If you're wondering, "Can ice cream get moldy?" The answer is yes, ice cream can get moldy even though it’s frozen, and can make you sick. When ice cream goes off, its texture changes, turning rather gooey. The other thing is that when ice cream spoils, it gives off a musty odor.
In this article, I set out to explain everything concerning the safe storage of ice cream. I’ve also detailed how to tell when your ice cream has spoiled.
As ice cream has to be kept in the freezer, it is one of the best foods for long-term storage. You can even keep it in your freezer long past its “use-by” date.
Because you keep it in the freezer, ice cream hardly ever gets moldy, especially if your household is anything like mine, where the kids don’t leave ice cream hanging around the long. But of course, it can get moldy, and perhaps you are wondering what it looks like when it does?
When ice cream goes moldy, you need to be aware that mold is a hazardous substance, especially when it appears in food. I’ve therefore made sure to tell you all about the ways of spotting mold so you can make sure it doesn’t do any harm.
Can ice cream get moldy?
As ice cream has to be kept in a freezer, most people believe that it won’t go bad. That belief is based on the fact that food typically kept in a freezer doesn’t grow mold. So most people bumble along quite happily on the understanding that ice cream can remain in the freezer for ages without spoiling.
While it is true that ice cream kept in your freezer will be okay for quite a while, eventually, like all foodstuffs, it will turn moldy, and it will have to be disposed of.
But while on the subject of food going off, the type and condition of the packaging, including the tubs that ice cream is kept in, will have an impact.
For example, ice cream in an unopened tub has a much better chance of remaining edible for a long while, the same as many other sweet foods that contain sugar. As long as the tub remains unopened, mold will be kept at bay.
But when the tub does get opened, as of course, it will at some point in time, the chances of it starting to go off and grow mold become much higher.
Indeed, if the ice cream melts and then it’s put back into the freezer once more, the chances of it getting moldy are even greater.
It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on its expiration date.
According to GoodRx, “best use by” labels are usually put on packaging to advise you about enjoying the food at its best quality rather than warning you that the ingredients might turn.
But with ice cream, as it is quite delicate food, thinking about “best by” dates is no bad thing when enjoying it to the max.
The reasons it’s good to keep tabs on it are twofold:
- It helps to keep you conscious for much longer while you can keep your ice cream in the freezer.
- It also helps to remind you to keep an eye open for signs of mold or other things that could indicate that your lovely ice cream is no longer fit for eating.
Many people disregard these things in the mistaken belief that ice cream won’t go bad. But having read what I’ve written, now you’re in the know, these are good tips to bear in mind.
How long before ice cream turns moldy?
Often, mold that develops on ice cream isn’t as visible as mold that grows on other types of food. That’s because it isn’t the same type of mold that can appear on stale chocolate or different types of candy.
The other thing you should be aware of is that mold on ice cream can grow very quickly. Ice cream you checked only a few days ago can easily go off in the interim.
Some people think that ice cream that has been taken out of the freezer and allowed to melt is okay to put back into the freezer again. It isn’t. If you do so, it can make you ill.
Bacteria can start forming in ice cream in as little as two hours, so by the time you put the ice cream back into the freezer. Mold could have already started growing without you realizing it.
So, no matter what you do, you shouldn’t leave ice cream out at room temperature for too long. It applies to larger tubs of ice cream, in particular.
The larger they are, the slower the ice cream takes to melt through, but the process could already have started meaning that mold could have already got a hold.
What does moldy ice cream look like?
As I said earlier, moldy ice cream isn’t easy to spot as other foods when they’ve turned moldy.
The reason is that the solid structure of ice cream makes it harder to notice the mold immediately. However, if you know what to look for and you inspect it carefully, you can spot it.
You’re looking for a change in texture whereby it’s gone a little gooey and developed tiny pieces of ice inside.
Ice cream’s smell is another significant factor. It is very often the first thing that indicates it’s gone off.
To be on the safe side, check for both of these signs before eating.
How long does ice cream last once open?
Many people think that when the food is frozen, bacterial growth is prevented, and the food remains fresh. While there is a certain amount of truth in this statement, it’s not 100% accurate.
Nothing lasts forever - ice cream included. The problem for some of us is that we’ve been told time and time again by our parents when we were kids to “put it back in the freezer because it will last longer.” While it’s true to a certain extent, it’s not always so.
We are told that refrigeration uses moisture control and cold temperatures to slow down the activity of microorganisms. This slowdown delays their growth and ability to reproduce, thereby preserving freshness. But note the use of the word “delay” and not the word “prevent.”
