Skip to Content

How to Tell if Heavy Cream Is Bad

*This post may have affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions if you choose to purchase through links I provide (at no extra cost to you). As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Please read my disclaimer for additional details.

When you buy heavy cream, you should plan to use it within a couple of weeks of purchasing it.

When you open it, you need to keep it properly sealed; otherwise, it will spoil faster, which is money down the drain.

Some people wonder how to tell if heavy cream is bad. Usually, you can spot spoiled heavy cream by the kind of smell it gives off, the way it looks, and tastes.

Mixing Whipped Cream in a Stand Mixer

For example, heavy cream will have a sour smell when it’s bad and can turn clumpy or moldy.

You should never use bad heavy cream for cooking because it will possibly ruin your dish or make you sick. Thankfully, most grocery stores will have both a sell-by date and an expiration date to help you know how long you can store it and eat it safely.

Here’s some helpful information on how to tell if heavy cream is bad and what you can do to extend its shelf-life, so you can use a single container for as long as possible.

How to Know When Heavy Cream Goes Bad?

When you buy heavy cream in the store, each package will likely have a sell-by date and an expiration date on it. The sell-by date is the store’s way of managing what should and shouldn’t be on the shelves.

a cup of whipped cream on wooden table

If, for example, they sell something too close to the expiration date, their customers won’t have a reasonable time to use what they purchase. But on the other hand, the sell-by date gives a good cushion where people can buy produce, frozen goods, meats, and dairy products without worrying they’ll spoil before they use them.

In most cases, heavy cream will usually remain suitable for consumption between one and three weeks between the sell-by date and the expiration date. But, of course, if you buy it earlier than the sell-by date, you’ll have a longer time to use it!

One of the challenges with heavy cream is that people often buy a container because they need it for a specific recipe. After that, however, the heavy cream sits in the fridge for days or weeks. So then, how can you tell if it’s still good?

Here are some things you should do to check whether your heavy cream is bad.

How Does Your Heavy Cream Smell?

The smell is usually the easiest way to know if your heavy cream is still fresh. Heavy cream usually has a fresh aroma. Of course, if it’s sweetened, you’ll smell that, but plain heavy cream will smell like milk, only somewhat more concentrated.

Is heavy cream supposed to smell sour?

If you smell anything sour or foul when you get close to your heavy cream, it’s a sure sign that it’s gone bad. Don’t cook or consume any heavy cream that smells “off.” It can make you sick.

How Does Your Heavy Cream Look Like?

Half ripe sweet strawberries in heavy cream on berry dessert close-up

Once it passes the smell test, you can give it a closer look. Heavy cream should be thick with a smooth consistency. It should also be white or off-white. There shouldn’t be any clumps or mold growing in the cream.

Another sign that your heavy cream is bad is if there’s a lot of water or clear liquid separated from the cream. Sometimes heavy cream becomes grainy.

The Taste Test

If your heavy cream smells good and looks normal, you should have enough confidence to give it a taste!

Heavy cream should have a plain milky taste unless it’s sweetened and used for homemade whipping cream.

Can You Use Expired Heavy Cream?

It’s always best to use foods before their expiration date. Using expired foods increases your chances of getting sick or having your ingredients ruin something like a cream sauce or other recipes.

How long is heavy cream good for after the expiration date?

To be safe, throw out any heavy cream past its expiration date. However, if you unknowingly use heavy cream that is a couple of days past the expiry date, it’s unlikely anything will happen to you.

Male stomachache

Will Spoiled Heavy Cream Make You Sick?

This is why it’s so essential to know when something has gone bad. Minor cases of illness that can result from using spoiled heavy cream include things like a stomachache or indigestion. Apart from this, consuming spoiled heavy cream can cause severe food poisoning which can make you extremely sick.

It can send you to the hospital and, in the worst scenarios, it can be fatal so avoid taking or using heavy cream that you have determined to be spoiled.

What Happens if You Cook with Spoiled Heavy Cream?

One of the biggest challenges with bad heavy cream is that it’s harder to cook with. Ideally, a good heavy cream will augment any sauce or dish you’re adding it to. It would often make sauces or gravies thicker.

When you cook with soured heavy cream however, the cream is much more likely to clump. As a result, it won’t integrate into the sauce or the rest of the dish like you hope. It will also affect how everything tastes, so avoid cooking with spoiled heavy cream!

How Long Will Heavy Cream Last in the Fridge?

How long does cream last once opened? Heavy cream should last around a week once you open it. If you want it to last as long as possible, keep it in a sealed container where air and moisture won’t get in.

If you leave an open container of heavy cream in the fridge, it will go bad in a few days. It’s a relatively fragile ingredient, which is why heavy cream generally costs more in grocery stores.

Woman pouring heavy cream from a jug into pumpkin pie filling in a bowl

Is Heavy Cream Supposed to Smell Sour?

Heavy cream is not really supposed to smell sour. While it shouldn’t have a sour smell, a slightly sour smell doesn’t always mean the heavy cream is bad.

Typically, you only want to throw away heavy cream if the smell is so off-putting you wouldn’t want to eat it. That, combined with how it looks and tastes, should be enough clues to help you decide if it’s still fresh.

How Do You Use Spoiled Heavy Whipping Cream?

How do you use old heavy cream? You’ve probably heard of sour cream, which is the same as slightly spoiled heavy cream. If you have heavy whipping cream, you can mix it to turn it into butter. Use a mixer to stir the soured heavy whipping cream to separate the whey.

As you churn it, you’ll separate liquids and solids, and the color will start turning yellow. Stick it in the fridge, and you’ve got homemade butter!

Is Heavy Cream the Same as Heavy Whipping Cream?

Heavy cream is the same as heavy whipping cream. Just be sure to read the packaging because some whipping cream comes with added sugar. It’s okay if you’re making homemade whipped cream, but you won’t want something with so much sugar for the dinner you’re cooking.


Heavy cream is a fantastic ingredient for people cooking at home and in restaurants. Always check to see whether it’s still fresh before you use it.

In addition, consider not throwing out old heavy cream that’s gone bad! Instead, use it for butter, sour cream, and other delicious ingredients.