Two hours at 40°F and one hour at 90°F whether it’s opened or unopened. Sour cream needs to be cool—keep it in the fridge.
Like most dairy products, sour cream doesn’t like being left out. It’s highly sensitive to heat and bacteria which can ruin it very quickly. So, it’s best to remember to put sour cream in the fridge as soon as you’re not using it.
But if you’re Googling ‘how long can sour cream be left out,’ it’s likely you feel there’s something little off about the sour cream in your fridge—in which case, you should probably discard it.
As FoodSafety.gov says, “When in Doubt, Throw it Out!”
It doesn’t matter if it’s opened or unopened, in the trunk of your car, or a forgotten dip from last night; sour cream belongs in the fridge.
How Long Can Sour Cream Be Left Out at Room Temperature?
As a perishable dairy product, sour cream is no friend of room temperature, which is between 68 and 74°F (20 and 23°C), according to ADT.
Sour cream should be thrown away if held above 40°F (4°C) for more than two hours, according to FoodSafety.gov, or one hour at 90°F (32°C).
And I’m going to repeat those numbers a lot in this article.
Based on this, we can likely assume that sour cream should spend no longer than an hour and a half at room temperature.
It’s also super important to understand what the FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service) considers ‘The Danger Zone.’
The Danger Zone is between 40°F (4°C) and 140°F (60°C), and this is where bacteria reproduce at their fastest—“doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes.”
Room temperature falls right into that gap. The FSIS also recommends that no food should be left out at over 90°F (32°C) for more than one hour.
What Happens if You Leave Sour Cream Out Overnight?
100%, throw any sour cream left out from last night into the garbage.
It’ll taste horrible, will probably smell, and may even have changed color. In the worst-case scenario, it may even have mold.
The bacteria will invade and feed on it and it will not be safe to eat. Even if you don’t see any of the signs mentioned above, it’s not worth the risk; you cannot see, smell, or taste the bacteria that cause food poisoning.
Two hours is the max. Any cooler and that sour cream better be a sour popsicle.
If you’re feeling a little hung over after a party and you see sour cream left out from the night before, do yourself a favor and don’t eat it. Your stomach will thank you later.
How Long Can Sour Cream Stay in the Car?
Anyone driving home from the store on a hot day has likely worried about this. I always have this on my mind with frozen food. (I once had frozen garlic bread go bad in a similar way.)
An article by Geico Living backs up the guidelines above.
They say that based on FDA guidelines, you shouldn’t leave food in a warm car longer than two hours, or half an hour if it’s over 90°F (32°C).
So, it’s best to get sour cream into the fridge as soon as possible. To be safe, you’ll probably not want to keep sour cream in the car longer than 30 minutes.
Also, bear in mind that food will generally stay cooler in the trunk than in the front (or the backseat) of the car, where it will be exposed to sunlight.
How Long Can Unopened Sour Cream Sit Out?
Being unopened theoretically provides a bit more protection from bacteria.
However, the recommendations are the same—it shouldn’t be stored above 40°F (4°C) for more than two hours.
With sour cream, it’s more important that it is kept cool than in a container—the temperature is a greater threat than being exposed to the air.
How Long Can Food With Sour Cream Sit Out?
Bad sour cream can spoil the food it’s with and can give you food poisoning. So again, the same rule applies, two hours at the very max.
It can be quite an unfortunate mistake because you may have to throw a whole meal away.
If you’ve made a sandwich, for example, and you’re not going to eat it right away, stick it in the fridge. Sour cream is the most likely to go bad of the ingredients in your food.
With other meals, like tacos or chili, storing the meal in the fridge may disappoint you when you later take it out and eat it—especially if they taste best when warm.
Furthermore, the other ingredients could add bacteria to sour cream which could make it turn bad quicker.
Also worth noting, when you heat the meal—most likely in the microwave—the sour cream could be ruined. Sour cream can curdle if heated at high temperatures for too long.
So, if you’ve cooked something for later that calls for a dash of sour cream on the top, it would be best to refrain from adding it until you’re about to eat it.
How Long Can Sour Cream Dip Sit Out?
Assuming that the sour cream dip has been sitting at room temperature, it’s that same old story—two hours at the most.
Though, it is a slightly different story when it comes to sour cream dip. If it’s been uncovered for a while is more at risk of catching airborne bacteria.
And, if people have been dipping (or even worse—double dipping), there’s probably some chip debris or even bacteria from people’s mouths too.
So, if there is ever any sour cream that you should throw out, it’s that leftover sour cream dip that’s been sitting out at room temperature for a few hours.
If you really want to hold on to your sour cream dip, it would be wise to wrap it up and place it in the fridge. Be extra vigilant when checking it for second-time use.
How Long Can Sour Cream Stay in the Fridge?
I recently wrote about how sour cream can go bad, and the general consensus is you can keep sour cream refrigerated for one to three weeks after the sell-by date.
It is also not worth putting sour cream in the freezer. As it thaws, it’ll separate, and it will not have that desirable texture.
With sour cream, the fridge is the only realistic place to store it, but don’t think it’ll last forever.
So, How Long Can Sour Cream Sit Out?
Sour cream shouldn’t sit out for very long, no matter where it is, its condition, and what it’s being used for. Here’s a quick summary of all the major points we’ve made:
- Room temperature is 68-74°F (20-23°C). Sour cream should not spend more than two hours at 40°F (4°C) or one hour at 90°F (32°C).
- Keep sour cream out of The Danger Zone. Bacteria grow fastest between 40°F (4°C) and 140°F (60°C).
- Opened or unopened, the rule is the same. It’s more important that sour cream is kept cool than unopened.
- Don’t even consider keeping sour cream left overnight. Without a doubt, it will be bad and could give you food poisoning.
- Food with sour cream lasts two hours. After which, it’s best to throw it out. Add the sour cream last, before you eat—reheating sour cream might not be pleasant.
- Sour cream lasts up to three weeks in the fridge. Don’t keep sour cream in the freezer.