Why You Should Throw Away Old Ice Cream

Food-borne illness or food poisoning is the primary danger of eating outdated ice cream; but the date on the container is not the only information you need to decide whether old ice cream is safe to eat. It also matters how long ago it was purchased, when it was opened and how safely it has been stored. How long does ice cream last? Read on to find out more.

When it doubt, throw it out. (Image: Verdina Anna/Moment Open/GettyImages)

Does Ice Cream Go Bad?

If you're wondering, "Does ice cream expire?" the answer is, unfortunately, yes. Bacterial contamination is the main danger posed by old ice cream. Foods spoiled by bacteria — which may look, smell and taste just fine — can make us sick.

Bacteria thrive in protein-rich foods that are also full of water including eggs, poultry, meat, fish and milk products. Freezing ice cream and other frozen dairy products slows bacterial growth but doesn't kill the bacteria, which begin to grow again as food thaws. The risk of food-borne illness increases after ice cream has been opened and used. Discard any ice cream that thaws completely, due to the danger of bacterial growth.

Risk of Food-Borne Illness

One potential risk of expired ice cream is the risk of contamination and food-borne illness. People most vulnerable to food-borne illnesses are those already seriously ill or who have compromised immune systems. Young children, pregnant women and seniors are also more vulnerable.

Symptoms of food borne illnesses, which often go unreported, usually resemble stomach flu — fever, nausea, abdominal cramps, vomiting dehydration and diarrhea — and may last just a few hours or several days. Illness may be mild or very serious, depending on the bacteria involved.

Food Safety When Buying Ice Cream

Buy ice cream, ice milk, frozen yogurt and sherbet by the date stamped on the carton, which is the "sell by" date. Make sure that ice cream and other frozen desserts are frozen solid and that the container is not frosted or sticky, an indication that it has partially thawed at some point.

Request that ice cream be wrapped in an insulated bag or double bagged to reduce melting on the way home. True ice cream connoisseurs might want to bring an insulated cooler in the car, to keep it as cold as possible in transit.

How Long Does Ice Cream Last?

How long is old ice cream good for? Ice cream that hasn't been opened can be safely stored at home at zero degrees Fahrenheit for up to two months. If you plan to store ice cream for longer than a month, wrap the carton with plastic wrap or freezer paper to preserve the ice cream's quality.

Once the container has been opened it can be safely stored for two to three weeks before being considered "old" (though for creamy texture and overall quality try to use it within seven to 10 days). Place plastic wrap over the ice cream's surface, inside the container, to protect texture and minimize the development of ice crystals.

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