Sour cream should have a shelf-life of around 25-45 days. One study documents that when properly stored undisturbed at 4°C, sour cream has an acceptable shelf life for up to 6 weeks (31). In another study, Folkenberg and Skriver (7) evaluated the change of sensory properties of sour cream during storage time. As storage time approached 28 days, the intensity of prickling mouthfeel, sour odor, and bitter taste increased. The samples were stored under ideal conditions, which suggest that real life distribution and storage temperature abuse would likely decrease the shelf life of this product below 28 days.
The single most important factor determining shelf life remains cream quality. Unless the cream is of excellent quality, the sour cream quickly develops off-flavors. Two parameters that impact cream quality are (a) raw milk quality and (b) pretreatment of milk. Good-quality raw milk has a low bacterial content (low standard plate count) and comes from healthy cows (low somatic cell count). Even good-quality raw milk spoils unless quickly cooled and kept at low temperatures until pasteurization. Furthermore, the time interval between milking and pasteurization should be as short as possible. Other factors to consider are proper cleaning and sanitation of all milk contact surfaces, well installed and sized pumps, and no unnecessary milk handling.
Assuming that high-quality cream is utilized, the parameters that limit shelf life tend to be associated with either flavor defects or surface growth of yeast and molds. When using appropriate stabilizers, the body and texture should remain adequate throughout the shelf life. A guide on how to prevent flavor defects is included below. Yeasts and molds are controlled by improving sanitation throughout the process. As with many other dairy products, sanitation trouble spots are often associated with the filler machines, which are difficult to clean.
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