ice cream shelf life

Ice Cream Shelf Life: Can It Go Bad?

Who doesn’t love ice cream? It’s a delicious treat for children and adults alike. Many of us have a pint or two of ice creams in our freezer. You never know when the craving strikes, right? In light of stocking up your favorite dessert, you’re wondering: Does ice cream go bad?

Perhaps, you find a tub of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream that’s tucked behind every other thing. It’s forgotten for a while that it got freezer burn.

As much as you want to scoop it out, you need to make sure that you won’t get sick from it. How do you know if ice cream is spoiled? How should you store ice cream to avoid freezer burn?

If you can relate to either situation above, we got you covered! In this article, we discuss the practical details of ice cream, such as storage, shelf life, and general symptoms of going bad. Sounds interesting? Read on!

How To Store Ice Cream

As you’ve probably known, ice cream is a dairy product. Basically, it is an emulsion of dairy (milk, condensed milk, or heavy cream), sugar, water, flavoring, and additives to make it stable. These days, non-dairy ice cream is also available to cater to vegan consumers or those with lactose intolerance.

When it comes to shopping, you should treat it similarly to other refrigerated products. Pick your favorite ice creams on your last stop before walking to the cashier.

If you’re shopping on a hot summer day, bring your own freezer bag to protect the ice cream from warm temperatures. Try to make your grocery shopping as the last errand before you go home.

Put the ice cream back into the freezer as soon as you’re home unless you want to enjoy it right away. Unopened ice creams can be tucked into the freezer as is.

If you prefer homemade ice cream, make sure to keep it in a sealed airtight container. Leave ½ inch headspace to allow expansion of the emulsion when freezes.

The optimum storage temperatures are between -5 °F and 0 °F (or -20 °C to -18 °C), while ice cream is best served between 6 °F to 10 °F (or -14 °C to -12 °C). Avoid storing ice cream on the door as the temperatures in this area tend to fluctuate significantly. (*)

After serving, put it back in the freezer immediately. If ice cream softens and re-frozen repeatedly, the consistency may change into an unappetizing lump.

Make sure to close the lid tightly to prevent the formation of ice crystals. You can also place a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap on the ice cream’s surface.

Avoid placing ice cream next to uncovered foods, let alone raw foods. Cross-contamination can happen and make ice cream unsafe to eat.

Of course, it is so tempting to eat ice cream right from the tub. If you won’t finish in one sitting, better portion it into a bowl and use a clean spoon to scoop out the good stuff.

How Do You Tell If Ice Cream Has Gone Bad?

Let’s be honest. Many of us stock up ice cream more than we can eat. It’s dilemmatic when the best-by date has passed. As an ice cream lover, it’s essential to understand when to salvage and waste your favorite treat.

Check these signs to determine whether your ice cream is worth keeping.

1. Freezer burn. If ice crystals are only formed on the surface, you can scoop this layer and enjoy the rest. However, if the damage has got deeper, the entire ice cream might have been ruined.

2. Repeatedly re-frozen. Suppose you left an ice cream too long at room temperature, it’s melted and you put it back to freeze. In that case, harmful bacteria such as Listeria may survive and grow in the freezer.

3. Off-smell. Perhaps the lid is not tightly closed, and ice cream picks up odors from other foods.

You can rely on your senses to judge whether ice cream has gone bad. If you’re still in doubt after giving a thorough check, it’s maybe best to say goodbye. The same goes if you have kept ice cream for too long in the freezer.

If you are not sure about the safety of ice cream, don’t serve it to your kids, elderly people, or pregnant women. Ice cream is prone to Listeria contamination, which can damage the health of these groups of people. (*)

How Long Does Ice Cream Last?

Don’t be surprised, but ice cream doesn’t last forever. It’s easy to perceive that frozen items can last indefinitely. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for ice cream.

After all, ice cream is a dairy product. That means it’s susceptible to microbial spoilage. Not to mention the risk of freezer burn.

The exact shelf life may differ depending on the ingredients and preparation method. One thing is for sure. Storage conditions also influence how long the ice cream stays delicious and safe to eat.

An ice cream producer provides a best-by date on the label to indicate a period when this sweet treat should retain its freshness, subject to proper storage.

If it’s unopened, you can allow a month or two past the recommended date. But, if it shows unusual changes as mentioned earlier, it’s better to stay on the safe side.

After opening, ice cream is best to eat as soon as possible or up to a couple of months, assuming that it’s safe from freezer burn.

When it comes to homemade ice cream, the shelf life depends on the recipe and preparation method. But, it definitely lasts shorter than the store-bought variety since it contains no emulsifiers or preservatives.

Ice cream typesFreezer (keep at 0 ºF or below)
Ice cream (unopened)Best-by date + 1 to 2 months
Ice cream (opened)1 to 2 months
Homemade ice cream2 weeks to 2 months

This table is a general estimate for the best quality of ice cream. The actual shelf life depends on storage.


Is it safe to eat expired ice cream?

Provided that the ice cream is appropriately stored, no freezer burn, and no signs of spoilage, it can be safe to eat within a few weeks after its best-by date.

Can ice cream give you food poisoning?

Unfortunately, yes. Homemade ice cream prepared with raw eggs has a potential risk of harboring Salmonella. Store-bought ice cream uses pasteurized eggs, so Salmonella is not really a concern. However, ice cream is also prone to Listeria contamination from the production facility, if the milk is not thoroughly pasteurized, or from cross-contamination during storage. (*) (*)

Is it okay to eat melted ice cream?

Ice cream will easily become an incubator for bacteria when it is allowed to melt. That is why the ice cream guidelines of the FDA require distributors to maintain frozen desserts below 41 °F. It’s a severe set-up for food poisoning because the sugars in ice cream feed bacteria. (*)

Final Thoughts

Ice cream is a ready-to-eat food that needs to be continuously frozen to maintain its quality and safety.

If you give it proper storage, ice cream should stay delicious until its “best-by” date and possibly longer. Otherwise, forget this date if freezer burn takes control, or it smells off.

See more: Difference between sherbet and sorbet

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