Does Ice Cream Go Bad? Facts and Info You Should Know

Does ice cream go bad? This is something we hear so many people ask. While ice cream can stay good for a long time in the freezer, there are certain things you need to know before you pop up that box sitting in your freezer for 3 years. 

Read on to learn how long does ice cream last, how to store it properly, and many other useful information about ice cream you will find interesting. 

Everybody loves ice creams. Every spoonful of ice cream is nothing but pure happiness. Who said you have to be a child to enjoy it? Eating ice cream straight from the tub in pajamas is the only medicine for a broken heart.

But two tall glasses of red wine and vanilla ice cream float, paired with Netflix on date night, scream intimacy. Ice cream tubs in the freezer are so reassuring! But does ice cream go bad?

An unopened box of this sweet delight can last for about 2-3 months in your freezer. Its shelf life depends on several factors, including storage and method of preparation. Unlike many dairy products, ice creams usually have “best before” dates instead of “use by” or “sell by” dates. So, even though it won’t be in it’s best shape after that date, you can still consume it.

How Long Does Ice Cream Last? Does Ice Cream go Bad?

does ice cream go bad

If you store a tub of ice cream in the freezer at 0 degrees, then it will remain in its best condition for 2-3 months easily. But this is true if you keep the tub unopened. On the label of the ice cream tub, you’ll find the “best before” date. It indicates that the ice cream will be in its best condition until this date, after which certain properties might be compromised. 

Once the “best before” date has passed, the ice cream does not necessarily become unfit or unsafe for consumption. It may, however, lose its taste, nutrients, or freshness. Technically, the ice cream will remain edible even after the date has lapsed. 

How can you judge if the product is still good enough to be eaten after the “best before” date has passed? You can rely on your senses, like smell, sight, and taste, and be the judge of that to some extent. If it starts to taste or smell acidic or pungent, or you see discoloration, it’s time to discard it.

But you definitely cannot consume it after one month since the “best before” date, even if you don’t notice any apparent sign of compromisation of the ice cream’s properties. After that time, the product becomes entirely unsafe for consumption. 

Remember that this is true for unopened ice-cream tubs. Opening the ice cream decreases the shelf life of the dessert significantly. Once it is exposed to the possibilities of contamination after opening, the “best before” date does not apply anymore. After opening, you will need to eat the ice cream within 2-3 weeks.  

You must also remember that the shelf life of ice cream cake is much shorter than regular ice creams. You have a week’s time to eat it. If the list of ingredients used to make the ice cream cake does not include animal products, you may be able to store it for a few more days.

Does Freezing Prevent Bacterial Growth?

It is a common belief that frozen food does not go bad, and that freezing can prevent the growth of bacteria entirely. However, it is to be remembered that this is a misconception. Freezing might be able to slow down the growth of bacteria but not prevent it altogether. 

So, if you thought that your ice cream is not going to expire, it’s time to change this wrong idea. When ice cream that’s been stored in the freezer expires, small ice crystals will begin to form all over its top layer. So these ice crystals on your ice cream indicate that it is no more edible.    

If you thaw expired ice cream and then refreeze it, it can put your health at a higher risk. As a result of potential bacterial growth, you might catch food-borne ailments. Such illnesses can lead to symptoms similar to those of stomach flu.

What is Freezer Burn

While in the freezer, the quality of ice creams can deteriorate because of freezer burn. But what is freezer burn? Sometimes, moisture from inside this sweet dessert might seep to the top surface of the ice cream. This moisture then comes in contact with the chilled air of the freezer. 

As a result, this moisture freezes on the top surface of the ice cream. So, we end up with ice crystals. This is called freezer burn. What we usually do is scrape off that layer of crystals from the top to enjoy the dessert. Sadly, freezer burn can change the taste and texture of ice cream. 

The signature creaminess of frozen desserts can go for a toss due to freezer burn. That’s because the ice cream’s moisture content is essential in the maintenance of its texture. When that moisture escapes, the product’s taste and texture change, even though it still remains safe.

How To Avoid Freezer Burn

does ice cream go bad

If you’re an ice cream fan, you probably like to buy your entire month’s ice cream supplies while shopping for groceries. All the ice cream goes into the freezer. However, when ice cream is stored in the freezer over a long period, it can develop freezer burn. 

Then, how will it be possible for you to avoid freezer burn? The first thing to do is to ensure that you don’t allow the ice cream to thaw and refreeze. Just scoop out as much ice cream as you need. Then, put a cling wrap on the top of the container before you replace the lid and put it back in the freezer. 

Make sure that the freezer temperature is low enough to prevent melting. Still, if you notice that the ice cream has started to melt, just turn the container upside down and keep it that way in the freezer. This is a good way to prevent the unmelted parts of the ice cream from getting freezer-burnt.

It is also advisable not to buy ice creams in bulk. Just buy as much as you can consume in a short time. The longer you keep the ice cream in the freezer, the higher are the chances of getting freezer burn. It’s better to make a few trips to the store than eat non-creamy ice creams, right? 

