Does ice cream go bad? If you’re an ice cream lover, you probably never needed to ask this question. However, many of us have allowed ice cream sit in the freezer for weeks or months and have wondered if it goes bad. While some might assume that the freezer preserves ice cream indefinitely, it actually does go bad at a certain point.
Freezer Burn Explained
The big concern over ice cream spoilage is freezer burn. This happens when moisture seeps from the inside of ice cream and up to the surface. As the surface moisture meshes with the freezer air, it refreezes on the top of the ice cream. This creates those annoying ice crystals that many of us have tried to scrape away to continue eating that creamy goodness.
Unfortunately, once freezer burn sets in, the texture and that classic creamy flavor are usually shot. This is because moisture plays an important role in maintaining the product taste. Once that moisture has escaped, you are never going to have the same tasting product, no matter what you try. Note that freezer-burned ice cream is still safe to eat if you can tolerate the taste.
Ways To Avoid Ice Cream Freezer Burn
- Do not let your ice cream thaw and refreeze. Return the carton to the freezer as soon as possible.
- Add a piece of plastic to the surface of your ice cream after it is opened. This is in addition to the lid being securely placed on the carton. This will help protect the product from the harmful freezer environment.
- Keep your ice cream in the coldest area of the freezer. Yep, under the bag of peas you never eat. This will help keep the ice cream at an appropriate temperature and will help minimize exposure to air.
- Store the ice cream upside down if it has partially melted. The melted ice cream will drizzle down to the top of the lid and away from the main portion of the ice cream. This will help deter freezer burn on the surface from the melted ice cream.
- The sooner you can eat the ice cream, the less chance of freezer damage. The best policy (no matter how hard it is) is to eat the product as soon as possible.
Bacteria In Ice Cream
It is possible for ice cream to be contaminated with harmful bacteria. However, the cold environment makes it difficult for bacteria to grow. Assuming no contamination during the manufacturing process and the product remains at or below 0 °F at home, ice cream is likely safe from bacteria. Of course, your freezer should also be free from any potential contaminants.
Bacteria starts to become a concern when the ice cream begins to thaw. The longer ice cream sits out and melts, the greater chance for foodborne illness. Refreezing a thawed ice cream will not kill off harmful bacteria. You should consider disposing of ice cream depending on the length of time it has remained at room temperature. In general, foods that sit out at temperatures above 40 °F for over two hours should be discarded.
How Long Does Ice Cream Last?
The general theory is that ice cream will last 3-4 months beyond the printed date if it is unopened and about 1-2 months if it is opened. However, storage conditions and proper manufacturing greatly impact the shelf-life. We believe that the Ontario Agriculture College explains the shelf-life of ice cream of the best:
“There is no answer to the question “What is the shelf-life of ice cream?”, it depends entirely on its conditions of storage. It might be one year, or it might be two weeks or less. ” (source)