So back to the question of how long will ice cream stay safe in the freezer?
Shelf life for Opened versus unopened ice cream
- Once a tub of ice cream has been opened, it will remain fresh for approximately 2 to 3 weeks before considered old. Most importantly, you should return it in the freezer after opening to prevent loss of moisture and development of ice crystals.
- At the same temperature (0°F), expected shelf life of an unopened tub of ice cream will remain fresh for 2 months before quality diminishes.
What about hard serve versus soft serve?
Your average ice cream contains ingredients including emulsifying agents, fat, flavorings, milk solids, sugar, and colorings - although you can buy ice cream with natural color.
The mixture is sterilized and homogenized at the correct temperature, and the air is added (more so in a soft serve).
The difference in the ingredients of hard and soft-serve ice cream
The main ingredients in both types of ice cream are those shown above. However, the ingredients vary depending on the hard or soft effect type. It also means that the two types need different storage conditions.
The hard serve variety
Typically, hard serve ice cream contains between 10%-18% milk fat and 20% cream. Hence the combination of other sweeteners and flavorings to achieve the desired taste. It is made for scooping into cones and sundaes.
Hard serve ice cream liquid goes through a continual process of churning and aerating while being cooled and frozen to establish an overrun or air volume. When ready, the final product is freeze-dried at approximately minus 15°C.
The soft serve variety
The proportions of ingredients for soft-serve ice cream are similar to those of hard serve but contain less milk fat (between 3% and 6%). Soft-serve ice cream contains a greater volume of air (33% to 45%) to give it its light, fluffy texture.
The soft-serve mixture has air injected into it while being churned and is then frozen at -15°C to increase overrun.
The end product is then stored in the processing machine’s serving chamber at approximately 30°C.
Ice cream is susceptible to freezer burn.
When ice cream remains in a freezer for a long duration, it can develop freezer burn. Freezer burn happens when moisture migrates from the inside to the outer surface and freezes.
It is still okay to eat ice cream with freezer burn, although it won’t taste as good as it should. Besides, the ice crystals that have formed on the ice cream will adversely affect its texture.
As soon moisture escapes, that’s when freezer burn sets in. Once that happens, there’s no way you can restore your ice cream to its former creamy loveliness.
How to prevent freezer burn
- Scoop out as much as you need and place a piece of plastic food wrap on the surface of the ice cream.
- Reposition the lid tightly and return the tub to the freezer
- Place the tub of ice cream towards the back of the freezer where it is coldest.
- Make sure the ice cream doesn’t melt and refreeze
- If the ice cream begins to melt, turn it upside down and return it to the freezer. The ice cream that has melted will drip down onto the lid, thus preventing freezer burn in the non-melted bit of the ice cream.
The less time the ice cream spends in the freezer, the less chance of freezer burn. It’s best only to buy what you would generally expect to eat in the near future.
Bacteria thrive on melted ice cream.
I’ve already mentioned that bacteria can multiply on ice cream that is allowed to sit out at room temperature. Unfortunately, freezing the ice cream doesn’t kill off the bacteria once it’s established.
The guideline is not to let the ice cream sit out at room temperature, or to be more specific, a temperature of above 40°F for longer than two hours. If you do inadvertently leave it out any longer, you should discard it away.
As far as an unopened tub of ice cream goes, there are no specific rules. It all depends on its ingredients in the production process and how it’s stored.
The safe way to store ice cream
If you’ve got an unopened tub of ice cream, you can enjoy it at peak quality any time up to 2 weeks of being in your freezer.
If you’re going to be keeping the ice cream in your freezer for longer than three weeks, the best way to keep the quality at its best is to tightly wrap the tub in plastic food wrap or freezer paper.
What about when the tub’s been opened?
This might sound familiar. The ice cream is in a tub that has been opened and resealed; it should last for around 6 weeks in your freezer. But the time to enjoy it at its best is within the first seven to ten days.
If this rings a bell, it’s probably because many dairy products, such as milk and yogurt, have labels that tell you something along the lines of its best to use them within seven days of opening.
Dairy, such as ice cream, milk, and yogurt, are high-protein cold food products. In other words, they are ideal hotbeds for allowing bacterial growth.
To keep your ice cream delicious and safe to consume, you need to ensure that the lid is properly sealed before putting the tub back into the freezer. A properly sealed tub will keep out air, moisture, and any contaminants that might be lurking in your fridge.
The best place to store your ice cream is at the back or bottom of your freezer. It helps to stop any gradual melting that could speed up bacterial growth and ice crystallization.