Bacterial Growth in Melted Ice Cream

As we have already established, freezing cannot prevent bacterial growth in ice creams. The chances of bacterial growth increases when the ice cream melts at room temperature. When you refreeze this melted ice cream, the bacteria will not be killed.

If the ice cream is left out at 40 degrees or above for more than 2 hours, you must not refreeze it and throw it away instead. 

This problem is particularly true when you have opened the ice cream container. Once you open the container, its chances of getting spoilt increases rapidly.

It can be assumed that an unopened box of ice cream that’s frozen at 0 degrees or below does not contain bacteria, as the manufacturing process is most likely free from any contamination. Make sure that your freezer is also clean.

Ailments Borne by Ice Cream

If your ice cream is expired or its quality is compromised, you can get food poisoning. It depends not only on the expiration date or “best before” date of the ice cream but also the ingredients used in it, the time of opening it, the duration of keeping it out in the open, etc. 

If you’re particularly sensitive to food-borne ailments, you can get seriously ill after consuming ice cream that has gone bad. It can also affect people with a weak immunity system, pregnant or nursing women, children, and seniors. Symptoms of food poisoning are:

  • Fever
  • Bellyaches
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

In the worst situations, food poisoning can last for several days. 

Meaning of Shelf Life

To understand the shelf life of ice creams, you need to know how ice cream is frozen. The freezing of ice cream takes place in two stages:

a) Dynamic freezing: In this stage, the ice cream mix is agitated to incorporate air into it.

b) Static freezing: The ice cream that is now partially frozen is allowed to harden in the freezer.

Small ice crystals form during the dynamic stage and then grow in the static stage. The objective is to allow as many ice crystals to grow as possible during the phase of dynamic freezing, and then preserve the crystals during the phase of static freezing, as well as during storage. 

If the size of the crystals increases during storage can adversely affect the texture of your ice cream. That can hamper the shelf life of the ice cream. The physicochemical changes that can affect the shelf life of your sweet snack include:

  • Ice recrystallization
  • Resizing of air cells
  • Lactose crystallization
  • Change in the volume of ice cream

If these can be prevented during storage, you’ll be able to enjoy your ice cream for a longer time. 

Storing Ice Cream for Maximum Shelf Life

How you preserve the ice cream and how often you allow it to refreeze will determine the shelf life of the dessert. To keep it fresh for a longer time, follow the steps as below:

  1. Put the ice cream back in the freezer immediately after opening or using it. 
  2. Store ice cream in an air-tight Tupperware that will prevent the entry of air or moisture. 
  3. Seat the container tightly at all times. 

With these simple steps, you will be able to eat healthy and also cut costs and prevent wastage.

Storing Homemade Ice Cream Properly

Many people prefer to make ice creams at home. That’s because they like to use all-natural ingredients, follow vegan or gluten free recipes, and avoid allergens, additives, and preservatives. If you’re one of them, make sure to follow all the steps you would follow to preserve store-bought ice creams.

Optimize the freezer’s temperature level to ensure that the ice cream doesn’t have the chance to go bad because it’s not cold enough. The freezer should be at 0 degrees or less. Also, store the ice cream in an air-tight container to prevent air or contaminations from affecting the life of your dessert. But remember that you should also use a high-quality ice cream maker. 

Besides, there are a few other things you should consider. Make sure not to leave the freezer door open for too long while loading other items into it. This can bring a significant drop in temperature and harm the quality of the ice cream. 

Food Safety of Store-Bought Ice Cream

When you buy ice cream - or, any frozen dessert, like sherbet, frozen yogurt, ice cream cake, or ice milk - check if:

  1. The item is within its “sell by” date.
  2. The dessert is frozen and solid.
  3. The container isn’t sticky or frosted. 

Make sure that your ice cream is adequately wrapped, preferably in an insulated bag or in double bags. This will minimize melting on your way back home. 


It’s understandable that you enjoy eating ice creams occasionally - or maybe daily. It boosts endorphins, a hormone in the body that makes you feel happy. It may show up later around the belly and the hips, but who wouldn’t choose happiness over a little muffin top? But getting ice creams in bulk is probably not a very good idea, as wrong storage can compromise the quality of the dessert. 

While unopened ice creams remain in their best quality for 2-3 months, they can still be consumed within the next month, after which you should discard it. However, it is the opened tub of ice cream that you need to worry about. The “best before” date does not apply to the ice cream once you open it. After that, how you handle and store the ice cream will determine its shelf life. 

So, don’t let the ice cream melt at any point. Keep your frozen dessert in a properly sealed container so that no moisture, air, or bacteria can enter the container. Remember that as a result of poor storage or refreezing, ice cream can still change in taste and texture, even if it doesn’t become unsafe for consumption. So, careful preservation is the key if you want to enjoy your ice cream at its best. 

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