Does Ice Cream Go Bad? How Long Does It Last?

Tara Williams

Food Writer & Editor For KitchenSanity

Tara Williams is a seasoned food writer and editor who's been with KitchenSanity since its beginning. With a knack for experimenting with food and creating delicious recipes, she's your go-to for straightforward kitchen advice and practical tips from personal experiences. As a mom of two, Tara understands the value of time. She crafts articles that enhance your cooking skills and free up time for what matters most—like family moments.

Learn more about KitchenSanity's Editorial Guidelines.

You’ve just found that tub of ice cream from the back of your freezer and thought, how long has this been here? Does ice cream go bad?

Believe it or not, while ice cream is a delightful frozen treat, it doesn’t last forever. Its creamy texture and rich flavor can change over time.

So, when does ice cream lose its charm? In this guide, we’ll look at the shelf life of ice cream, signs it might be ready to toss, and tips to help make every scoop as delightful as the first.

How Long Does Ice Cream Last?

The table below provides a quick glance at how different storage conditions impact the longevity and quality of your ice cream:

Storage ConditionShelf LifeNotes
Freezer (Store-bought, Unopened Ice Cream)2-4 monthsBest quality is maintained within this period.
Freezer (Store-bought, Opened)Slightly less than unopenedOnce opened, quality may degrade faster.
Freezer (Homemade)2-3 weeksShorter shelf life due to fresh ingredients.
Expired Ice Cream (Freezer)May be safe but not optimalWatch for signs like ice crystals and freezer burn.
Room Temperature20-30 minutes maximumIce cream begins to melt and lose its consistency.
FridgeNot recommendedIce cream turns into a liquid.

How Long Is Ice Cream Good For In The Freezer?

Store-bought Ice cream, whether it’s opened or unopened when stored properly in the freezer, remains at its best quality for about two to four months. However, homemade ice cream tends to last about 2-3 weeks.

While eating ice cream for much longer is safe, its flavor and texture might change, especially if you notice large ice shards or crystals forming. These are signs that the ice cream’s quality has diminished, and it might be time to consider tossing it.

Let’s talk about that unopened tub of vanilla bean ice cream you’ve been saving for a special occasion.

Unopened ice cream can retain its quality a tad longer than an opened one, mainly because it hasn’t been exposed to air and potential contaminants. But once you break that seal, the clock starts ticking a bit faster.

Remember the last time you dug into a tub of homemade strawberry ice cream?

homemade strawberry ice cream

The freshness and flavor were unmatched, right? But store-bought varieties, especially those with many additives and sealed tight, might last a bit longer than your homemade batch.

Different types of ice cream have varying shelf lives. For instance, dairy-free or low-fat versions might not last as long as their full-fat counterparts.

Just like when you choose a lighter version of your favorite dressing, there are trade-offs in shelf life.

Several factors can influence how long ice cream stays good in the freezer. The ingredients play a significant role. Unfortunately, natural ingredients without many preservatives might reduce their longevity.

Have you tried making ice cream with fresh fruit? It probably didn’t last as long as the store-bought tubs filled with stabilizers.

variety of ice cream containers

Storage conditions are also important to keep it at its best.

Storing your ice cream in a deep freezer, away from light and temperature fluctuations, can extend its shelf life. If you have a fridge-freezer combo, you never store your ice cream in the door for those reasons.

And, always make sure that the lid is on tight after every use to keep fresh air and other contaminates out. Consider placing a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface before placing the lid. That should help prevent ice from forming.

How Long Can Ice Cream Sit Out?

If you’ve ever left ice cream out on the counter, you know it doesn’t take long to melt. Generally, a container of ice cream shouldn’t sit out for more than 20 to 30 minutes at room temperature. After that, it loses its consistency and can become a soupy mess.

How Long Can Ice Cream Sit Out

Now, picture those summer days when you’re enjoying a cone outside, and before you know it, you’ve got a dripping situation on your hands. If it’s a particularly hot day and you’re serving scoops outside, that time frame will be even shorter.

Are you thinking about refreezing ice cream that has melted?

