I scream, you scream, we all scream for… freezer burn? Bacteria? No – something’s not right here. 

Surprisingly, ice cream doesn’t last forever. There’s a widespread belief that freezing food will prevent bacteria growth and maintain freshness; this isn’t exactly wrong, but it also isn’t exactly correct 100% of the time. Maybe we’ve been hard-wired by our parents nagging us to “put it in the freezer, it will last longer,” but no matter how we learned this supposed #lifehack, it’s time to reconsider. 

Preserving freshness by storing food in cold temperatures isn’t anything new; it’s one of humanity’s oldest tricks. Long before freezers, our ancestors were digging holes in the ground and nestling food within the cold earth to keep it safe and suitable to eat. 

Fast forward a few hundred years, and send a big thank you to William Cullen for the life-changing gift of refrigeration. As humans, our life sources are food and water. For bacteria, these life sources are moisture and warmth. Refrigeration – which utilizes moisture-control and cold temperature – slows down the activity (mobility) of microorganisms, which significantly delays their growth and reproduction: “refrigeration preserves freshness.”

But back to ice cream. Have you ever been hit with an urgent midnight sweet tooth craving? (We’ve all been there, right?). Anyways, imagine you’re really craving something sweet. You’re digging through the freezer, pushing aside the frozen peas, etc. Finally! You find a tub of ice cream at the verrry bottom of the freezer. Hoorah! Or, hoo-nah?

Opened V.s. Unopened

To eat, or not to eat?

Once opened, ice cream stays fresh for about six weeks when stored at zero degrees Fahrenheit. 

Unopened ice cream will stay fresh for two to three months in a zero-degree Fahrenheit freezer. 

Does Ice Cream Go Bad?

Unfortunately, yes. Ice cream does go bad, and it can make you sick.

Now technically, ice cream will be safe to eat for up to three or four months. Note that we said ice cream would stay fresh for six weeks, not just edible. After the six-week marker, ice cream begins to lose its optimal taste. After three or four months, there’s an increasing risk that ice cream will spoil. 

The longer ice cream has been in the freezer, the higher the risk of bacterial contamination. The sneaky part about bacteria growth on ice cream is that it can disguise itself as ice crystals – which may look, smell, and taste fine – but will make us sick. Bacteria thrive in protein-rich environments, including milk and cream. 

How to Tell When Its Time Is Up

So, you’ve uncovered the questionably old tub of ice cream from the bottom of the freezer. It’s time for inspection, but how do you know if its time is up?

First, if the outside of the container is sticky or ice-crystally, turn around and march that ice cream straight to the garbage. When the freezer burn effect has reached the outside of the tub, it’s way too late. But if it hasn’t? 

Get up close and personal with your ice cream and give it a thorough inspection. One of the first things you may notice if ice cream has gone bad is any formation of ice shards (crystals) on the surface of the ice cream or the underside of the container’s lid. Sometimes, if it hasn’t been too long, these ice shards are minimal and can be scraped off to uncover some still viable ice cream underneath. 

Although many people claim to “not mind” removing a layer of ice to salvage the rest of a tub, it’s probably better not to. The size of ice crystals can serve as a good indication of freshness or lack thereof, so why risk it?

If ice is in larger formations and has any degree of gooey texture to it, its time is up. This signals the beginning of bacterial growth. 

Safe Storage

Unopened? If you’re saving the ice cream for an occasion any more than three weeks ahead of time, wrapping the tub with freezer paper or plastic wrap can help preserve the ice cream’s quality. If the ice cream is only kept for a week or two, as long as your freezer is set to zero degrees Fahrenheit, you should be in the clear. 

Opened? Although opened ice cream will last for about six weeks, the best time to enjoy it will be in the first seven to ten days. Sound familiar? Yep – most refrigerated dairy products such as yogurt and milk are labeled with fine print that usually goes something like “best if used within seven days after opening.” Ice cream, yogurt, and milk all fall into the same category of being high-protein and cold temperature, AKA the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. 

To maintain optimal deliciousness as well as safety, always ensure the container is tightly closed when returning ice cream to the freezer. This will keep out moisture, air, and any other contaminants that may be neighboring in your freezer. Another tip is to store your ice cream at the back or bottom of the freezer (freezer design dependent) where it’s coldest; this will prevent any gradual melting that would speed up bacterial growth and ice crystallization. 

The idea of safe storage is great and all, but we still have a hard time wrapping our heads around the problem of keeping ice cream for too long. Like, seriously, with some households, the problem is more like “you snooze, you lose…” Anyone who grew up with siblings, you know what we’re talking about.

Also,  you know how when you buy ice cream at the store and then get home with it, it’s usually a little melted along the top or sides? Once melted, ice cream doesn’t refreeze the same way it was initially frozen – the texture will be different (weird). If you get home with your ice cream and it’s soft to the squeeze, grab a spoon and start eating! Long live fun.

Here’s the important part(!): if the ice cream has thoroughly melted, it may be too late to refreeze it as it’s already become susceptible to bacterial growth. If it’s been melted for any more than an hour, its time has come and gone, and it’s time to say your goodbyes. Better safe than sorry. 

This Ice Cream Won’t Last Long…

The best way to avoid this problem is to only keep ice cream in the house that’s so delicious, it would never last longer than seven to ten days.

Cue, Eclipse ice cream. Eclipse is the brand to know when it comes to anything and everything related to plant-based ice cream. Don’t be scared by “plant-based,” this up-and-coming ice cream company has been validated and praised by more than a few top media outlets; CNN, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Forbes. 

When it comes to flavors, Eclipse has options; there are the classic must-haves like chocolate, vanilla, cookie butter, strawberry, and mango passion fruit: no freezer burn, chalkiness, or weird aftertaste. Rich and creamy, without compromise.

If you want the creamiest ice cream there is – which of course you do, because who wouldn’t – don’t limit yourself to dairy ice cream. It’s 2021, and there’s never been a better time to try something new and give dairy-free ice cream a shot. It’s so good, it won’t last a week. Problem solved. 

External Sources 

Burying Food for Preservation – Is it Still a Good Idea? | Morning Chores 

The History of the Refrigerator | Sandvik 

Dangers of Old Ice Cream | Livestrong