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Does Sour Cream Go Bad?

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Three weeks after the sell-by date and sour cream will change to moldy, lumpy, foul-smelling gunk that can give you food poisoning.

Sour cream can go monstrously bad if forgotten about, though it does last a little longer than you might think—opened or unopened.

You can use sour cream after the sell-by date, but it’s best to avoid using it after the expiry date (if it has one) as it could give you food poisoning.

When sour cream goes bad, it can be quite clearly seen. Chuck it out if it’s bad to avoid getting very sick.

When Does Sour Cream Go Bad?

Sour cream can last a maximum of three weeks whether it be store-bought or homemade. After this point, it is quite likely your sour cream will not be good to eat.

This doesn’t mean your sour cream won’t spoil before this timeframe. It also depends on the brand and how it’s been stored—in the fridge, freezer, or at room temperature.

Does Unopened Sour Cream Go Bad?

Even if you leave sour cream in the fridge for a few weeks unopened, it can still go bad. Being unopened doesn’t make it last any longer.

Both opened and unopened sour cream should be consumed within one to three weeks, according to the USDA.

Does Sour Cream Go Bad When Heated?

Sour cream can go bad if heated incorrectly. Sour cream needs to be headed gently and in small amounts or it can split, as explained by Calleigh of The Fork Bite.

Calleigh also advises leaving sour cream for a moment to reach room temperature before heating it.

But do note that foods left out at room temperature, 68 °F (20 °C), are vulnerable to a build-up of bacteria.

Bacteria multiply faster in these conditions within two to four hours. So, if sour cream has been left out at room temp for this length of time, it may be worth throwing it out.

Sour cream should be kept at a cool temperature in the fridge and is best served cool.

Does Sour Cream Go Bad if You Microwave It?

If you need to heat sour cream, the microwave is the most obvious choice. Calleigh of The Fork Bite also acknowledges this.

Former chef Joshua of Microwave Meal Prep says the best way to microwave sour cream is to:

“use medium power level and nuke 15 seconds for each tablespoon of sour cream. Stop and stir every 5 seconds to evenly distribute the heat.”

Microwaving sour cream is sometimes unavoidable if it is part of a meal but do note that it can make food soggy.

But for the best results, turn down the power of your microwave to avoid ruining the sour cream.

It is also highly advised that you don’t reheat sour cream that has been reheated before.

How to Tell When Sour Cream Goes Bad?

There are five giveaway signs of when sour cream goes bad. They are:

  1. It smells. But not sour, it’ll be foul and moldy. It’ll be different from the smell you know sour cream for.
  2. It’s lost its white color. Typically, bad sour cream will turn a yellowish color, but any color change is a sign to throw it out.
  3. Mold has grown. A dead giveaway, mold will be noticeable on the surface. Not all mold is visible, so it’s best not to try to salvage any.
  4. It’s lumpy. Sour cream should be smooth—if you see or feel any lumps, it’s not good.
  5. It tastes bitter. If you’re unfortunate enough to have put any bad sour cream in your mouth, you’ll be hit by a nasty bitterness.

You may also notice a watery layer on top of your sour cream. This is ‘whey,’ and it occurs naturally and isn’t a sign that sour cream has gone bad.

While you could remove this layer if it makes you feel unsettled, it’s best just to stir it back in. (As long as there are no other signs the sour cream has gone bad).

Does Vegan Sour Cream Go Bad?

Yes, vegan sour cream can go bad and in fact doesn’t keep as well as dairy sour cream.

According to Terri Edwards of Eat Plant-Based, vegan sour cream usually lasts for 7-10 days if refrigerated.

How to Keep Sour Cream Fresh?

There are no special tricks to make sour cream stay fresher for longer. It largely comes down to storage.

Sour cream, opened or unopened, should be kept in a proper container, ideally either plastic or glass and closed tightly to prevent bacteria from entering.

And that container should be placed in the fridge at around 40 °F (4 °C) to slow down the growth of any bacteria.

If the sour cream was recently used in a bowl as a side dip, don’t just place the bowl in the fridge—make sure it’s properly covered.

Foil is better than nothing but for the best results, move the sour cream to another container that you can seal off better.

On top of that, if there is any debris from snacks or other foods that were dipped into the sour cream, remove them as best you can.

Does Sour Cream Go Bad if Frozen?

Sour cream won’t go bad if you freeze it, but it will not be the same. It separates and many would not recommend freezing.

The main problem with sour cream going bad is that bacteria can multiply in it, ruining it. If frozen properly, sour cream will be too cold for bacteria to grow.

What might happen instead is after thawing sour cream, its texture may change and become more liquid.

Because of this, there may be certain recipes you’ll not want to add thawed sour cream to. Vegan sour cream also doesn’t freeze well either.

Is It Safe to Use Expired Sour Cream?

Sour cream is safe to eat after it has past its ‘sell-by date’—this is only the date by which the grocery store must sell the sour cream.

The same goes for the ‘best if used by date.’ This is the date at which sour cream will maintain its best quality. It’s fine for adults, but don’t give it to infants.

What you should be paying attention to is the expiry date if one is shown. As mentioned above, sour cream is good for two to three weeks after the sell-by date.

If sour cream has passed this date, it is best to throw it out. If you’re not sure, check for the signs it could be bad.

And if no expiration date is provided, write it on a sticker and place it on the product as a reminder to yourself when it should be thrown out.

Also worth noting, is that the USDA’s commercial item description says cream and similar products are required to “comply with State and local laws” in regards to shelf life.

So, this could mean that different states have different rules on how the shelf life of sour cream.

Can Out-Of-Date Sour Cream Make You Sick?

Yes, out-of-date sour cream can make you sick and give you food poisoning. So, really don’t risk eating expired sour cream!

Tara Williams of KitchenSanity lists the top symptoms you could experience if you eat out-of-date sour cream:

  • Stomach pain.
  • Nausea.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Fever.

If you need sour cream to bake something, find a substitute—baking will not improve the quality of bad sour cream and it will make you and others sick.

Don’t run the risk, find an alternative—you can find plenty online for different recipes—or just go to the grocery store and buy fresh sour cream.


As children, we’re told not to play with our food. But I find that food tastes best when you experiment with it. I love trying out new recipes and cooking techniques almost as much as I love eating the end result. | LinkedIn | Muck Rack

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