” or “best-by” date, is there to inform you how long, at the very least, the dairy product should retain quality. It’s not an expiration date but a reasonably conservative estimate.

That’s why most dairy products keep for at least a few days beyond what’s written on the label.

Finally, before you use old heavy cream, you should first check whether it’s okay to eat. Let’s talk about that.

Pouring whipped cream on jello
Pouring whipped cream on jello

How to Tell if Heavy Cream Is Bad?

Discard your heavy cream if:

  • It has separated, or its texture has changed significantly. If it looks like water and a bunch of dairy grains, or it used to be quite thick and is now runny, it’s gone.
  • Mold. I’m sure you know what to do with moldy heavy cream.
  • Sour smell. Unless you’ve opened sour cream by mistake, discard it.
  • Bad taste. If everything else seems to be okay, eat a tiny bit. If it doesn’t taste light and somewhat sweet, get rid of it.

Long story short, if your heavy cream looks, smells, and tastes like heavy cream, it’s most likely fine.

When checking the texture, compare it to the usual texture of this specific product. Heavy cream is usually quite runny (richer than milk, similar to buttermilk but smooth), but sometimes you can also find a thick (similar to sour cream) variety. And comparing one variety to the other is like comparing apples to oranges.

Jello topped with whipped cream
Jello topped with whipped cream

How to Store Heavy Cream

Let’s start with the obvious: you should keep heavy cream in the fridge. And if you want it to last the longest, put it somewhere in the back and not on the door.

When it comes to leftovers, make sure they’re sealed tightly. Use a resealable food container if your container doesn’t come with a lid or a cap.

As usual, always use clean utensils when handling heavy cream. Reusing the same spoon for a couple of different ingredients to reduce the number of things you need to wash is a big no-no.

Last but not least, don’t keep heavy cream on the counter for too long. If you need only a bit for a recipe, measure the amount and return the rest of the refrigerator immediately.

Put your heavy cream in the freezer for 10 to 30 minutes before whipping it for better results. And consider doing the same with the bowl and the whisks. Refrigerating the utensils will work in a pinch. Since my wife and I started doing that, our heavy cream always whips perfectly.

Whipped heavy cream sprinkled with chocolate
Whipped heavy cream sprinkled with chocolate

Can You Freeze Heavy Cream?

You can freeze heavy cream, but there are a couple of things you should know before you grab the container and throw it into the freezer.

First, if you freeze fresh heavy cream, it won’t whip after thawing. So if you need whipped cream, whip it fresh and freeze whipped.

Second, the texture of your heavy cream will alter.

If it’s of the thicker variety, it will change only a bit. But if it’s the usual thin one, it’ll separate after thawing, similar to how milk kefir separates after freezing and defrosting.

Long story short, frozen and defrosted heavy cream works best in cooked and baked dishes.

If you add it to a soup, stew, or any kind of baked good (not as the topping, of course), it should work just fine. But if you’re making dessert, stick to fresh cream.

Jello and whipped cream, sprinkled with grated chocolate
Jello and whipped cream, sprinkled with grated chocolate

Freezing heavy cream is super simple. Here’s how:

  1. Pour the cream into container(s). Each one should have enough for a single recipe, so defrosting is a breeze.
  2. Put the container(s) into the freezer.

If you need really small portions, consider using an ice cube tray or a muffin tin instead.

Defrost the cream in the fridge, or throw it in frozen to whatever you’re cooking.

Heavy Cream Shelf Life and Spoilage Summary

Thanks for reading this short guide on heavy cream. Here are the main takeaways:

  • Heavy cream usually lasts for a few days past the printed date. Once you open it, it should last for up to a week, but try to use it within 2 to 3 days (if possible) for best quality. Fresh heavy cream whips more consistently than old.
  • Discard your heavy cream if it’s moldy, smells or tastes sour, has separated, or its texture has noticeably changed. Remember that if it’s old, it might not whip as well as fresh heavy cream.
  • Keep heavy whipping cream in the fridge, and always sealed tight.