How Long Can Sour Cream Be Left Out At Room Temperature?

Sour cream is a versatile ingredient that can be used in both sweet and savory recipes. However, it must be handled properly to keep it both safe and tasty. Otherwise, you run the risk of foodborne illness. In this case, there are limitations to how long it can be exposed to room-temperature conditions. According to the USDA, perishable foods face a risk of bacterial growth when left out for a period of two hours or more when the temperature range is between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. 

In the event the temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, which might be the case when leaving sour cream in the kitchen next to the stove, spoilage can take place in as little as one hour.

There's a misconception that because sour cream is made by adding a certain strain of bacteria to dairy, it's impervious to spoilage. But while the product is fermented, which is a highly effective food preservation method, it must still be stored correctly to ensure it remains safe for consumption, while also being flavorful.

Tips for storing sour cream in the kitchen

Like other dairy products, sour cream should always be kept in the refrigerator. As illustrated by the USDA, sour cream can typically remain stable in the fridge for a period ranging from one to three weeks, at which point the risk of spoilage may increase. While storing food in the freezer can extend its lifespan, it might not be the best option when it comes to the quality of sour cream.

Freezing causes the fats and liquids in sour cream to break apart. This leads to an unpalatable texture after the dairy product is defrosted, which can negatively affect recipes. The smoothness of sour cream is a large part of its appeal, and freezing may alter its texture drastically. 

It may be possible to freeze sour cream for as long as two months without risking safety in the kitchen, but keep in mind that the quality will likely be diminished as a result.

How to tell it's time to toss your sour cream

Following the proper food safety guidelines will serve you well, but it also helps to know the common clues that sour cream is no longer good to eat. One easy-to-identify sign is mold, which typically has a fuzzy texture and may be green or gray in color. Visible mold growth almost always means that invisible spores have infiltrated food, which means that the entire container of sour cream is likely affected. Similarly, any other color changes mean that the sour cream should be tossed.

The way sour cream smells can also help you determine whether it's still safe to eat. In this case, spoiled sour cream will have a strong, unpleasant odor, rather than the bright, tangy aroma it typically has. Keep in mind that even mild issues with appearance and odor can make sour cream less palatable, so it's always best to err on the side of caution. 

By storing sour cream properly and limiting how much time it spends in room temperature conditions, you can avoid these unpleasant effects.