Eating ice cream that has melted and then been refrozen can be a bit of a gamble. While it’s usually safe to eat, the texture and flavor can be off.

Remember when you found an old tub of ice cream in the freezer, only to discover it had large ice crystals and a grainy texture? That’s the result of melting and refreezing.

There are also potential health risks to consider when your ice cream is in the temperature “Danger Zone.”

When ice cream melts, the growth of bacteria can multiply, especially if left out for an extended period. Refreezing it doesn’t kill these bacteria. It just puts them on pause.

So, the next time you dig into that refrozen tub, you might be getting more than you bargained for.

Can Ice Cream Expire?

Yes, ice cream can expire, although it’s more about quality than safety. Over time, even when stored in the freezer, ice cream can lose its creamy texture and rich flavor.

Ice crystals are a common sight on older ice cream. They form when the ice cream undergoes temperature fluctuations, causing moisture to refreeze on the surface.

old ice cream in container

Remember that time you found a forgotten pint at the back of the freezer? Those ice crystals were a telltale sign that it had been there a while.

Freezer burn is another sign that your ice cream has seen better days. It appears as dry, leathery patches on the surface and can make the ice cream taste off.

It’s like when you find a piece of meat in the freezer with white, frosty patches. It may still be safe to eat, but the flavor and texture won’t be top-notch.

Of course, keep an eye (and nose) out for any changes in smell or color. If your ice cream has an odd odor or has developed a strange hue, it’s best to toss it. Just like you’d be wary of milk that smells sour, trust your senses when it comes to ice cream.

What about those “expired” and “best by” dates?

While “expired” suggests the product is no longer safe to eat, “best by” is more about quality. Ice cream past its “best by” date might not taste as fresh, but it’s typically still safe to eat.

However, if it’s way past the date or shows signs of spoilage, it’s best to play it safe and toss it. Just like with yogurt or cream cheese, it’s essential to use your judgment and not just rely on the date.

What Happens If You Eat Expired Ice Cream?

Eating expired ice cream might not make you sick immediately, but it’s not the best idea. The textures and flavors of your ice cream can be compromised, making it less enjoyable to eat.

Beyond just a change in taste and consistency, there’s a chance of ingesting harmful bacteria.

Remember, freezers slow bacterial growth but don’t kill bacteria. So, if your ice cream was contaminated before freezing or during a melt-refreeze cycle, those bacteria are still lurking.

Listeria is a common bacterium that can be found in contaminated ice cream. It’s sneaky, as it can grow even in cold environments like your freezer. Consuming products with listeria can lead to listeriosis, which is especially dangerous for pregnant women, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems.

And sometimes, it’s not even your fault! Recalls for ice cream products contaminated with listeria happen more often than you’d think. So, it’s always a good idea to stay updated on food recalls, especially if you’re unsure about the source or quality of your ice cream.

Ice Cream Shelf Life FAQs

Can bad ice cream make you sick?

While ice cream that’s been stored properly is generally safe, if it’s been exposed to bacteria or has melted and refrozen multiple times, there’s a risk that it could make you quite sick with food poisoning.

What does expired ice cream taste like?

Expired ice cream often tastes bland, overly icy, or even a bit off.

What does expired ice cream look like?

Signs of age in ice cream include large ice crystals on the surface, areas of freezer burn, or a change in color. If your ice cream looks dry or has a yellowish hue, it’s time to toss it.

Does ice cream go bad in the fridge?

Ice cream should always be stored in the freezer. If left in the fridge, it will melt and become a liquid. Once this happens, it’s not advisable to refreeze and consume it.

What can I do with ice cream left out for 3 hours?

If ice cream has been left out for 3 hours, it’s likely melted almost entirely and no longer safe to consume because that is beyond the 2-hour danger zone set out by the USDA.

Written By Tara Williams

Tara Williams is a seasoned food writer and editor who's been with KitchenSanity since its beginning. With a knack for experimenting with food and creating delicious recipes, she's your go-to for straightforward kitchen advice and practical tips from personal experiences. As a mom of two, Tara understands the value of time. She crafts articles that enhance your cooking skills and free up time for what matters most—like family moments.

Share with your friends!