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Expired Sour Cream: Three Tests To Know If It’s Spoiled

Quick Answer: Expired Sour Cream: How To Know It’s Spoiled?

Expired sour cream, like all perishable products, will have an expiration date on it. Often the expiration date is a guideline rather than a hard and fast deadline to go by. In this article I will examine how you know sour cream has gone bad. There are specific things you can check to know if it is still safe to consume the sour cream, or if it is best to get rid of it.

Expired sour cream has been around for quite a long time. Russian history indicates that it was used in their society even before the 1600s.


It was not until the middle of the 20th century that sour cream became widely used in the west. Since then it has topped innumerable baked potatoes, among many other uses.

Whether you are a cook or a baker, sour cream is a marvelous product. It has so many uses and is relatively inexpensive. On its own it can top a taco, or mixed with other ingredients it can lend wonderful flavor and texture.

What exactly is sour cream? You will find sour cream in the dairy aisle at your grocery store. As its name suggests, sour cream is cream that is soured.

The process of fermentation is caused by adding lactic acid bacteria to the cream. This makes a bacterial culture which creates a sour taste and a thickened texture. Although the cream is sour, it is not sour in the extreme which makes it palatable to the majority of people.

The source of the cream is typically cow’s milk. It is available in a few different versions:a low-fat version which uses milk or a combination of milk and cream plus thickeners; fat-free which uses ingredients that are substitutes for the standard 18% milk fat sour cream.

Due to its lower milk fat, fat-free sour cream cannot be substituted for the real thing in recipes with good results.

There is also a dairy-free option for those who choose to eat vegan. The base for this product is soy yogurt and soy milk.

Cornstarch is the thickener, and lemon juice provides the acid. For people who are lactose intolerant, this is a good option as its taste is quite a bit like the real thing, however, it should not be used in recipes as the ingredients will not act in the same way.

Sour cream is not known as a healthy food as it has a high percentage of fat, however the fat is saturated fat – the good fat. Sour cream is also a good source of calcium, riboflavin, and phosphorus, as well as vitamin A.


While sour cream has many culinary uses, it can be the sort of thing that ends up hanging out in the refrigerator for weeks or, dare I say, months on end.

This is due to the fact that sour cream is not the main event. It is, rather, something we top foods with, or we add a bit of to a soup or a cake. This results in an opened container of sour cream with some left over, sometimes lots left over.

It is important to know when it is all right to use the rest of the sour cream still sitting in the container, and when it is best to throw it out and purchase new sour cream.

There are certain clues we can use to determine whether or not the sour cream sitting in the container is still good and may be consumed.

First of all, there is the expiration date or “best before” date. This date provides an idea of when the sour cream might begin to go bad, however, the expiration date or the “best before” date is really just a guideline. In fact, you can depend on sour cream being good for 1-3 weeks after these dates.

In addition to the expiration and “best before” dates there are some simple tests you can perform that do not require any fancy equipment.

In fact, these tests do not require any equipment at all beyond your senses. By using your eyes, your nose, and your mouth you can gain key information that will indicate you may continue using the sour cream, or that it would be best to get a fresh container.

The following chart outlines these tests that you perform on your sour cream. If the sour cream passes the tests, you can confidently use it. If, however, the sour cream fails one or more of the tests, it is best that you throw it out.

Sensory TestQualities Of Good Sour CreamQualities Of Sour Cream Gone Bad
LookSour cream is naturally white in color. It may have some liquid on the top, but that is natural. It is simply the whey which has separated out, but can be mixed back in by stirring.
The texture of sour cream when it is still good will be generally smooth, though a few lumps are nothing to worry about.
Sour cream is thick and creamy.
If sour cream is going bad and is not safe to eat, it may have spots of discoloration.
Mold may be evident, reflected by areas of blue or green and fuzz growing.
There may be a thick, somewhat hard coating on top of the sour cream which is a darker cream or a light yellow color.
Rather than smooth in appearance, sour cream which is going bad may be very lumpy throughout.
SmellSour cream, as its name suggests, has a sour smell, but this sour smell is light, not overpowering. 
The smell of sour cream that is spoiling can be best described as rancid.
The sour smell that is characteristic of good sour cream will have turned overly powerful, off-putting, and offensive.
TasteWhen sour cream is healthy and safe to eat it will taste pleasantly tangy. If you sample sour cream that is going bad the taste will be unpleasant to your taste buds.
You will want to say “ew” and spit it out.
The tangy taste that should be there will be rancid and gross.

Remember, if the sour cream fails any one of these tests, do not use it. These signs, along with the expiration date, can help you avoid using sour cream that is no longer safe to eat.

