Heavy whipping cream, also known as heavy cream, is a dairy product used frequently in cooking and baking. With its high fat content, heavy cream can go bad relatively quickly if not stored properly. Knowing how to tell if your heavy whipping cream has spoiled can help prevent foodborne illness and ruining recipes.
Signs of Bad Heavy Whipping Cream
There are a few clear signs that indicate your heavy whipping cream has gone bad:
- Sour smell – Fresh heavy cream has a mildly sweet, creamy smell. If it starts smelling sour or unpleasant, it has likely spoiled.
- Lumpy texture – Bad heavy cream will develop clumps or curdling rather than having a smooth, creamy texture.
- Mold – Mold growth, which may appear dry and powdery or fuzzy, is a sure sign heavy cream has gone bad.
- Off-color – The pure white color of fresh cream can become yellowish if the cream has gone bad.
How to Tell by Date
The “best by” date on heavy whipping cream is an indicator of how long it stays fresh, but may not always reflect when the cream has gone bad. Here are some general guidelines for how long heavy whipping cream lasts when properly stored:
- Unopened – About 3-4 weeks past the “best by” date on the carton.
- Opened – About 1-2 weeks after opening.
So if your unopened heavy cream is a few days past the “best by” date, it should still be safe to use. But if it’s been open for over 2 weeks, err on the side of caution and toss it.
How to Store Heavy Cream
Proper storage is key to maximizing the shelf life of heavy whipping cream. Follow these tips:
- Refrigerate in original carton – Keep heavy cream chilled at 40°F or below in its original container.
- Check for leaks – Make sure the carton is well sealed with no leaks before storing.
- Use clean utensils – Always use clean utensils and containers when taking cream out to avoid contamination.
- Minimize temperature changes – Limit taking the cream in and out of the fridge to keep it consistently chilled.
- Use within recommended time – Once opened, use within 1 week for best quality and freshness.
Can you freeze heavy whipping cream?
Yes, you can freeze heavy whipping cream to extend its shelf life. Here are some tips for freezing whipping cream:
- Freeze in airtight container – Pour cream into a freezer-safe airtight container, allowing headspace for expansion.
- Add stabilizers – Mixing in 1-2 teaspoons of cornstarch or gelatin per 1 cup cream helps prevent separation.
- Label with date – Mark container with freeze date so you know how long it’s been stored.
- Thaw in fridge – Thaw frozen cream overnight in the refrigerator before using.
- Use within 3-4 months – For best quality and freshness, use frozen heavy cream within 3-4 months.
What happens if you whip bad cream?
Whipping heavy cream that has gone bad is not recommended. Here’s what happens if you try to whip spoiled heavy whipping cream:
- Won’t whip up – The fat molecules degrade as cream spoils, preventing it from whipping properly.
- Curdles – Bad cream often curdles rather than whipping up to soft peaks, resulting in a clumpy, chunky texture.
- Off flavors – Whipped spoiled cream will have a sour, unpleasant flavor.
- Food safety risk – Consuming spoiled whipped cream poses potential foodborne illness risks.
It’s best to always whip up fresh cream within 1-2 weeks of opening. Discard cream that is past its prime without whipping it.
When to throw out heavy whipping cream
As a general rule, heavy whipping cream should be discarded once:
- It reaches the “best by” date before opening
- It has been open for over 1 week
- It develops any signs of spoilage like lumps, off-color, or sour smell
- It has been stored incorrectly like left out too long at room temperature
Trust your senses – if the heavy cream doesn’t look, smell or feel like fresh cream, err on the side of caution and throw it out. With heavy cream’s high dairy fat content, it can go bad quite quickly under the wrong conditions.
Can you make whipped cream with ultrapasteurized heavy cream?
Yes, you can use ultrapasteurized heavy whipping cream to make whipped cream. Here are some tips:
- Chill thoroughly – Make sure cream is completely chilled overnight in the refrigerator.
- Use a chilled bowl – Whip cream in a metal bowl placed in ice water to aid whipping.
- Whip on high speed – Use a hand or stand mixer on high speed to incorporate as much air as possible.
- Add stabilizers – A teaspoon of powdered milk or mascarpone cheese helps stabilize the whipped cream.
