What Happens if I Forget to Refrigerate Whipping Cream?

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Like all dairy products, whipping cream should be kept refrigerated at all times. If you forget to put the whipping cream, or a dessert made with whipping cream, back into the refrigerator, there are a few criteria you can use to determine whether it is still safe to eat, or if you should throw it away. If you are not sure, it is best to err on the side of caution and throw the food away rather than risk foodborne illness.

Watch the Clock

If you've left the whipping cream out for two hours or less, it may be fine to refrigerate and consume. In general, if dairy products like whipping cream have been at or above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours or more, they should be considered unsafe to use. If you have left the cream outside during the summer months, or in a room that is at or above 75 degrees Fahrenheit, bacteria could begin to multiply in unsafe numbers in as little as one hour. If you have doubts, discard the whipping cream.

The Nose Doesn't Necessarily Know

Do not rely on taste or smell to determine whether whipping cream is safe to eat. Bacteria that cause foodborne illness do not change the taste or smell of the cream. The only way to prove that cream has high enough levels of bacteria to make you sick is to perform a microbiological analysis, which is usually done in a lab setting. In the home, rely on your knowledge of how long the cream has been out of the refrigerator to make an educated guess about its safety.

The most common symptom of foodborne illness is diarrhea, which can lead to severe dehydration. If you believe you or a family member has been affected by foodborne illness, make sure you consume enough fluids to stay hydrated, and seek medical attention if necessary.

Use It or Freeze It

Whipping cream can be stored in the refrigerator below 40 degrees Fahrenheit until the "best by" date marked on the container. If you have extra whipping cream and do not expect to use it by the expiration date, you can freeze it. Defrost frozen whipping cream in the refrigerator for a day or two, then shake it vigorously to re-emulsify the butterfat. The thawed whipping cream can be used just as you would use fresh whipping cream.

Shelf Stable Whipping Cream

Ultra-high-temperature, or UHT, cream has been ultra pasteurized and packaged in a hermetically sealed container. This process makes it shelf stable for six months as long as it is unopened. Shelf-stable cream is ideal for long-term storage and travel, but it can have off flavors. Once UHT cream has been opened, it must be stored in the refrigerator and used within 10 to 21 days, just like regular whipping cream.