Remember that if ice cream has completely melted, you shouldn’t try and refreeze it because bacterial growth has probably already begun.
When ice cream’s been out in the open for longer than an hour, it’s past time to get rid of it. If you do consume it, it could make you ill. It’s not worth it.
The best place to store ice cream
The perfect place to store ice cream is at the back of your freezer. The reason is that the temperature here is less affected each time you open the freezer door.
The importance of keeping air away from ice cream
If you can keep air away from ice cream in the freezer, it will help avoid freezer burn. Not doing this can diminish both taste and texture of the ice cream.
There are three ways of doing this.
- Storing the ice cream in an airtight container or plastic box that has a tight-fitting lid
- Positioning a thin piece of plastic food wrap on the surface of the ice cream
- Using containers designed to store ice cream - Tupperware, for example
Bad ice cream - causes and remedies
It is said that prevention is better than cure, and that is certainly the case with spoiled ice cream. Once it has gone off, there is no cure.
Ice cream can usually be kept in your freezer for several months when it’s packaged and stored correctly. Make sure to store it at the back of the freezer where the temperature doesn’t rise above 0°C.
However, it can still deteriorate for the following reasons:
1 Bacterial contamination
Bacterial contamination can occur when you open a tub of ice cream, and it melts. As soon as you open the tub, the deterioration clock begins to tick.
The other problem is that when you open a tub of ice cream, the moisture level changes. This is because of the exposure to the heat and humidity in the air, which will affect its texture.
After being taken out of the freezer, you should return ice cream to it as soon as possible to reduce potential temperature change and keep it safe from insects.
2 Refreezing melted ice cream
This second issue comes from eating ice cream that has previously been melted and refrozen. When the ice cream was previously left out to melt, it allowed bacteria to begin to grow and multiply - bacteria that will make you ill.
Never refreeze melted ice cream. Any resultant contamination from bacterial growth can cause food poisoning when you consume it.
If the top layer of ice cream has melted, scrape it off, dispose of it, and return the non-melted ice cream to the freezer.
3 Freezer burn
Food kept in your freezer is less likely to spoil than fresh food left outside because mold-causing bacteria don’t thrive at 0°C or lower temperatures.
But freezer burn can still happen, and while this won’t make the ice cream unsafe to eat, it will detract from its quality.
Freezer burn occurs when moisture is allowed to creep into your ice cream evaporate to form tiny shards of ice on the outer surface of the ice cream and the inside lid of the tub.
There are 3 potential remedies.
- Lower the temperature
- Tightly seal the tub of ice cream with plastic food wrap or wax paper, then put the lid in place.
- Place the tub of ice cream upside down in the freezer.
Does freezer burnt ice cream make you ill?
The taste and texture of ice cream are negatively affected by freezer burn. However, it doesn’t make it dangerous to eat. If the freezer burn only affects the surface of the ice cream, you can always scrape it off and eat the remainder.
Freezer burn takes place when moisture is allowed to gather on the surface of food and freeze. As I already indicated, it’s not particularly pleasant to eat, but neither is it dangerous.
Frequently asked questions
Here are some frequently asked questions concerning ice cream; its everyday use, the risk of eating spoiled ice cream, and why it has become spoiled.
No, it’s not dangerous, but it’s not particularly pleasant either. It’s a bit like eating minuscule ice cubes. Having said that, there are a couple of scenarios when eating freezer burn ice cream could be potentially harmful.
The first scenario is when the ice cream has been stored for a very long time, and freezer burn has formed.
The second scenario is when the ice cream has repeatedly been thawed and refrozen. It not only accelerates freezer burn but there is also the risk that the ice cream could be contaminated.
In both scenarios, the ice cream will become a gooey, icy mess that is not only unpleasant to look at but is unpleasant to eat too.
Ice cream that is past its expiration date or has been melted and refrozen is susceptible to bacterial growth, which can cause illnesses including diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps, vomiting - in other words, food poisoning.
No, it is not. For your information, the room temperature is between 40°F and 140°F. Even if the weather is cold, don’t leave it out overnight. Leaving ice cream outside at room temperature for more than one or two hours exposes it to the risk of bacterial infection.
If ice cream is left open or has melted and been refrozen, it becomes an excellent candidate for bacterial growth. It can certainly make you ill. Don’t take any chances.
Although frozen food is less likely to spoil, ice cream can still develop freezer burn and bacterial contamination if safety guidelines are not followed.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article. This may clear up any questions you might have had about storing and eating ice cream safely. You now know what to look out for to check whether or not your ice cream has spoiled. If it hasn’t, eat and enjoy.