- Don’t overwhip – Whip just until soft peaks form, not until stiff.
With proper chilling and whipping, ultrapasteurized heavy cream can whip up just as well as regular pasteurized heavy cream. The higher heat treatment helps extend the shelf life.
Can I use heavy whipping cream after the expiration date?
Heavy whipping cream can generally be used for up to 1 week past the printed “best by” or expiration date, provided it has been continuously refrigerated and the carton is unopened. Here are some guidelines:
- 1-2 weeks past – Use by this point if the cream has been kept chilled at 40°F or below.
- 3-4 weeks past – Heavy cream is still likely safe up to this point past date, though quality declines.
- 2+ months past – Don’t use; heavy cream this far past its date has likely spoiled.
As always, inspect the cream carefully for any signs of spoilage like lumps, off-smell or color changes before using. Your nose is often the best indicator of whether the cream has gone bad or not.
Should heavy whipping cream be refrigerated?
Yes, heavy whipping cream must always be refrigerated. The high milk fat content means heavy cream is prone to quick spoilage if left unrefrigerated. Follow these refrigeration guidelines:
- Refrigerate after purchase – Refrigerate cream immediately after bringing it home from the grocery store.
- Keep chilled 40°F or below – Store heavy cream in the refrigerator, not the door.
- Use within 1-2 weeks – Use refrigerated heavy cream within 1 week after opening.
- Don’t leave out over 2 hours – Discard cream left at room temperature for longer.
Proper refrigeration at 40°F or below helps slow heavy cream’s rate of spoilage and maintain its freshness and flavor.
How long does unopened heavy cream last in the fridge?
In an unopened, properly sealed carton, heavy whipping cream will generally stay fresh in the fridge for:
- 7-10 days past “best by” date
- 3-4 weeks past the “best by” or expiration date
- Up to 1-2 months past date if continuously refrigerated at 40°F or below
The shelf life depends on how well refrigerated and sealed the package is. An unopened carton stays freshest in the coldest part of a refrigerator, not the door. Once opened, heavy cream only lasts about 1 week.
Does heavy cream go bad if not refrigerated?
Yes, heavy whipping cream can go bad very quickly if left unrefrigerated. Here’s what happens when heavy cream sits out:
- 2 hours – Starts to lose freshness, refrigerate immediately
- 4 hours – Bacteria growth begins, cream not safe to consume
- 6+ hours – High likelihood cream has spoiled based on smell, texture, appearance
The high fat content of heavy whipping cream makes it prone to rapid bacterial growth when left at room temperature or warmer. For food safety, it’s important to discard any cream left unrefrigerated for more than 2 consecutive hours.
Can I use heavy whipping cream after freezing?
Yes, heavy cream retains its whipping properties after being frozen and thawed. Here are some tips for best results with frozen cream:
- Thaw slowly in fridge – Thaw frozen cream overnight in the refrigerator before whipping.
- Whip chilled – Whip the thawed cream right after taking it out of the fridge when it’s still cold.
- Check texture – Look for smooth, creamy texture without curdling or separation.
- Whip on high speed – Use a mixer on high speed to maximize volume.
- Use promptly – Whip thawed cream within 2-3 days for freshest flavor.
With proper thawing techniques, frozen heavy whipping cream whips up just as well as fresh heavy cream directly from the fridge.
Can I whip heavy cream a second time?
It’s best to avoid whipping heavy cream a second time. Here’s what happens when heavy whipping cream is rewhipped:
- Less volume – Already whipped cream loses volume and whips up less fluffy.
- Grainy texture – Cream can take on a grainy, curdled texture.
- Watery liquid – Liquid can start to separate out from the whipped fat.
- Off flavors – Flavor suffers, taking on a sour or rancid taste.
For the lightest, fluffiest texture with the best taste, always whip heavy cream freshly right before serving. Refrigerate leftovers and use within 2 days.
Checking for changes in smell, texture, and appearance are the most reliable ways to determine if your heavy whipping cream has gone bad. Follow proper refrigeration and storage methods to maximize the shelf life. With its high dairy fat content, heavy cream can spoil rapidly if left unrefrigerated or past its prime. Using your senses along with adhering to expiration dates and food safety recommendations can help prevent foodborne illness from consuming spoiled heavy whipping cream.