If you take a chance on using sour cream that might be bad, you may make people very sick. Spoiled sour cream can lead to food poisoning which gives people terrible stomach cramps, nausea, and diarrhea.


Sour cream is a dairy product, and it is important to store it properly to get the maximum life out of your purchase. Let’s consider two key elements:

how the sour cream is stored, and where the sour cream is stored. Another factor to take into account is whether the container has been opened or not.

RELATED: Can You Put Sour Cream In The Microwave?

How And Where To Store An Unopened Container Of Sour Cream

When you have a newly purchased container of sour cream it is important to store it properly to maximize the length of time it will be good.

This is really a no fuss, no muss thing – just put it in the fridge. Be sure you do not leave it out on the counter for more than two hours, and in hot weather, sour cream should go immediately into the fridge when you get your groceries home.

Remember to read the expiration date, and note that, sitting in a cold fridge – a minimum of 40 F,  it should still be good 1-3 weeks after that date.

How And Where To Store An Opened Container Of Sour Cream

Once you have opened the container of sour cream, then it must be put back in the fridge right away to avoid the warmer room temperature beginning spoilage.

Check that the lid is on tight. If the lid is damaged and does not give an airtight seal, then put the remaining sour cream into an airtight container, and then place it in the fridge.

As with the unopened container of sour cream, check the expiration date and note that it should be okay 1-3 weeks after that date.

Once a container of sour cream has been opened, the air getting at it can cause the sour cream to spoil more quickly. Sour cream is a dairy product and it will begin to spoil once the container is opened.

So that 1-3 week period may be on the short end whereas the unopened container, even though it will eventually spoil, will not do so as quickly because it has never been opened.


RELATED: Can Sour Cream Go Bad? How Long Might It Last?

Substitutions For Sour Cream

Have you ever been in the situation where you are following a recipe, it calls for something you know you have in the fridge, but when you grab it you see that it has gone bad? Annoying and frustrating, right?

That can happen easily with an ingredient like sour cream because we tend not to use it all the time, and so it sits for a while, sometimes a long while, and we forget just how long it has been there – past the 1-3 weeks after the expiration date, uh oh.

When that happens, you need a substitute. This chart looks at what will work when you need a substitute in a pinch.

SubstituteHow To Make It Work
YogurtYogurt is like sour cream in a number of ways. It has the same general consistency, and it is tangy like sour cream.
Greek yogurt is a thick type of yogurt so use it if you can.
If you’re substituting yogurt in baking, add 1 teaspoon of baking soda per 1 cup of yogurt.
Adding 1 tablespoon of flour, mixed with 2 tablespoons of water per 1 cup of yogurt will help a sauce to thicken.
ButtermilkButtermilk is not as thick as sour cream, but it does have a characteristic sour taste. 
You can easily thicken buttermilk by adding a little butter that has been softened.
Cottage CheeseYou might be surprised by cottage cheese as a substitute, but using a hand mixer will blend the lumps of cottage cheese, and you will have a texture very much like that of sour cream – smooth and thick.
Cream CheeseA block of cream cheese may be used to substitute for sour cream by softening it, and then blending it with a mixer to get a thick, rich, smooth consistency.
Evaporated MilkThe consistency of evaporated milk is much runnier than that of sour cream. If you are using this substitute it is best in a sauce.
Add 1 tablespoon of either vinegar or lemon juice to get that tangy flavor. Let it sit for 5 minutes before mixing it into the sauce.
Soy MilkSoy milk does not have the thickness of sour cream, but plain and unsweetened, it does have a sour taste.
Add a bit of softened butter to make this substitute work.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Sour Cream Go Bad?

Sour cream lasts for one to two weeks past its date, and even up to two weeks of opening the container. That’s probably the longest shelf life of all cream-related products.

Can Sour Cream Be Stored In The Freezer?

There are different opinions on whether sour cream can be stored in the freezer. When sour cream is frozen its texture changes. It will look lumpy and there will be separation.

However, freezing sour cream does not compromise the quality or the taste, and stirring the sour cream well can help with the separation and lumpy texture. If you don’t want to deal with these issues, it is best to avoid freezing sour cream.

Is It Okay To Use Spoiled Sour Cream In Baking?

You might think that it would be okay to bake with sour cream that has spoiled. The idea is that baking it in the oven, and mixing it with other ingredients would create a chemical change that would make the spoiled sour cream safe to consume, and make it impossible to taste the bad flavor.

This, however, is not true. If you have run the tests using sight, smell, and taste, and the sour cream has failed, then it is not safe to use the sour cream. You would risk making people sick which is definitely not a risk worth taking.

Jess Smith


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