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How Long Does Ice Cream Last? Are Ice Crystals Bad?

how long does ice cream last
Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / RitaE

Have you ever reached for the ice cream to find ice crystals hidden under the lid? How long does ice cream actually last in the freezer? Let's find out.

Ice cream has a history dating back thousands of years, when ancient rulers were said to enjoy icy treats. Modern-day ice cream has come a long way, but the principles are still the same. They are still made up of ice crystals, only the relatively small size of the crystals in modern ice cream allows it to have a smooth and creamy texture.

Ice cream is often removed from the freezer, slightly defrosted, and put back again. If you do this regularly, you may discover large ice crystals inside the tub, which can change the taste and texture of the ice cream. So when the crystals start to form, is the ice cream still good to eat?

While you may not have to throw it away immediately, ice cream does not last forever, even in the freezer. Bacteria can still be present — they will just “hibernate” while frozen and become active again once thawed

So just how long does ice cream last in the freezer? We explain below.


How Long Does Ice Cream Last in the Freezer?

Ice cream lasts about four months in the freezer.
Ice cream lasts about four months in the freezer.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / SilviaEmilie)

Ice cream should fare well in the freezer for up to four months. Ice cream deterioration is highly temperature dependent. The longer it spends outside the freezer, the more time it has to “go off”. Continual thawing and refreezing, which may occur if you have a large tub, will also reduce its freezer shelf life. 

If you have noticed a change in the texture or taste of your ice cream, it may be a sign that it has begun to spoil. If you have bought a tub and not opened it at all, and kept it at a constant frozen temperature, then it is more likely to be edible than one that has been opened and returned to the freezer several times.

Ice cream covered in large crystals is displaying freezer burn. These crystals are formed when moisture rises from the ice cream and freezes on contact with the air — for example, during a temperature change. This moisture then freezes on the top of the ice cream, forming large crystals that are crunchy and fairly tasteless. These crystals are different from the small crystals essential to the formation of ice cream in the first place.

Are Crystals Bad?

Do crystals determine how long ice cream lasts in the freezer?
Do crystals determine how long ice cream lasts in the freezer?
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / geralt)

The answer depends on the size of the crystals. If you can clearly see them, then it’s probably time to throw the ice cream away. Large crystals are what can harbor bacterial growth, so not only is the ice cream not as nice to eat, it can actually be dangerous. While it may be tempting to scrape them off, the texture of the remaining ice cream will also have changed.

How long ice cream lasts depends on the formation of these crystals. Therefore, to minimalize crystals forming, always make sure the lid is fully sealed when placing it in the freezer, and keep it near the back of the shelf (or bottom, if you have a top-opening freezer), so that it isn’t as affected by the regular opening of the freezer door. Another tip is to get it home and into the freezer as quickly as possible once you have bought it. If it’s already soft, the best idea may be to grab some loved ones and eat it right then and there. The same goes for if you have left it out for too long and it’s pretty much melted.

What About Homemade Ice Cream?

Homemade ice cream has a shorter shelf life.
Homemade ice cream has a shorter shelf life.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / bazinga1k980)

Homemade ice cream has a shorter shelf life, but it’s also delicious! Here are a few recipe suggestions if you’d like to make your own:

The freezer lifespan of homemade ice cream is closer to two weeks.

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