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How Long Does Ice Cream Last in the Freezer?

How long does ice cream last in the freezer?

Ice cream’s shelf life in the freezer depends on a number of factors. You want to do whatever it takes to keep the ice cream fresh and prevent it from going bad by following a few simple steps.

cone of vanilla ice cream and tub of strawberry ice cream

I’ve researched information on what affects the shelf life of ice cream, and you’ll see some tips on how to keep it as fresh as possible. I even have the Food and Drug Administration’s recommendation on how cold your freezer should be.

And even if it isn’t bad enough to cause food poisoning or make you sick, being in the freezer under less than ideal conditions or for too long can affect its taste.

Ice cream is a delicious treat that shouldn’t make you sick. Follow these directions to keep harmful bacteria from turning a sweet treat into stomach ache.

Shelf Life of Ice Cream

As you try to figure out how long your ice cream will still be good, there are several factors to consider. Here are some of them:

Freezer Burn

This is what happens when the ice cream is exposed to frozen air, which causes some dehydration. And that causes ice crystals to form on the top of the ice cream, which gives it a grainy texture and an “off” taste.

All natural vs. Additives

If your ice cream is made from all-natural ingredients, it’s a good idea to go ahead and enjoy it. So let that be your excuse for gobbling up your favorite dessert! Additives, or stabilizers, preserve the ice cream for a longer period of time, but they also affect the quality.

Expiration Date

Although the expiration date doesn’t necessarily mean that the ice cream will go bad immediately when that date arrives, it’s a good indication of its life expectancy. I like to use the sight, smell, and taste test to determine whether or not the ice cream is still good.

Melted Then Refrozen

If you leave out at room temperature for an extended period of time and then refreeze it, based on my experience, the integrity of the ice cream suffers.

Freezer Door Open vs. Closed

Leaving the freezer door open for a few minutes allows higher temperature air to enter. If left open long enough, some of the food will begin to thaw. It’s essential to keep a constant temperature in your freezer to help preserve the shelf life of ice cream and other products around it.

Homemade vs. Store-Bought Ice Cream

If you like homemade ice cream as much as we do, please keep in mind that it doesn’t last as long as the store-bought version. Scoop the homemade ice cream into an airtight container. If you can find a container that is designed for ice cream, store it in that. Otherwise, find something with an airtight lid to prevent freezer burn.

sealed freezer container

Absorption of Odors

If you smell something “fishy,” it just might be from other foods in the freezer. Like fish, for example. This isn’t very appetizing when you’re craving a yummy bowl of delicious ice cream.

Open vs. Unopened Ice Cream Container

I think it’s a good policy to wait until you’re ready to eat the ice cream before opening the container. Most companies have developed packaging that protects the integrity of their ice cram products. So keep the ice cream in the sealed original container until you are ready to serve it.

Ideal Temperature for Ice Cream

The ideal temperature for storing a tub of ice cream is between -10˚ F and -20 degrees Fahrenheit. However, anything below zero degrees is okay.

Remember that 32˚ F is the freezing point. Your ice cream will start to melt at any temperature above that.

Will the ice cream go bad if it’s not as cold or kept at the correct temperature? Probably not. But the best way to keep the high quality of your ice cream is to store it at the temperature I mentioned above.

Since you will probably need to open the freezer door to get other items out, it’s best to store ice cream at the back of the freezer where it won’t be exposed to room temperature air. This protects a tub of ice cream from the higher temperatures when you open the freezer door.

Storing Homemade Ice Cream

After using your ice cream maker, look at the owner’s manual. Follow the instructions from the manufacturer on storing the ice cream for best results. 

In fact, some of the ice cream makers on the market come with freezer containers designed to keep the ideal temperature for storing ice cream after you make it.

If you make no-churn ice cream, simply store it in an airtight plastic container or a metal container specifically for ice cream.

strawberry ice cream in a bowl beside some strawberries

Here are some of our favorite no-churn ice cream flavors:

bowl of mint chocolate ice cream

All 3 of these are super easy to make. They have a creamy texture as long as you keep them sealed.

bowl of cinnamon pecan ice cream

I like to place a layer of plastic wrap on top of the actual surface of the ice cream to prevent tiny ice crystals from forming on any of them.

plastic wrap over freezer container

We also enjoy this frozen banana swirl. Although it doesn’t contain any dairy products, I still follow the same guidelines as I would for ice cream.

bowl of frozen banana swirl

Type of Ice Cream

From my experience, I’ve seen that different types of ice cream have different shelf lives. For example, the higher the milk fat the shorter the shelf life. 

scoop of vanilla ice cream

Ice cream with lower fat content will last a bit longer if given the same conditions. Proper storage is essential for extending the life of any type. 

Soft serve ice cream doesn’t freeze as well as hard packed ice cream. It is also more likely to form ice crystals that are like tiny ice shards.

bowl of chocolate ice cream

Expiration Date on the Carton of Ice Cream

You’ll find an expiration date somewhere on the carton of most ice cream. Although it’s best to use it before the date, it often lasts way beyond that time if you store it properly.

Here are some best practices to keep it safe:

  • Purchase the amount of ice cream that you and your family can eat before the expiration date.
  • Avoid the urge to pick up too many cartons of ice cream unless you find them in smaller containers.
  • Insert the ice cream, carton and all, into a freezer bag for extra protection.

More Tips on Keeping Ice Cream Fresh

It’s a good idea to store the ice cream in the back of the freezer where the cold air is. Your freezer’s temperature matters, so check to make sure it stays below 0˚ F in the freezer. According to the FDA, this is the ideal temperature for your home freezer.

If you plan to purchase ice cream at the grocery store, bring a cooler with some ice packs to prevent thawing. Although the food will probably be fine for the half-hour it takes to drive home, it’s always good to be safe.

cooler to put frozen food in after grocery shopping

Microwaving the carton of ice cream to soften it a bit before scooping is not a good idea. You’re better off allowing it to sit on the counter for a couple of minutes before scooping the ice cream from the top. Immediately put the container back in the freezer.

Don’t heat up a scooper before dipping it directly into the frozen ice cream. That will cause the remaining ice cream to melt.

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