How Long Can Sour Cream Sit Out?

Sour cream is a popular and versatile dairy product used in various recipes and as a delicious topping. However, like many dairy items, sour cream is perishable and requires proper handling to maintain its freshness and safety. In this article, we will explore the question, “how long can sour cream sit out?” We’ll delve into sour cream safety guidelines, examining factors that affect its shelf life and discussing best practices for storage.

How Long Can Sour Cream Sit Out

Sour Cream Shelf Life

Sour cream is typically labeled with a sell-by date, indicating the date by which it is expected to remain at its best quality. Unopened sour cream can last longer, but once opened, its shelf life becomes limited. According to the USDA, both opened and unopened sour cream can stay fresh for up to three weeks after the sell-by date if stored correctly in the refrigerator.

The Two-Hour Rule

The general rule for perishable food items, including sour cream, is that they should not be left out at room temperature for more than two hours. Bacteria multiply rapidly between 40°F and 140°F (4°C and 60°C), and leaving sour cream unrefrigerated for too long can lead to the growth of harmful bacteria, potentially causing food poisoning.

Factors Affecting Room Temperature Safety

The time sour cream can safely sit out at room temperature depends on the ambient temperature. According to the USDA, dairy products like sour cream can be kept at room temperature for up to two hours before requiring refrigeration. However, factors such as kitchen temperature and humidity can impact this timeframe significantly. In a hot kitchen, the shelf life of sour cream at room temperature decreases, and it’s best to discard it after two hours to avoid any potential health risks.

The Importance of Refrigeration

To extend the shelf life and ensure the safety of sour cream, refrigeration is crucial. After using sour cream, promptly return it to the refrigerator. Make sure the refrigerator is set to a temperature below 40°F (4°C) to maintain its freshness. Refrigeration slows down bacterial growth, keeping your sour cream safe for consumption.

Signs of Spoiled Sour Cream

It’s essential to inspect sour cream before using it, especially if it has been sitting out. If you notice any mold growth, off-coloration, or an unusual odor, discard the sour cream immediately, as it may be spoiled and unsafe to eat. However, some separation of liquid from the solid cream is normal and not a cause for concern. Simply mix it back in or drain it off using a clean spoon.

How to Handle Separated Sour Cream

As mentioned earlier, separation in sour cream is common and does not indicate spoilage. To address the separation, use a clean spoon to stir the cream gently until it reaches a uniform consistency. The cream is still safe to use even after the separation.

Sour Cream Safety Tips

  • Always check the expiration date before purchasing sour cream.
  • Keep sour cream refrigerated when not in use.
  • Avoid leaving sour cream out at room temperature for an extended period.
  • Use clean utensils when handling sour cream to prevent contamination.
  • Discard sour cream if you notice any signs of spoilage.

Can You Freeze Sour Cream?

Freezing sour cream is possible, but it may cause changes in texture when thawed. It’s best used in cooked dishes after freezing, as the texture may not be suitable for direct consumption. Place the sour cream in an airtight container before freezing, and use it within three months for the best results.

Sour Cream Usage in Recipes

Sour cream adds a creamy and tangy flavor to a wide range of dishes. It is commonly used as a topping for tacos, baked potatoes, and soups. Additionally, sour cream is a popular ingredient in various baked goods, contributing to their moistness and richness.


In conclusion, sour cream is a delightful addition to various dishes, but it requires proper handling and storage to ensure its safety. Always follow the two-hour rule for leaving sour cream at room temperature and promptly refrigerate it after use. Be vigilant for signs of spoilage, and if in doubt, it’s best to discard the sour cream to avoid any potential health risks. With these guidelines, you can enjoy the tangy goodness of sour cream in your culinary creations.

Common FAQs About Sour Cream

Can I leave sour cream out for more than two hours if I plan to use it soon after?

It’s best not to risk leaving sour cream out for an extended period, as bacteria can grow quickly. It’s safer to refrigerate it promptly.

Can sour cream be used past its sell-by date?

If the sour cream has been stored correctly and shows no signs of spoilage, it is generally safe to use past the sell-by date.

Can I freeze sour cream in its original container?

While freezing sour cream in its original container is possible, transferring it to an airtight container can help preserve its quality.

How long can I store an opened container of sour cream in the refrigerator?

An opened container of sour cream can last for about 1 to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

Can I use sour cream that has been frozen and thawed in a cold dish?

Yes, sour cream that has been frozen and thawed is suitable for use in cooked dishes.

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